That Smile Waiting Around The Corner

Two weeks without my kids was brutal. Being quarantined was unlike anything I had ever experienced and, when the time was done, it was the longest I had gone without seeing the two of them.

Lucas was my first reunion, as his sister was still locked away for one more day by the time I could retrieve him from his mom’s house, leaving him and I with a full solo day together. I practically sprinted to get him and, once I did, all I wanted to do with him was everything.

We went to the playground, watched shows, and had his favorite foods. By the time we had to go get Olivia the next morning, we had one last thing on the agenda. Breakfast.

A few years back, we had gone to a local Waffle House style restaurant and I remember him liking it. Of course, that was before the same things that caused quarantines caused face covering mandates and, as a non-verbal child with autism, Lucas is a silent and steadfast anti-masker.

When we woke up the next morning, the sky was wide open and pouring buckets on everyone below. I didn’t realize it until the garage door went up, but it didn’t deter us. A little rain never hurt anyone besides the Gremlins. Besides, my guy was cool ay-eff, as the kids say.

When we pulled up to the restaurant, he was already whining a bit, but I chalked that up to the parking lot. Sometimes, Lucas has issues with directions when driving. Go one direction, he’s fine. Make a random turn and he bursts out in tears. We never figured out why that occasionally happens, but it does and this was one of those occasions. Still, he was hungry and, even with the gorilla monsoon bearing down on us, he wore his mask and went inside. He would do anything to get to food and I was prepared for a great meal.

Right from the start, our elderly waitress didn’t seem to like us. I’m not sure if it was because of me or my son, but she never once checked on us or asked if we needed anything. I watched, though, as she did it for every other table. It was annoying and really rubbed me the wrong way , but I let it go. After all, breakfast was going great. He seemed to love it.

Me? I wasn’t a big fan. The coffee tasted like hot water with a dry-erase marker melted inside and my waffle was awful. Of course, Lucas would eat a toasted tire iron if he had it on a plate so, by the end of the meal, he had devoured his plate and half of mine. Despite already battling a simmering case of frustration, all was still fairly good….until we got up to leave.

nonverbal tantrum restaurant

Unfortunately, this was one of those places where you pay at the register. As most parents dining alone with a special needs child will tell you, those places can be a bit terrifying. When you factor in the facemask, an accessory he was open to wearing when he was still hungry, things took a dire turn in the final moments.

The meltdown was swift and, like so many others, drastic. With a meal already in his stomach, my waffle-munching pal was done appeasing local ordinances and wanted none of his mask. As I put it on his face, he strongly swiped it off. I pleaded and tried to hold it in place as we approached the register, but it was becoming increasingly difficult, especially as I balanced the bill, his electronic toy, my wallet, and car keys in one hand while fighting him off with the other one.

Of course, the man at the register, who looked like he could have once babysat our elderly waitress, saw my son melting down and did everything in his power to speed the process along.

Again, to quote the kids of today, el oh el. If anything, Grandpa Munster moved slower than waffle syrup on a rainy day. By now, my boy was in the full throes of a tantrum and, with his strong ten year old fist, he took one fatal swipe at his face. As he did, he ripped the mask from his mouth, tearing the rubber band in the process. It was an unmitigated disaster in the literal final moments of our restaurant visit. It was like downloading a video and watching as the status bar reaches 99% without one problem. Then, at 99, your computer bursts into flames.

I had not choice but to clutch the mask against his face from behind as if I was chloroforming him while pushed his linebacker body past the waiting patrons and out to the rain-soaked car. After pouring his body him into the back, I collapsed into the driver’s seat and, to ease the screaming, I played his favorite song, Mandisa’s “Good Morning”. As it always does, it immediately calmed him.

Taking a deep breath, I clutched the wheel in my hands, feeling guilty for being so frustrated. After all, I had missed this boy with every ounce of my being for two straight weeks. Now, less than a day back with him, I was feeling stressed and overwhelmed. Searching for blame, I put it on myself. I did something wrong and I failed him. It was all on me. I repeated that back to myself just as the rapping interlude towards the end of the song came on and, as it did, I felt a tap on my shoulder.

I turned my head and there he was – staring at me with a giant smile on his face. That’s when I remembered, the rap part was my part. He always came to me as it played and, when I sang it to him along with the music, he would giggle with happiness. This was the part. So. I did what I was supposed to do. I sang. He burst into laughter. Out of nowhere, we both were smiling, happy, and all was right in the world.

Only Lucas can cause stress on one hand and then immediately take it away in such rapid succession. There is no one like him in my life and, I’d venture to say, in most people’s lives. No matter what happens or how bad things ever get, there’s always a smile waiting around the corner. As long as I keep that in mind, nothing will ever get us down. If it does, he’ll always be there to lift us back up again.



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