Carry on Wayward Son

Sometimes special needs parenting hits you in the face, hard. I took both kids to my 3-year-old daughter’s well check today. It was a little stressful when Caleb went for the stickers laying an inch away from the uncapped syringes, but otherwise an excellent outing with both kids. This is a rare feat in our household as we almost never take both kids into a place with one adult. I thought, “I got this” and took the kids to a nearby Chik-Fil-A as a treat for them doing so well at the Doc’s.

I was cocky.

We were 8 minutes too early for lunch. Caleb started crying. The obviously childless teenager politely asked, “Are you sure you can’t wait 8 minutes?” I point to my now screaming autistic 5 year-old while letting the cashier know that I have no problem waiting but my son clearly cannot. As we’re walking away, the manager calls out that they can make nuggets if we don’t mind eating hash browns instead of fries. I thought that at least Caleb could get his nuggets and the worst would be over, so I took them up on it.

I chose poorly.

While I was trying to order his kid’s meal, Caleb erupted into a meltdown that will surely go down into the record books. There was screaming, crying, and flailing. I felt the eyes of every person in that place burning into the back of my neck as I tried to console him while finishing the order. It was so bad that the manager came running around the counter and dropped down next to my daughter to try entertain her and allow me to focus on Caleb.

At that point I felt we were in too deep to leave, somehow managed to pull out and swipe my card, and then the manager grabs the food tray and asks where we are sitting. I pull/drag/carry my screaming Caleb to the furthest booth in the very back of the restaurant, open his nuggets, and hand them to him. Like a light switch, Caleb bursts out in a grin and sits contentedly eating nuggets while looking around smiling. Manager looks around to see if she’s on Candid Camera. I explain that leaving was trigger that set him off because he can’t handle when a set routine is broken. It’s especially brutal if it involves his favorite foods. He gets this from his mother. Also, a major shout-out to that manager who really stepped up and went above and beyond.

As we are leaving, all the employees smiled at me and told me they were sorry. I feel like this should be reversed, but whatever we’re almost done. Five feet from the door, my until-then perfectly behaved daughter notices the ball pit and starts screaming/crying because her mother always takes her. Mother strikes again and she’s not even with us. We’re moving and the door is in sight, so it’s just a little salt in the wound. I get the kids into the car and book it home.

On the drive back, Carry on Wayward Son by Kansas came on the radio. It was rather fitting and made me reflect… minus the whole lay your weary head to rest part. Caleb has his own road to travel through life. It’s not well-beaten and it’s going to be difficult, but it’s his road to travel. I already know that at times I’m not going to understand it, but that’s okay as long as I can be there to help him down it.

So carry on my wayward Son, don’t you cry no more.

Brian Samsell