I must apologise for not knowing your name, but I never had a chance to ask. You may remember me; I was the mum in Safeway about four weeks ago crouched on the floor trying to settle a screaming child and surrounded by other children with stressed out faces. I just wanted to say thank you, so much, for what you did. You might think you didn't do anything, that you only said something, but what you said, did something for me.
You see, I could tell some things by those few words you said to me. You came over with a trolley of your own, and a small child sitting in it. (I didn't even get a chance to look closely enough to gauge how old your own child was, that's how deeply I was concentrating on managing my son). You gently but firmly touched my shoulder and said:
"Excuse me ma'am, can I do anything to help?"
The way you approached, and those simple words revealed to me that you knew. You knew what you were looking at. You knew what it meant. And you knew how to approach me. And with that only, I got a little bit of extra strength - a little bit of encouragement to be reminded that I am not alone when I experience these incidents, and that I am doing ok as a mum.
Sometimes it's hard to believe that, when you are trying to manage a screaming six year old in front of dozens of people coming and going through a main thoroughfare of a busy supermarket. I have grown a thick skin and acquired skills enough to cope with these situations - to be honest, I cope quite well when I'm in the middle of it. But it's when I come home afterwards, that I fall apart at the seams. In the middle of it, I am confident, calm, collected and clear thinking. When it hits me later, I am shattered, exhausted, discouraged and sad. Sometimes, I cry. I can easily ignore the funny looks people might give - to be honest, I don't even look to notice anymore. I just carry on caring for my son as best I can. But I'm pretty sure they are there. There are always people around who will blame me for the situation, and it's still hard not to blame myself anyway. So encouragement from a stranger really means a lot to me.
Your offer of help was both timely and appropriate. You were not judging me - you just saw a mum having a hard time and wanted to help. I'm certain you knew immediately that my son was autistic and having a meltdown for whatever reason. Even now, as I write and remember, I feel choked up inside with gratefulness, that you got it. You read the situation correctly.
I couldn't tell you what was happening at the time, and I happened to already have had the situation covered, but I'd like to offer an explanation now, even though you probably will never see this.
We had just come back from church, my four children and I, and I thought I'd pick up a few things for lunch and for school the next day. My husband was away on army training for the weekend. All we needed was bananas, apples, bread and one more thing, which I can't remember what it was now. We didn't need a trolley for those things, just a basket. Erik has been in a supermarket plenty of times. He has done the full shopping with me before - it's intense, but we can do it. He is familiar with it. But in his mind, there must always be a trolley. I tried to convince him the basket would do, but he would not have it. I persisted, not wanting to lose the battle, but it escalated quickly, and it all got too much.
At some point, I have to draw a line. It's not fair on him, and it's not fair on other patrons to the shop. I try to be strong in teaching him things, but sometimes, I have to concede the battle, you know, for the greater good. So I sent my oldest daughter around the corner with a token for a trolley. Literally, just over the barrier where I could see her. We were waiting for her to return with a trolley when you approached us. I knew that once that trolley was here, Erik would be ok. All he wanted was a trolley. Shopping is not right without a trolley. (Incidentally, I am so grateful that he doesn't insist on sitting in the baby seat anymore!)
Once we got the trolley, I had to convince Erik that it was here for him and he could sit in it if he wanted (the main part). He wasn't to be mollified immediately though, by this point he was far too upset. It took a few minutes, but I managed to convince him by hauling him up physically, and then he allowed me to lift him into the trolley. He immediately stopped crying at that point. I felt defeated, but relieved. I went around and picked up the few items I needed, and we went to the check out and back to the car. When I got home, I felt so emotionally drained, I had to lie in bed for a while. Fortunately, my husband had gotten home before us, so I was able to do that.
Your offer of help blessed me so much. Because of you, I know that the message is getting out there, or at least, I know that I am not the only one (just in case you have a child with an ASD of your own and that's how you knew what was happening). I have been lucky to have had only one truly nasty comment regarding my son, plenty of ignorant ones and a few well-meaning but annoying people trying to help in entirely the wrong way. But until you came along, had never had anyone genuinely helpful in a situation like this.
I will probably never see you again - truth be told, I can't even remember what you look like, Erik just commanded every part of my focus at the time. All I remember is that you had dark hair, were not very tall, and had a small one in the trolley seat. I just want to say thank you. And I hope, should you ever find yourself in a situation where you need the kindness of a stranger, God sends you someone just at the right moment, with the right thing to say and do to help you.
With deepest appreciation,