I've almost entirely stopped caring now about the judgements I receive when I'm out with The Boy. He is a fairly sizeable 3 year old and it's not unknown to receive a disapproving look when I'm carrying him or pushing him in the buggy. I don't care that it looks like I'm carrying a 15 year old boy like a chimp baby.
He rarely has shoes on. This is mostly met with amusement and bewilderment at how he walks across sharp gravel like it's soft grass. I'm passed caring about that.
The ear-piercing scream and lurching towards me to swipe at my face or bite me? Yeah...sometimes a little harder to take but all in all, I don't care about everyone else. I'm just concentrating on trying to make things better for The Boy. Mostly for my sake - I'm no angel - but a little for him too.
Today was one of those days. I'd taken him to his favourite place. Did everything he liked in the order he liked it. Made our way to the highlight of the day and all was going swimmingly. We arrived at a short queue for the steam train but all was good in the world because I'd pre-purchased the ticket. It was a minute maximum to keep him from losing his shit and becoming angry hulk boy about not getting on the train instantly. Then the big decision...whose poor carriage do we get into knowing there was going to be some 'social issues' whenever other human beings are involved.
Carriage full of kids. Avoided. Carriage with a small space left. Avoided. Carriage with chairs that can be climbed over (despite people sitting on them). Avoided. An end carriage, closed in, only two other people - an older couple. This will do. In my head I'm already feeling sorry for them and apologising for The Boy. I know I shouldn't but I do do this.
We get on. The Boy instantly wants to stand next to the window. It's where he always stands. Shit. "Ted, sitting here." I try knowing it's futile. He tries to push his way to the window again. "Ted, sitting here." Desperately trying to redirect him knowing it's pointless. In my head I'm hoping the couple get it and offer to move, but they don't. He tries again. "Ted, sitting here." Aaaaaaaand....meltdown.
There's the scream. Oh, and here comes the biting. Now he's smashing his head against the bench. Still screaming. Perfect.
The couple look at me, a bit horrified. "Ted, sitting here." Utterly pointless but I try, mainly to show them that I am trying. Still they stare at me, seemingly waiting for me to 'do something' to stop the noise. The Boy lurches towards the woman's leg and grabs her ankle. "Owwwwww!" she shouts as The Boy scratches her. Fuck. I wasn't expecting that. "I'm so sorry. He has autism and doesn't understand why I'm stopping him standing next to the window, where he always stands." Still nothing. Just a stare boring into my soul, whilst leg rubbing. They're looking at me like I'm the most abhorrent parent in the universe.
In a second, it flashes across my mind. "Get out. Just apologise and get out. It was a fucking stupid idea bringing him here today."
As I'm visualising taking him off the train, my mouth opens and what came out even surprised me. "Would you mind if we swapped seats?"
She looked at me like I'd just asked if it would be okay if I pulled my knickers down and take a dump on the floor. She didn't answer me - just stared. After an excruciating five seconds, she and her husband stood up and let The Boy stand near the window, making their annoyance well known with their audible tuts and sighs.
The train moved forward. The Boy was calm. Sweaty and red, but calm. I held him on my lap and kissed the back of his head. Inwardly, I was laughing. Laughing at the lunacy of the situation that I find myself in so regularly. Laughing at the rage The Boy must have felt when he gouged the poor woman's leg. Laughing at how the carriage was eerily silent after what had probably felt like an eternity of screaming.
About halfway into the train ride, all was still calm. Everyone had resumed normal business. The kids were chatting busily with their parents, asking a million questions and dispensing a million facts. The traumatised couple sat next to me had relaxed into the ride and were chatting about the flora and fauna. All was well.
As I looked up, I noticed the mum sat opposite looking at me. She held my gaze and then she smiled. She continued to look into my face for a few seconds before we both looked away. In those few moments, she had said a thousand words:
"I don't judge you."
"It hasn't bothered me."
"You're doing great."
"We're in this together."
I don't know what her experience of autism is, nor do I care. She just got it and wanted to tell me. That's when the tears unexpectedly erupted. I buried my head into the back of The Boy's mass of tangled hair and let a few tears fall. I'm sure she wouldn't have wanted me to have cried at her show of kindness, but it meant so very much.
We all have those desperate situations as parents, regardless of whether your child is impaired or not. Those moments when you think, "what the fuck am I doing? I have no idea what to do next." You know you'll get through it. You always do, but that bit of recognition speaks volumes and makes it feel okay. A smile is really all it takes to make things feel a little better. Thank you to her. I will always be grateful for that smile.
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