if woody had gone straight to the police …


It was all my fault.

Simple as that – the whole thing could have been easily – really easily – avoided.

It should have been a perfect afternoon. The weather was gorgeous (finally!) and Luau and Katie were on their way down to Connecticut to drop Katie off at her grandparents’ house for her first big kid sleep-over weekend. Brooke and I had the rare luxury of going to the pool ALONE. I couldn’t wait.

I packed a bag with the few things we needed to bring along and headed out, thrilled to be spending an ENTIRE day alone with my little bug.

On the way out of the house, I saw the ‘real’ pool bag by the door. There was some useful stuff in there – a bag of goldfish, some pool toys, extra goggles, a can of sunblock with far more in it than the one that I had. I grabbed the few things that I had thrown into the original bag, switched them over and gathered us into the car. I didn’t see the cash on the bottom of the bag that I was leaving behind.

Off we went.

We swam and splashed and jumped and spun. Brooke rode the toddler slide. Twenty seven times. We were happy as clams.

At about 11:45, she stopped splashing and said, “I’m hungry. I will get a hot dog and french fries.”

At the pool, Brooke gets a hot dog and french fries. There are fifteen or so menu options. Brooke gets a hot dog and french fries. It is what she does.

I pointed to my nose, “Mama …”

“Mama, MEEEEEEE I get a hot dog and french fries pleeeeeeeease?” she asked.

I happily agreed. The concession stand is run by the keystone cops, so ordering before the lunch rush is never a bad thing. Dripping wet and shivering despite the sun, we waddled over to our chair and I rifled through the bag to find the cash.

It was nowhere to be found. Brooke was getting antsy. She was cold. She was hungry. And I was panicking.

I emptied the contents of the bag onto the chair and feverishly picked through them. Finally I had to admit to myself that there was not a dime to be found. Actually, that’s not true. There was a dime. And four quarters. And one penny. Yes, I had $1.11 – NOT helpful. I searched around to see if I could find anyone that I knew. I saw no one that I so much as recognized.

All I had was a bag of Goldfish and a stale old bottle of water.

I explained the situation to Brooke as well as I could. I told her why we couldn’t buy a hot dog today. I brought her to a table with the bag of Goldfish and the warm bottle of water. Oh yeah – the lunch of champions. I told her that this would be our snack and we would get a hot dog somewhere else after swimming was all done.

I couldn’t believe how flexible she was being. She seemed to be totally fine with eating the Goldfish and going out for lunch after the pool (to a place where Mama could use a credit card). She seemed to understand.

After about five minutes of Goldfish munching, she said, “We’re waiting for the hot dog and french fries. They are cooking it. I’ll have my hot dog and french fries when it’s done.”

Damn, damn, damn. I thought she had understood.

I tried to explain again. “Mama forgot the money, baby. We need the money to buy the hot dog. We can’t get a hot dog at the pool today.”

It was perfectly clear that she had stopped understanding anything I was trying to say.

A toddler cried in the distance. Brooke shouted out in response. Heads turned, startled by the shrill yell.

A little girl at a nearby table sneezed. I watched Brooke tense. She sneezed again. Brooke lost it.

She had no further interest in the Goldfish. She was shaking.

I wracked my brain. There had to be something I could do.

When my mom was a little girl, she collected $2 bills. I have always had a couple of them – cherished good luck talismans. A few years back, I was at a restaurant in Dallas. Walking back to my table from the ladies room, I found a card folded around five $2 bills. The card said, “Lucky you!” on one side and bore the name of the restaurant on the other side. It made no sense and perfect sense that I should find it. On the spot, a friend tried to ‘buy’ the bills from me. I refused. “These ain’t for spending,” I told him. I’ve carried them in my wallet ever since.

Why hadn’t I thought of them earlier?

I told Brooke that I had an idea. We ran up to the bag and dug in my otherwise empty wallet for the $2 bills. I grabbed three of them and headed to the concession window, now four deep. I ordered the hot dog and fries and handed over my bills. Brooke screamed.

A child nearby was coughing.

By now she had absolutely no defenses. Every single noise was under her skin. Every hiccup in the universe was rocking her little system to its core.

I tried to soothe her, but I was worse than useless. I tried to pick her up, but she squirmed violently out of my arms and screamed through her sobs, “IDON’TWANTYOUTOHOLDME!”. I tried to speak softly to her, but it was far too late for her to hear me. I tried to touch her gently, but she screamed again. “YOUWOULDNOTTOUCHME!” I tried to prompt her to cover her ears, but she simply couldn’t process it anymore. She was miserable. So was I.

I glanced at the crowd of people waiting for their food. They were all looking at her. I wanted to kick the man who stood nearby sneering at her. I wanted to knock over that smug mother in her chair who kept shooting us both the oogly eye. I wanted to disappear into the corner. Melt into the pool.

The keystone cops were too busy bumping into each other to actually serve more than one piece of food at a time. It was now just shy of twenty minutes since we’d ordered one God-damned hot dog and fries. I must have jinxed it when I said, “as quickly as you can, please.”

I thought of our friend with a nonverbal son. A couple of years ago, his son simply wouldn’t sleep. Ever. At his wit’s end and desperate to let his wife and daughter get some sleep, he took him to a bookstore around nine pm. He had a meltdown by the registers. He was simply done. He was on the floor, wailing and banging his head. Our friend was exhausted, spent. From the middle of the line he heard,”Well, that’s what you get for bringing a kid out so late.”

My friend turned to the entire line of people. He had had enough. Like his boy, he was simply done. A big man, there was no missing what he was about to say, especially at the volume that he was going to say it. “My son has autism.” He was spitting his words at them. “THIS,” he said, nodding to his son, out of control on the floor, “is life with autism.”

I thought of him as Brooke shouted and sobbed and heaved. All because she can’t fend off the rest of the world without fuel. All because that tiny little body goes haywire when she’s hungry. All because Mama forgot the money. All because she hadn’t understood the explanation. All because there’s only so much she can handle when she’s hungry AND confused.

Stop looking at her, God damn it. Stop judging her. Stop judging me. You have no idea what you think you’re seeing.

We got through it. A friend eventually came by. We sat with her and her twin girls, who very sweetly shared their food with Brooke. She even bought back my $2 bills. I was grateful. Lucky me indeed.

Brooke was eventually calm.

And I felt like crap.

26 thoughts on “if woody had gone straight to the police …

  1. I have sat here watching my curser blink at me as I tried to find the words with which to console you but alas there are no words other than to tell you, “it is what it is”. You and Brooke were doing all that could be done and in as much as little children often live in the moment, once the little friends came things settled down a bit.
    In a previous blog you talked about how important it is to educate the non-autism population. Through your efforts, perhaps in time more people will understand the challenges of children and families who deal with autism. Perhas one day people will help more and glower less. In the mean time you and yours are just the best of the best.

    I love you soooo much.


  2. all ~ thank you so much for your wonderfully supportive comments. i promise i am not sitting here in a hair sweater, flagellating myself with a spiked whip.

    but from your comments, i know that we all know how frustrating those moments can be .. the ones where the heel of your hand comes to your head in an ‘i could have had a V8’ wonk .. the ‘how many times do i have to see the same movie to know better?’ moments .. they are what they are

    and mamaedge – i hereby ORDER you to let yourself off the hook. i have. ok, I’m lying .. but you get the point. we’re not talking about me. we’re talking about you. which is TOTALLY different.

    hopefully you’re laughing by now. tittering? rolling your eyes? anything?

    you’ve had one hell of a week, sister. go easy on my friend. or i’ll sic jersey girl on you. and she’s pregnant. yup, Jersey on hormones – you get the point. be gentle with yourself. PLEASE?

  3. You hit the nail on the head with this one. It’s those moments when, despite the best laid plans, one little thing goes wrong. And then the Greek Choir of strangers give the stare of a million judgements. It’s when I want to pack my bags and move to Autismland, where everybody gets it.

    Every once in the bluest of moons, somebody does get it. We were once in a tiny Caribbean airport and our flight was hideously delayed. It was hot and uncomfortable,and there were 300 frazzled and frustrated passengers. And there was my daughter, kicking, screaming, and scratching, communicating in her way what we all felt. A Dad came up to me with a huge shopping bag of treats. “Here,” he said. “Take whatever you need.” I reached in and grabbed 3 packs of gummy lifesavers, and thanked him profusely. And am still touched by his overwhelming kindness 2 years later.

    But it’s like your Dad says. You are doing everything you can to educate and create understanding. So that we all don’t have to deal with that hideous moment where we feel like yelling out “Stop staring! She has Autism!” and instead get more people who ask, “Can I help?” And we go home with a little bit of faith in humanity instead of wanting to crawl under a rock and stay there. You *are* the best!

  4. We have all been there. Forgetting something, often so simple, that helps calm our kids in the chaos of the world. The looks, the helplessness of the situation, how much you’d love to tell all those people exactly what you think or where to go, it’s something we all understand.

    You did the best you could with the best of intentions. That’s what matters. And a friend did come by, because you and your family are wonderful and touch so many people in so many ways.


  5. I always tell friends who are new in the child-rearing game that the main lesson of parenthood is “no expectations.” From whether/when you’ll get pregnant, to what your child will be like, to how that outing that you planned so carefully will turn out, and everything in between. Sometimes that turns out to mean that all my anxiety and worry about what would go wrong ends up having been for nothing, and sometimes, of course, it means that the fabulous day at the pool is thwarted by having forgotten an essential something.

    The associated lesson, of course, is that we can’t beat ourselves up about not being perfect. That we are doing the best we can, and that’s all we can do. That our kids are resilient and will recover from the “trauma” of the moment, that they know we love them and are secure in our love, and that we, as parents, are HUMAN and that’s o.k.

    And as for all those other people sneering at you, forget about them. Maybe they’re having a bad day, maybe they’re feeling sensitive about their own kids’ issues, maybe they just don’t know. I can certainly remember doing my own share of that, in the “old days” before I had so much awareness about kids with special needs (and before the days when my daughter used to scream her way through the grocery store every week).

    You’re fine, you’re doing a great job, you’re human. Remember that.

  6. Hey, Mama? Did you know that perfection isn’t in your job description? It’s OK to sometimes forget the money. I don’t blame you. You wouldn’t blame me. So could you forgive you?


  7. “I didn’t see the cash on the bottom of the bag that I was leaving behind”

    The italics stared back at me ominously. Cue dark chords playing in the background.

    There is not one of us S.N. parents who couldn’t see what was coming next.

    Nor didn’t already know the line sh*t show.

    This is life with autism, yes. It’s also parenting. I like to think that the recitals, shopping trips, and fun days at the park are parenting…but this stuff is, too.

    And you do it better than most people I know.

    Hang on.

    Consider yourself affirmed.

  8. What seems like no big deal for most, can be catastrophic for those of us who have kids on the spectrum. You are human. I think we have all been there at one time or another. I dislike the looks the most…the ones where the person thinks you can’t control your child or that your child is misbehaving. That isn’t what it is, folks. And how I wish I had the strength to say something to them.

    The bottom line – You did the best you could given the circumstances of the situation. And, quite frankly, I think you handled it VERY well!

  9. The mom giving you the oogly eye. A pox on her head. The sneering guy a baldness wish.

    Jess, a hug and a kiss and stop holding yourself to a standard you would never ever hold me or any other autism mama to. Think back to last summer, would she have melted down much faster?


  10. I’m right there with you. Had a trauma yesterday at special needs yoga class that I’m still too upset to write about without — oh crap, I’m crying again.

    But you know what? One thing I know after reading your post is that you didn’t do anything wrong. Mistakes happen. And maybe, just maybe, once my tears have dried, I’ll let myself off the hook, too.


  11. Like I said, one of the lessons I learned on vacation is that some activities that should be so easy are just so damned hard. For us, it was taking the boys out for ice cream. Ice cream by the ocean. It should be so idyllic. It should be so Norman Rockwell. It was so not! Justin was melting down for no known reason and refusing to eat said ice cream. He was screaming. It was crowded. Others were staring. I wanted to crawl under a rock.

    But still we persevere. Because we hold true to the notion that we will have those special memories. The ones that often (not always) come so irritatingly easy for other parents.

    But here’s the thing.

    When the special moments are so hard won, it makes you appreciate so much more the “smaller moments”. Moments like Brooke smiling for that great picture in the pool in Maine. Moments like Brooke wiping your tears with her Boots in the back seat. Moments like hearing Rhema say “bounce” in your back yard (not that that was a small moment, because any member of the “club” knows how wonderful that was).

    My point is, maybe we get cheated out of some of the “bigger moments” because of the multitude of little things that can add up to catastrophe on any given day. But sometimes I feel that we are so very blessed to be able to recognize, with vivid clarity, those quieter and softer moments that may go otherwise unnoticed by others.

    Sorry, this is so long. I just wanted you to know I feel for you, Sister. And you too, shall persevere.

    PS–How did Katie enjoy her sleep-over?

  12. Ah, sweetie, we have all been there indeed! Your post? Exactly the reason I make lists everytime Niksdad & I are going to take Nik somewhere. Right down to what specific crackers I will pack. My husband thinks I’m nuts b/c Nik, invariably, eats something we’ve bought while we’re out. I, however, know without a doubt that, were I to NOT pack the friggin’ crackers? ALL HELL WILL BREAK LOOSE.

    And, um, before you get the idea that I am some kind of uber-organized mama (ROFLMAO!), I feel compelled to disclose that I have often packed all the stuff and then forgot the entire damn bag. xoxo

  13. Have I told you how great I think you and your friends are? Please listen up all of you!! You are unbelievable people, phenomenal moms as well as friends. I read all your comments in awe of who you all are.

    Jess’s Mom

  14. Sorry, my friend. I know exactly what that feels like and no matter how many times it happens, it still hurts.

  15. I am so sorry. I have been there and know how you feel. No matter how hard you try you can’t always remember everything and be one step ahead, too. My heart goes out to you. I don’t know if this will make you feel any better but my daughter is now 10 and those situations don’t happen as often. You are a wonderful Mom!!

  16. I, too, know exactly what this feels like. And like rhemashope says, no matter how many times it happens, it still hurts. And you never get used to it.

  17. lauri – i love long comments lol!! and you make some very, very good points that we all should hear!

    after MUCH (MUUUCH!) trepidation, katie loved her sleep-over and she looks forward to doing it again. we were really proud of her. thanks for asking!

  18. I could feel that story in my chest as I read it – all tight and knotted with no way out. I’m so sorry you had to feel that way…

  19. Jess,

    Oooh, I can’t stand those people that just look and stare and judge. Like they haven’t been there before? Haven’t we all, whether we have children on the spectrum or not?

    You are an amazing mom! You have amazing children! You have taught me to offer help or at the very least a look of compassion to my fellow moms. Your word is spreading and hopefully with enough people paying it forward, there will be less judgemental stares out there!


  20. Hey, Jess,
    “All because there’s only so much she can handle.” And you know and you get through it. ‘Cause that’s what we do. But honey-sweetie, I sure know that “crap” feeling! And I’ve wondered if it would help, like a friend does, to hand out cards that say “this is what autism looks like” when we have our situations explode. Is that what we do, too? “Stop judging me” – you bet – and stop judging my kid. If only we could be there to dole out education while you comfort Brooke. In spirit, love, in spirit.

  21. Dear Jess,

    I just wanted you to know how much I enjoy reading your blog each week. Your stories are full of real emotion and have helped me learn to be a better parent and person.

    Although not part of the special needs parent group, I want you to know that some of your experiences are shared. Meltdowns, and not understanding that Mommy doesn’t have the money right now sometimes, is understood by my 6 year old, but many times we have tears, stomping and screaming.

    I really admire the way you and Luau patiently work with Brooke to help give her the tools she needs to cope. You have given me ideas on how to better work with my own kids in similar situations. I just want you to know that your stories are relatable even to those of us on the “outside”.

    Thank you for taking the time to share your life.

    Much love to you and your family,

  22. Pingback: just one person « a diary of a mom

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