my baseball



I’m sitting cross-legged on the kitchen counter as Luau makes dinner.

Brooke and I have just gotten home from an attempt to do some shopping.

He’s looking at me, bewildered, trying to figure out why I look so dejected.

“Did she have a hard time?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I answer. “Though no harder than usual, really.”

He waits.

“It just sucks for her, hon. Everything about it sucks. Even when we go exactly where she wants to go, it still sucks. She lives for the big toy store, but there are little kids everywhere in there.”

He nods in recognition.

“She has me holding her ears half the time,” I continue. “One kid’s coughing, another’s crying and a third is off in the distance somewhere screaming. She’s miserable. And meanwhile the music is pounding in the background making it all even worse. I just wish it didn’t have to be so damned hard for her.”

There’s more to it; I just don’t know how to tell him. Honestly, what I really want to say sounds ridiculous in my head, so I leave it there.

I grew up shopping with my parents. It was just what we did. Wait, no. It was more than that. It was what we did together.

Shopping was a sport in my house. Some families don their team’s colors and head to the local football stadium on Sunday afternoons. My family? We wore walking shoes, layered our clothing and headed out to ‘browse’.

My parents lived for the hunt. They could (and did) spend hours roaming through antique shops and fairs. There was always a mission. One month we were looking for antique cut crystal bowls, the next it was Beeleek from Northern Ireland. Later, we would hawk auctions for oriental rugs. Even as a kid, I knew prices were getting too high when the dealers dropped out of the bidding. By eight I’d learned that one never, ever raised a hand in the middle of an auction for any reason. That’s a mistake you only make once.

I learned the art of negotiation at five. Money was divided into separate pockets before we left the house so as to lend legitimacy to the ‘But this is all I have, Sir, so do we have a deal?’

I learned never to show desire to a merchant. Drool in private, but show nothing but take it or leave it nonchalance when it came time to strike the deal. While my friends spent their Saturdays marking stats in play books at Yankee Stadium, I was repeating back to my dad, ‘Always look like you’re ready to walk away.’

And then there was clothes shopping. To this day, neither of my parents can deny the adrenaline rush that comes with finding a coveted piece of clothing on sale. A high-end designer hiding out in an off-price store or waiting patiently on a clearance rack at a department store is manna from heaven.

My mom wrote ‘Jessica’s first trip to Bloomingdale’s’ into my baby book. I was four days old. (I’m not making that up. Ask her.)

And so, as is my birthright, I am a shopper. I love stores. All kinds. From quiet little boutiques to huge, multi-level department stores. I love something about all of them. I love the marketing, the lighting, the skinny mirrors and solicitous shopkeepers that conspire to tell me sweet little lies. I like the smells, the textures, the promise of things shiny and new – the endless possibilities of style, creature comfort and fun.

I once got locked into Bergdorf Goodman after closing time. I stood stock-still in the half-light, mesmerized by the Judith Leiber bags sparkling in their display case. I begged the security guards not to let me out onto Fifth Avenue.

Katie has been my half-pint shopping buddy since the beginning. She’s a ruthless fashion critic, a keen-eyed stylist and a sucker for anyone with a free sample of .. well, anything. She wants to try it all. She can’t pass up an opportunity to try on a hat, a scarf or a pair of sunglasses and thoughtfully examine her reflection in the nearest mirror. She turns this way and that, usually cracking herself up with the silliest expressions she can muster.

She sashays her way down the perfume counter, trying a little of this and a touch of that. She knows what she likes – and what she doesn’t! – and will happily share her opinions, whether they are solicited or not. At four she asked the counter girl for coffee beans to clear her nose.

When she was six I showed her a pair of shoes that I liked and asked what she thought of them. She said, “They’re cute, Mama, but you know you’ll never wear them.” She was right, of course.

We don’t always buy things. These days we come home empty-handed far more often than not, but that’s not really the point. It really never was.

So when Brooke and I head out together on a Saturday afternoon in hopes of managing to buy her a single pair of pajamas, I .. well .. I hope. Against all odds, I hope that she might find something about the whole experience that isn’t altogether awful. That she’ll decide that it’s almost fun. That she’ll like picking out the things that she will wear. That she’ll like looking at the Christmas decorations or at the very least join me in wondering why the heck they’re selling them in October.

Or maybe – just maybe – she’ll like the idea of spending some girly time with her Mama doing something that her Mama likes to do.

It’s senseless, I know. But somewhere in the back of my mind, I hope.

So when we walk into Old Navy and she loses her words and frantically points at the door, it’s hard. When she finds them again and all she can say – or more accurately YELL – is, “Mom, can we LEAVE here?” I can’t make her stay. I just don’t have it in me. Sixty seconds after walking in, we’re walking out.

So yeah, it’s shallow. It’s shopping. I get it, and I know how it must sound. But it’s one more shift in expectation. One more adjustment of what I envisioned versus what is. A small one, granted. But sometimes even the small ones get me.


40 thoughts on “my baseball

  1. oh, I so get this. My childhood smell memories are full of the musty odor of the antique halls 🙂
    My husband has more of the problem with my son not enjoying the same activities – maybe it’s a father/son thing, but my husband talks a lot about car shows, air shows and taking our boat out (after 4 yrs in the garage). Someday maybe. Just like someday maybe you and Brooke will be antiquing together.

  2. I too love to shop and I so remember when J was finally in full day school and I would pick Ali up from half day nursery school/ kindergarten and off we would go to the mall. Shopping and food court…so much fun but not something J could do with us. At the time it was so special for us, something that was just us. It is still an activity Ali and I love to do together.
    Now J is a mall lover thanks to the many trips he has made there with his classes and groups through the years. I hope Brooke gets there too.

  3. Uh. I think you know how I feel about this. Listen, Miss M has no problem shopping, never has – but maybe online shopping? I know, I know, it’s not the same. I’m assuming you’ve done the headphones.

    I know what it is. It’s your fantasy, your expectation of having two girls, dreaming of taking them shopping and doing their hair and dressing them up. I get it.

    And it sucks.

    But it’ll happen.

    But I want you to know you’re heard. It blows chunks.

  4. I understand, but if I hade been fortunate enough to have had two or more little girls I would find the “stuff” that was individual for each and bond that way. You always loved the hunt and learned to bargin as well or even better than I do.
    Perhaps the “little one” would do better with long walks with Mama in the woods or on the beach. We each have our wow stuff just use hers to your advantage. Perhaps one day the shopping will come.
    I loved shopping with you but I also loved our walks down the country roads or quiet time on the water.
    Love you,

    • I just wanted to let you know that your comments to Jess always touch my heart. My family and my inlaws do not think autism is a real thing, that it is a lack-of-discipline issue. I wanted to say thank you for your encouragement, empathy and tenderness that you show here – I often feel that you are speaking to me too.

  5. Jess, I understand how you feel. Brooke does enjoy so many other things with you and Katie is the certifiable shopper. Take advantage of the differences and celebrate them. When Brooke wants to go to the stores, try going at off hours. She also loves the book stores and at off hours, she can find the quite corners. We loved shopping, and water babies and walking and so much more. Brooke will get there, too!

    Love you,

  6. I get it. Shopping isn’t *it* for me (my mom hated to shop, a very different experience than yours!), but there are lots of others.

    I’ve been trying very hard to take comfort in the fact that I do get to share the experiences with Rose at least — favorite “chapter books,” word-play, handbell concerts. It doesn’t make the ache go away. But one out of two for the dreamed-about-sharing experiences is at least… something.

  7. Like drama mama, I was going to suggest noise-canceling headphones–they are the only thing that work for my 6-year-old in stores, concerts, gym class. He visibly calms when he puts them on and is content to try out every toy on the shelf (even when I’m ready to LEAVE)! I hope you find what works for Brooke.

  8. Well, waitaminute, there are different shades to what you love to do. Different stores are crazy loud, some are much quieter than others. Some can be inside, some can be outside, like art fairs. Jesus, any time I go into Old Navy, I run out the door too! I HATE that place!

    How about toy stores at 8:30pm, right before closing? Quiet. How about 9am when they open? Quiet. Target on Sunday mornings at 8am? Quiet. Book store? Quiet.

    Explore your options in what you love and I bet you’ll find common ground with your sweet girl.

    🙂 XO R

  9. Yes! What RHM said!

    Foster also likes Sam’s Club. Not much for a fun shopping experience for Mama, but it gets some stuff done, and he’s happy. He loves the wide aisles, the lack of music, the tall ceilings, and, of course, the food samples.


  10. I want to speak to the disappointment, cause I get disappointment all to well. Like the visions I had going out for dinner as a family, sitting in the booth and ordering and chatting and all the other stuff “typical” families do. Yeah I get it. And no right now I don’t want to celebrate the “other” stuff we can do. I just want to vent and support your disappointment, however small or large it is, yep that is what I will do. DOAM, xoxoxoxo.

  11. Our Bells never met a noise she didn’t like. Now, she covers her ears and says, “Too loud!” in places that used to be safe.

    She loved, loved, loved crowds and the excitement of being around a lot of people. Now, if it is not a home party, she may ask to go home.

    Two steps forward and how many back? Why is this a progressive condition?

    Still, she is doing well. I guess we have to take the bad with the good.

    Bless you, Jess.

  12. i so get it. even the small stuff hurts sometimes, and it’s ok to say it out loud.
    i love redheadmomma’s ideas. we adjust, we find new ways, that’s what we do.

  13. I definitely get this. My baseball has always been reading fiction. I always wanted to share that with my boys and did my best to expose them to it, hoping that they would enjoy it as much as I did. Aidan was a late reader, but once he got it, he took off running (with sci-fi). Nigel took much, much longer with fiction, even though he was an early reader. I feared that he would never enjoy fiction and resigned myself to being happy that he at least enjoyed reading about natural disasters and military history. But then something shifted about two years ago. He started reading fiction about animals, based on the Disney movies he so loved, and that grew into reading other fiction classics – Swiss Family Robinson, Sherlock Holmes, and others. Now his bookshelf is lined with his beloved Jules Verne and all sorts of novels. He’s read and enjoyed every one of them, and the best part is seeing him curled up in bed, his nose stuck in his latest favorite.

  14. My mom’s passion was sewing, and her favorite outing when I was a child was a fabric warehouse – HUGE – where she could pore over pattern books for hours. At least it seemed like hours. And then we’d wander up and down the aisles fingering and feeling the weights of everything from voiles to calicoes to ultrasuede (it WAS the 1970’s). I had to be ‘good’ and ‘quiet’ and ‘patient’ the entire time, and I didn’t get bribed with cookies or toys or anything else. I think I behaved, almost all the time, as I was supposed to – no tantrums or running around or fussing. I’d like one outing like that – just once!

  15. My Shea doesn’t have the same aversion to stores, actually to my dismay, as I’m quickly going broke. But, she does have the noise and sensory aversion to lots of new places and environments. We bought her her own digital camera (yes, a 5-year old with her own digital camera!) and she brings it with her to any “new”, potentially overloading place. She gets so wrapped up in taking pictures of this and that and that again, that she somehow is able to ignore all of the other overloading things going on around her. And, she loves going through the pictures afterward to revisit her day. We have quite a journal going of her “view of the world” and it has seemed to help her conquer her anxiety and fear.

  16. But sometimes even the small ones get me.

    I have to think sometimes maybe the small ones get you the most. You steel yourself for the big ones. But the small stuff affects your fundamental ability to be able to enjoy parenting. It speaks to the little images that have been in your mind since you were a child yourself of what it will be like To Be A Mommy.

    *hugs* to you, Jess.

  17. “…sounds ridiculous in my head, so I just leave it there.”

    Yup. Pretty much. Hang in there Jess. Our kids change when they’re ready. Doesn’t it seem like it’s when we’d least expect it? You know, like with her dog? But it’s just so tempting to ask WHY? Why do even the easy things have to be hard? We ask when we know. (in our heads, of course 😉

  18. It’s part of parenting, I think- letting them be who they are, and not as we want them to be. Autism is part of that and complicates it and gives it a source of blame, but that sense of disappointment is one that is shared by so many… *I* really love this activity- we want THEM to love it too! And sometimes they do- and sometimes they don’t. My husband is going through it with my son- he WANTS my son to love soccer. My son “does” soccer, but doesn’t love it. Not like my husband. And my husband is so sad when he wants to talk over plays with his child and our son gives him the “whatever” look.

  19. I totally understand this. When my daughter was little, we lived in Florida and went to Disney World all the time. When we took her little boy (who has autism), it was mostly just overwhelming for him. It’s so hard not to be able to share the things you love doing.

  20. How you always manage to capture these moments that are common to all of us in the autism club is beyond me. You are such a great writer and observer of life. For me, it is a love of all things Halloween that I couldn’t wait to share with my son. Halloween? Can you guess how that turned out? Thanks again for your amazing writing and insight. Oh and I am a fan of your folks’ comments as well!

  21. I so understand. I wrote a few weeks ago about taking my son, screaming, into Target. I did not write about the same incident, two days later in Sam’s Club. Kid just wants to lay on the ground and look at the lights.

    We don’t have the noise sensitivities at my house, but I wish I could stifle the desperate desire for sensory input my son has. While getting him to eat more textures.

    I wish for too much. I’m blessed by him, and it doesn’t help that he’s freakin’ adorable.

    Just in case you need to commiserate:

  22. That’s hard. I understand where Brooke is coming from because I hate shopping, but still, I understan where you are coming from. I used to go to yard sales with my grandma when I was a kid- that I enjoyed. Hey, there’s an idea! In summertime, can you take her to yard sales? MUCH more sensory friendly environment, and you can still have all the fun of bargainning down and finding treasures (okay, mostly junk, but occasionally treasures) together.

  23. Did we grow up in the same family? We actually would schedule our family vacations around shopping. I have one happy shopper out of the 3 girls. My little one can stand a grocery store as long as she is in the card and as long as Momma lets her have a balloon (right now I have 10 yes 10 balloons floating around my house) My oldest does not like shopping but will do it when needed, she is almost 10 Brooke will get there sweetie. Heck my 1o year old started wearing jeans 2 weeks ago for the first time since she was 2, baby steps baby steps.

  24. Bright side:

    1. You can internet shop with her instead! (my second favorite kind, also best for snowy/rainy days)

    2. You will never have to go into the unbearably loud Abercrombie or American Eagle…

  25. Well, this post brought up a couple of thoughts from me – they don’t especially connect, though. I am not a shopper – but my daughter and my sister in law and HER kids, now those are some shoppers. Although it doesn’t come naturally to me, I can see how much enjoyment they get out of it. I am sad that the enjoyment can’t currently be part of the deal for you and Brooke.

    Unconnected thought (someone said it above, I think) – Hollister and those stores that try to inundate us shoppers with sound and put their “display” items on the end of racks and refuse to sell them even if that’s the last size – makes me want to say “Can we leave NOW too.”

    Last unconnected thought – I used to work on a telephone counseling hotline. Inevitably the example/question would come up of counseling a blind person who doesn’t think they’ll ever fall in love. You can always count on someone saying, “well, tell them to date another blind person and it won’t matter.” That SO misses the point — the blind person looking for love doesn’t want a solution custom crafted for them, that excludes so many other people they could fall in love with. They want … THAT feeling, being appreciated for who they are, the warm mutual vibe … they want it to be a “regular” thing. That’s where the good counseling comes in. (When I started reading this I was envisioning the store being opened just for you guys – no music, no cryers, no screamers) but somehow it seems for you, shopping enjoyment has to do partially with being in the thick of it. End unconnected thoughts…….

  26. …and yes, Jess, We were in Bloomingdale’s with you when you were 4 days old. Do you think it’s too late to send the baby police after us?

    Love you (I really do).

  27. It’s not shallow because it’s something you love and it obviously means more than just acquiring stuff to you. Shopping is obviously about good memories and families and love. It’s so hard when our kids don’t like the same things we do and it’s even harder when they CAN’T like them.

  28. Oh, Jess, it’s not shallow at all. It’s wishing that life was easier. It’s wishing that you could share things that made you happy as a child. It’s wishing that life wasn’t so damn hard. It’s so many things. No matter what I say I can’t seem to teach the love of Target to my son. How anyone could hate Target is beyond me! I get it. Believe me, I do.

  29. It doesn’t sound shallow, it sounds REAL. This is hard, every blasted day. Some days I just want to pack it all in and move to the mountains so my baby can have the peace she is looking for. It’s just hard, but you can find your activity with her. It could be painting nails at home, or walks in the woods. There WILL BE actvities she enjoys that you can share together, this just isn’t one of them.

  30. I don’t usually comment, but I had a thought that might make the toy store more friendly. If the owners agree maybe you could go in before they open or after they close; when the music and the other kids aren’t there.

  31. Go to a firearms store, and buy a pair of shooter’s earphones. They block ambient noise, are adjustable to fit any head, and relatively inexpensive. I’m a non-diagnosed Aspie, and this helped me a lot as a child when my father and brother raced showroom stock cars.
    I still get panicky in stores, but have learned coping strategies.

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