A little old lady called my son an asshole.
Actually, she wasn’t that little and the term she used to describe Tobin was “asshole kid.”
She was standing right beside my un-invisable, hearing-enabled son. She looked right at him and said it like it was this hilarious joke between her and the lady who was making my omelet at the hotel breakfast bar. Only the omelet lady didn’t think it was funny and looked uncomfortable as the old lady in her puffy vest left the room with her girlfriends laughing about the hilarious, astute observation she had just made.
And I’m left with my mouth open, cup of coffee in my hand: Did that really just happen?
A few facts:
- Tobin and I had stayed the night at a hotel by his school because we didn’t have a ride that day, so our friend who drove us the day before had dropped us off at the hotel to stay the night before she headed back home.
- We were planning to walk to his school, but one of his kind teachers had heard we were walking and volunteered to pick us up on her way into work.
- Tobin was ticked that I wouldn’t let him have Doritos for breakfast.
The night before I was a little freaked out about possibly having a seizure, so instead of walking to a nearby restaurant, we raided the hotel’s snack bar, and I had allowed Tobin to have some Doritos for dinner. It set him off when we passed the snack area again and I had denied his request for a Dorito breakfast.
- There were only three groups of people in the hotel’s ginormous breakfast room: us, a table across the room, and this group of ladies who were leaving.
- Tobin had my phone and was watching his favorite children’s song on YouTube. I put some food on his plate, ordered my omelet and went across the room to get my coffee, since I knew he was good to go. As I’m walking off, he launches my phone. I leave it on the floor, thinking I would just pick it up when I made it back to the table.
- I guess one of the old ladies picked up the phone and tried it hand it back to him. I didn’t see that, but I heard my phone hit the floor and turned and looked and a different old lady was staring at me in horror. I feel the embarrassment start to crawl up into my face and say, “We’re having a hard morning.” I smile an awkward smile. Tobin continues to eat, never looking at anyone. And that’s when the comedian makes the comment to the omelet lady. And they all walk out laughing.
I hear them leaving and realize that I’m still here, on planet earth and not an imaginary place. I find my words: “Did that lady just call my son an ‘asshole’?” I say to the omelet lady. Her eyes are silver dollars. She slowly nods. “Did she say of my son, ‘Asshole kid’?” The omelet lady nods again.
I feel my voice go up about eight octaves and tears pool up in my eyes, the shock of it all churning around inside me:
“She doesn’t know anything about us, “ I say. “She knows nothing of our life. Does she know my son has severe autism? That he’s nonverbal? That the only way he can communicate is with a computer? That we drive two hours here so he can get the therapies he needs to help with these behaviors? I know he has opened sugar packets and dumped them all over this table. I know he threw my phone. I know. I know. I know. It’s awful. We are having a hard morning. She doesn’t know that the reason we are staying the night here is because one day while driving I mysteriously had a seizure and no one knows why and now I can’t drive for six months so we are relying on friends and family to drive us the two-hour commute so he can continue to receive the therapies he needs. That we are right now waiting on a wonderful teacher from Tobin’s school to pick us up and take us to the place that helps us with these behaviors that she has so kindly identified. WE ARE HAVING A HARD MORNING!”
Believe it or not, this was said in more of a weepy, high-pitched fast-talk, not as angry as it may come off the screen.
I was shocked. I thought of running after the old lady and letting her know that we are in fact human beings and not just random inconveniences to her day, but by the time I had that coherent thought, she was long gone and I would have to leave Tobin.
Poor omelet lady.
The lady next to her who was checking people in quietly says, “What did she look like?” I describe the short grey hair and puffy vest and she slowly walks out.
I sit next to Tobin and text Brian, trying to find my breath.
Moments later, the sales manager comes to me, sincerely apologies for the woman’s behavior and comps our breakfast. I let her know we love the hotel, that it was the woman who was out of line. She maintains her apology. And I feel the kindness begin to smooth over my big feelings.
Ms. Teresa picks us up and takes us to school.
My friend who was going to take me from school to the gym fell victim to a severe stomach bug in the middle of the night and in her sickness (unbeknownst to me) had coordinated a ride for me to get from the school to the gym.
I arrive at the gym, overwhelmed at the gesture and get a moment to sit and process: the mean old lady, the hotel, the friend.
I’m feeling all the feelings and my phone rings. It’s my friend Anndi. She lives in St. Louis about thirty minutes away from the gym. “Are you still going to St. Louis?” she asks. I explain to her about how so many amazing people have been transporting us to and from Tobin’s school, that we are trying to make it to December and then have Tobin make his transition to our local public school in January. “Where are you now?” she asks. I tell her I’m at the gym, doing homework for my yoga teacher training, I’m going to hop in a class and then I’m planning to Uber back to the school to get Tobin and walk back to the hotel.
“No, you’re not,” she says. “I’m coming to get you.”
I try to protest. I know she lives thirty minutes away. I know she is home with three kiddos and honestly, it has been the hardest thing to ask people to help us in such big, inconvenient ways, to have to rely on people to do simple things. I’m not going to do it again.
“I’m coming to get you. It’s not that far at all. How does 1:00 sound?”
We make arrangements, end the call, and I’m left in tears at the kindness. Raw. Vulnerable. Broken by the gesture, the rage of the morning in a watery mess.
One o’clock comes, my friend comes to get me. We make a coffee/dessert run with her littles. We catch up. We pick up Tobin. We take the kids to a park. We go to “red shopping cart.” She takes us back to the hotel where we will wait for my parents to come join us.
And the events of the morning seem far, far away as I’m filled to the brim with hope that comes from acts of kindness.
Tobin and I arrive at our hotel room to find notes that the hotel staff has left for us. There’s a fruit plate in the fridge, new notepads for Tobin to write on (they saw he had filled up the others the night before), and a card expressing how glad they were that we had chosen them as our hotel.
I’m a puddle.
Just a mess in wake of all these acts of love.
I’m crying. Tobin’s drawing and eating fruit.
And I’m wondering if they saw the stick figure man with hair on its head that Tobin had drawn in ink on the white sheets before or after they rolled out all those welcome mats.
Because let’s be real:
Tobin’s behavior has taken a major downturn since the accident.
We are seeing behaviors we haven’t experienced since 2015. We’re back to shifting out public outings, with one of us staying back with Tobin because we don’t know if he is going to take off his clothes or pee his pants or spit at everyone he sees.
It’s been a bit rough.
His teachers tell me he presses “Police Car” and “Mom” on his talker during the day.
And at night, when I tuck him in, I watch his body get still and calm as I tell him that I know we went through a really scary time but that I’m okay now. He’s okay now. We are safe. When I tell him the police cars and ambulance that he remembers were all there to help us be safe. And that I know it can feel strange and different having no routine but the reason so many different people are driving us is all to keep us safe. In those moments he gives me great eye contact and gets really still, seeming to listen to every single thing I am saying—and then he immediately goes back to his wiggle worm self.
Because it all goes together. One big domino maze where each element affects the other. The good, the bad, the hard, the in-between, the logistics, the disruptions, the reliance. Each ingredient combining with the other in this giant mixture of hard and good, all stirred up at the same time in a big soup of feelings we’re experiencing during this time right now.
It’s a lot.
I’ve often said that Tobin is a doorway for us to see the very best and the very worst in people. And this has never proven more true than this time right now.
Tobin’s recent downturn in behavior has been really hard for all of us and for the people around us as we experience the current Tobin, and in a lot of ways it’s not brought out the best in people. Including us.
At times, Tobin and I have found ourselves Ubering from place to place, Tobin in pajamas zipped down his back so he can’t take off his clothes, me carrying all our belongings in backpacks, trying to hold his hand and make sure he doesn’t spit on strangers.
We’ve had appointments, coordinating rides, with my family taking off work to make sure we all get where we need to go. And it’s hard for me to feel so dependent. And it’s hard for Tobin to have such an upheaval.
At the same time, we have been cared for, loved on in ways so specific, so tangible, and filled with so much kindness. Spontaneous acts of kindness from so many different people.
Our community in our small town wrapping its arms around us to make sure we are cared for.
Our community in our big town wrapping its arms around us to make sure we are cared for.
These immensities, these giant experiences as the pendulum swings from side to side in all the different moments of our days has me constantly learning a vital lesson:
There is magic in kindness.
It’s the kindness, love manifesting itself in tangible acts that overcome a world of hard. This is where the power is.
The hurts of a day begin to dissolve as the kindness of another sinks in. A balm to the worn-out soul.
I came home one day and was relaying the events of our day to Knox and Brian, describing how I felt waiting at the library with all our belongings, as Tobin ran around spitting at people. How angry I was. How helpless I felt. How it enabled me to see that if I’m having a hard time with this, how much is Tobin? And how frustrating it must be for him to not be able to express all that he is feeling. To not know how soothing it can be to cry and talk to us and get what’s in his head out to our hearts so we can help him.
I say how helpless I feel and how waiting at that library made me feel homeless, and Knox cuts me off: “You’re NOT homeless, Mom. You’re not. You stayed at a hotel for two nights and then you came home to this house to all of us.” He has a firm voice, almost chastising.
And I realize he’s so right.
We have so much to be thankful for. So much thanks to give during this season of reflection and gratitude. It’s easy to get caught up in some sort of pity party that it sends you downhill fast.
It’s challenging to be cared for when you want to be independent.
It’s challenging to have such practical needs taken care of and have no way to repay.
But that kind of kindness? That kind of love you can feel and touch and receive?
That’s the Good. That’s where the life is. That’s the magic that makes all the mean disappear.
If you let it in.
I made the deliberate choice to not edit the old lady’s spicy language. My ears didn’t hear “a-hole” or “a$$hole” or any other censored version. My son’s ears didn’t hear an edited version either. Because often the excuse I’ve heard of mean comments is the old adage, “I have no filter.” Well, ears don’t have filters either.
I know I will fail, but I want to try and always remember that words can wound and scar and dehumanize. And they can also repair, build up, comfort, and heal.
And sometimes calling a spade a spade may give you satisfaction or power or a good laugh, but the real power comes in taking that spade out of the ground and filling in the hole with love.