Thursday, January 30, 2014

Returning Christmas Stockings...and Reminding Lilli Who She Is.

My three little blessings.
Last week, I got teary and overwhelmed at the mere thought of going to the grocery store. I needed just one important item. I ended up building my entire day around how to get to the store without having to take the kids.

Almost always, a small errand becomes a huge deal. We are always working on public outings with Lilli, and a few go amazingly well while most do not. My tears probably sprang up quickly because just a few days before, Lilli and I had a bad experience at Walgreens.

I had let quite a few days go by, wishing for one particular make up item - one of the very few I wear these days when I want to shed a little of that exhausted, stay-at-home-mommy look: lipliner. So silly, so unneccesary. Yet I was motivated enough to make a plan to get it. Some people need their Starbucks... well, I "needed" lipliner. I dropped Josh off at preschool, and Lilli was riding in the back with her ABA therapist, Morgan.

Therapy sessions even continue in my car. Morgan was making sure Lilli was keeping her shoes on while we were driving - one of the many therapy goals that I requested because it might make life a teeny bit easier for me in the future. I am constantly putting shoes back on her every single time we get out of the car. (Kind of like how a two year old pulls off shoes and throws them...only we've been working on this with Lilli for eight years now.) My we're-in-a-hurry-I'll-just-carry-you-across-the-burning-hot-parking-lot-instead-of-putting-on-your-shoes-for-the-thousandth-time method has become quite dangerous for my back, now that she is ten. I know other moms of children with special needs who refuse to wear shoes. It's a small thing that can become a big deal. I've lost shoes in parking lots, grocery stores...well, pretty much any public place we've ever been, I've had to run back and look for and retrieve a shoe all of Lilli's life. So this seemingly simple little's a "goal."

The "keep your shoes on" goal.

While pulling out of the school parking lot, I said, "Morgan, I think I'm going to run into Walgreens for lip liner." I thought it would be a good time to get it, since Morgan was with me to help Lilli, and the other two kids were at school. Morgan immediately began to give Lilli a little pep talk about going into the store. I overheard bits of "Just buying one thing"..."keep your shoes on"...."only for a few minutes."

We pulled into the Walgreens parking lot and got Lilli out of her special needs carseat. She had her shoes on. She was not happy, but not crying....yet. We walked in and I made a beeline for what I needed. Found it instantly, but as we walked to the check out, I spied the "Christmas 75% off!" sign.

Uh oh. You know I just had to go and take a peek. It sucked me in like a magnet.

"Come on, Lilli, I just want to take a quick look," I said as I led them a few aisles over.

"You knew that was coming," Morgan said to Lilli jokingly. "Can't pass up clearance." Lilli started to cry. She was not amused.

Lilli hates spontaneous shopping. I broke the rules. I told her I was only getting lipliner, and now I was totally going to look at Christmas stockings in January. She was mad. As we headed toward the other side of the store, we brushed passed a Walgreens employee who did a double take at Lilli. Her face scrunched up in a mixture of confusion and shock as she tried to figure Lilli out.

One look at her awkward second of realizing that she is not saying words, just crying, one glance to see that Morgan was holding this almost-ten year old's hand...I'm sure that was enough to quickly reveal to this Walgreens employee that Lilli has special needs of some sort.

I blocked out the crying and the stare, and found the clearance shelf.

Lilli still has an Elmo stocking. Chloe has a My Little Pony stocking, and she has not been into My Little Ponies for a few years now. Josh has a random "Peace" stocking from when Jasen I first got married. I have been wanting to buy new stockings for the kids for a few years now, and I keep hoping I will find ones I like on sale. As I sifted through the clearance Christmas stockings, Lilli cried harder. I held a few up to her to see if she liked them, and she pushed them away and cried. Morgan was fantastically multi-tasking, softly speaking to Lilli and trying to get her to calm down, while doing mental math and responding to my ridiculous questions of "What do you think of this one? What's 75 percent off of $7.99? Oooh, I think this one is cute, which one do you like better?..." Meanwhile Lilli escalated into loud wails and occastional growls and shrieks of anger.
I know, Elmo IS cute. He's been around for years. He even sings if you put batteries in him.

I get why strangers think I am a terrible mom. I imagine it looks like I am completely ignoring my distraught, sobbing child while shopping for frivilous things.

Yes. I am. I am trying to ignore it for a few moments. It's very hard to ignore, but if I don't, I will never be able to shop and make decisions.

We had been in Walgreens for a total of five minutes, and that was enough stress for all of us. I grabbed two sequined stockings and we headed up to the check out. The same Walgreens employee was standing behind the counter. She scanned the lipliner and stockings while glancing over at Lilli. Finally, it was as if she could not help but make a comment.

"She's cranky!"

"Yeah," I responded. I wasn't up for explanations today. Actually I was thinking about the silliness that I had just bought two matching stockings, not three, and where was I going to find one that matched these? Would my husband share the excitment in my off-season clearance find? Not likely. My thoughts were interrupted rudely.

"She's got snot running down her face," Walgreens woman said with slight disgust. I wordlessly rummaged for a tissue in my purse and gently wiped her nose.

"Is she autistic?" She asked in a clipped, unfriendly tone.

I cringed. Should I correct her? Tell her that the word "autistic" is very un-PC these days? She is a person, who has autism. Later, I found out that Morgan had cringed too.

No, I did not correct her. I merely said: "Yep."

She kept looking at Lilli, and she snapped blandly, "My son's autistic."

I never saw that one coming. "Huh, really?" I said with surprise while completing the transaction on the keypad.

"Yeah. He had early intervention and stuff."

"So how old is your son?"

"He's four."  No emotion, pride, or love oozing out of this mom about her little boy. Maybe she was tired. Maybe she was bitter, or hopeless, or just plain jaded about the whole "autism" business. Who knows. Maybe she just hated her job at Walgreens.

She asked me where Lilli went to school and I explained that she was homebound, but visited a class in the nearby elementary school a few times a week. Lilli kept crying, and Walgreens woman kept glancing over at her with a slightly irritated look.

She nodded her head in Lilli's direction and said bitterly, "She's gonna be a real handful when she gets older."

I began to feel a slight rise in temperature in my body at that confusing comment. I thought moms were supposed to connect and encourage, not criticize.

I couldn't help it. "Aw, come on now, let's be positive. I don't need to hear comments like that," I responded as nicely as I could.

She said nothing. Lilli cried. Morgan hugged her next to the counter to keep her from running. The purchase was complete. I picked up my bag, and we left. I got behind the wheel, a little stunned by what had just happened.

A few days later, I told Morgan that I was still thinking about our experience at Walgreens. She said she was too, and that she had considered going back to say something to that employee. I kept thinking about it, and the more I ran through the events in my mind, the more I realized that I was going to take those stockings back and return them. I didn't want them anymore. I did not want to pull them out every Christmas and remember that whole interaction at Walgreens in 2014.

A few mornings later, I was driving with Lilli (and sleeping Josh) after dropping Chloe off, at school. I spoke up in the silent, chilly van, and told Lilli that I was sorry.

I explained that I had been thinking about what happened at Walgreens, and that I was sorry I had not stuck up for Lilli more. I am Lilli's best advocate, and I should have said something on her behalf. I should have told that woman that Lilli was smart, that she could hear and understand, and that she was a beautiful girl inside and out, who happened to have autism and hates shopping. I told Lilli that I didn't even want those dumb stockings anymore, and I was going to return them. "I'm sorry Lilli, I should have stuck up for you. That lady was not nice. It's not right, but sometimes Mommy just wants to get what she is buying and get out of there fast, away from mean, unhappy people. I'm sorry."

I spoke to Lilli with no verbal response, but her physical response spoke volumes. I watched her in the rear view mirror as we headed home.

Before I had begun to speak, she had been sitting still with a blank look on her face. So boring, these trips to drop off her siblings each day. As I talked to her and apologized, she put her hands up over her eyes, and a huge grin spread across her face. She looked out the window and made little noises and smiled. She put her hand up and grabbed her neck - her gesture of wanting to say something but the words won't come out. I know she was glad about my apology. I think she forgives me.

I am posting this before the end of the story. You see, I have to find a time to go back to Walgreens. It might take awhile. I might have to take Lilli. I might not end up seeing that same employee. If I do see her again, I am not really sure what I will say to her. But that doesn't really matter. What matters is that Lilli knows that she is not what strangers say about her. She is not a "handful." She is not merely the label of "autistic." She is not annoying. She does not deserve to have someone comment in front of her that she has "snot running down her face."

I don't want the stupid stockings, I want Lilli to know who she is.

So no matter how inconvenient, I will go back. I will do that for my daughter. And maybe next year, I will find much more fabulous stockings for my kids, without a bad memory attached to them.
Cute, huh? Such a shame. They were only $1.99. 

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