I see you. You are in the grocery store with a cart full of beige food and a small child mouthing the bag of carrots that you are quietly trying to wrestle from him, should passersby look on and wonder why a child, at least the age of 5, might be chewing on your produce. It's early morning, just after school should have begun. That might have been enough for me to know you; to know your story, but you're giving more in these moments as I watch you from my spot in line at the pharmacy. You are in the diaper aisle. The far end where they keep the biggest diapers. The frown on your face tells me you are discouraged that they stopped at size six. Your boy can barely squeeze into them and they are useless through the night. I only recently left the diaper aisle myself. I haven't forgotten. It hurts. I was you. I am you.
You might have cried, but you had already cried today when the school called and told you he needed to be picked up because he was flailing in the classroom, or was it thrashing? Maybe he was biting again. It didn't matter, to you. You simply set the laundry aside and accepted the fact that you would skip your shower again today and drove to the school. The tears burned behind your eyes as you forced yourself to collect him before they spilled out. You wouldn't give them the satisfaction. You walked away amid their judgmental stares and led your boy to the car. He was happy now, and you helped him into his car seat and took your spot in the front to cry. This is where you always cried. You drove, secure that your sunglasses hid most of your sorrow should he ever take notice. He never takes notice. Now you are here, searching in vain for diapers for your 5- year-old boy.
You won't notice me. I have no children with me. I am furniture, old wallpaper; I am scenery to you. You take care not to make eye contact with anyone so you'll miss my knowing smile in an effort to avoid the frowns, the stares, the goddamn glares. F*cking autism, you think. Then you quickly feel guilty because you've been told so many times that your son should be celebrated and if you lament his difficulties or delays you shame all that he is or can be. My smile contains no pity or disdain. You'd recognize it, I know you would. It says: F*cking autism.
Your peripheral is strong, but you force yourself to focus on the task while my smile turns into a sigh. You won't look up; you are afraid to look up. You free the carrots. He screams. It's shrill today. You quickly hand him back his prize.
I am running very late for work and willing this line to move when it hits me that as much as I wish to stay at home with my daughters, the days would offer no less stress or worry. I wish I could walk over to you and simply say: "These diapers are bullsh*t, aren't they?" You might laugh. You might know how I know that by the look on my face, the mess of my hair and the prescription in my hand. You might know my whole story today, too.
Do you know I am going to go home and show my kids Peter Pan on Netflix because it is literature inspired? I consider that a win for this evening because my day has been rough, too, and it's not yet 10 a.m.. I cried on the way to the drugstore. Only because my daughter slapped my face when I tried to buckle her into the car seat. She was angry because I don't usually drive her to daycare. She screamed at me for the short drive and I cried because I wanted one morning without screaming, without tears. I now know that when I pick her up at the end of the day I will be told she had a "rough" day. She will have been non-complaint and angry. She might hit. She will certainly cry. She will make some lovely, underpaid, under-appreciated daycare worker, or therapist, or teacher, sigh and question her career choice. The thought made me cry hard.
So, as I stand here taking in your morning and re-living my own, I want to tell you that you are not alone. It's safe to look up now and then.