I’ve learned a lot of life lessons from my son Lucas. Some are about him and some are about me. It’s hard to even realize you’re learning them until they come into practice. He’s like a little non-verbal Mr. Myagi. You don’t fully get why you’re sanding the floor until someone comes running at you with a roundhouse kick that you can easily block. You slap your own forehead and go, “Oh. I get it.”
I had a few sand-the-floor moments last week when my family, complete with aunt and grandma, all went out for a nice relaxing dinner at a pizza chain near our home. As we walked in, my awkward politeness got me into a door-holding loop. You prop it open for one stranger to enter and, before you know it, a clown car emerges all looking to enter as well. A simple act of kindness turns you into Hodor and it goes on forever.
As I stood there, Lucas had already made his way inside and into the waiting area. Whoever designed the layout for those awaiting seats had obviously never met my son. All the couches were situated next to tables where people were already eating. The only thing that separated them was a small half-wall. It was such a puny barrier that an eight year old could easily launch himself over one and onto someone’s table.
So that’s what he did.
Yup. Just as the final clown had gone through my open door of kindness, I walked in to hear a scream. I saw Lucas’s legs dangling over a wall and his arm reaching for an old woman’s plate. She had a look of horror on her face as the family all worked to pull him away. He was crying. It was a scene straight out of my nightmares.
I rushed over and offered a quick “sorry” before shuffling him to a more secluded seat. I left the apologies and autism explanations to the rest of our crew. This woman most definitely deserved both, but I had more important things to deal with.
Lucas was a mess of tears. I calmly tried to explain what the issue was using words he knew. There was “no” and “wait” and “we don’t do that.” He wasn’t happy and, truth be told, neither was I. I stayed calm and his screams died down but, by now, they had become a steady cry.
Keep in mind, I didn’t freak out when I saw this all happening. I wanted to. A voice in my head said, “Yo. Freak out.” But I didn’t. I didn’t get mad at him for an impulse that he obviously couldn’t control in that moment. I didn’t lecture everyone about how he “wouldn’t have done that if I was here.” I didn’t make any piece of this incident about me. No one mattered but Lucas. He was the one I was concerned about.
His crying continued on as we were quickly seated. If you want a fast table at a restaurant, launch your child onto another person’s dinner. That’s a little tip for those of you with launchable children.
He sobbed as the waiter took our appetizer orders. He bawled when they brought us water. He just cried nonstop. All he wanted was food. I would occasionally look up and notice the bartender sorting napkins and trying to divert her stare from our table. My son was on display and, although I didn’t see any eyes on us, I felt them. I didn’t want him to be a spectacle.
I took Lucas by the hand and walked him to the bathroom. He was still hooting and hollaring when we entered. I did what I found usually works in moments like this. I pulled him from his tantrum with sheer confusion.
While still keeping eye contact, I reached my hand out, flipped on the water, and let it run from the sink. I did the first thing that came to mind.
Hey. Look. See this. Watch this, Lucas.
And I flicked water at him. He stopped crying and contorted his face into an expression that said, “Hey! What the hell?”
Now wash your hands.
So he did. He reached his hands in and put them under the water.
Are you good now? All done crying? Are you ready to eat? Get some food?
I did all the relevant hand motions to make sure I was understood. He seemed on board with it and the whines had all died down when we returned to the table…which still had no food on it. I had entered the only pizzeria on Earth that didn’t throw breadsticks at you as a reward for walking through the front door. His cries began again almost immediately.
I looked up and saw the bartender swiftly turn away her eyes again. This time, I got up and walked towards her.
Excuse me. Can you ask our waiter to bring some bread or breadsticks or something?
I learned a long time ago, that people will stare and whisper, but few will offer help unless you ask them for it. That’s what I was doing. I’m not sure if she was trying to be polite or genuinely didn’t understand, but she treated it like a transaction.
You want me to get you an order of hot breadsticks?
I don’t care what you bring me. Even just cut up bread. My son is having a meltdown and I need to put some food in his face.
She disappeared immediately and, within thirty seconds, she came out of the back with a cut up roll. Lucas ate the pieces and the rest of dinner was, well, perfect.
Yup. You read that right. Perfect. Crazy, right? How do you experience a restaurant visit like this and leave with anything less than a depressing sense of wanting to slam your head into a wall? I don’t know. We just did.
It makes me think back on all those almost-perfect-but-not-quite times in my life where I exploded with stress over things not going exactly as planned. There was a constant state of anxiety over what could happen. My son has taught me that, even when those worst-case-scenarios come true, there’s always an end to them. If you handle them with poise and understanding, there will be a brighter light at the end, as long as you have each other.
We have each other. So, I end the day with an admittedly exhausted smile on my face. There’s nothing to stay angry about. It’s over and it’s behind us. Next time, though, we’ll bring a bag of chips to anticipate that roundhouse kick of hunger. Until then, I’ll keep practicing sand-the-floor.