The latter was learned the other day in the grocery store. Supermarket managers are geniuses, placing child-desired items eye-level on end caps, and using everything but airport runway lights and car alarms to create an attractive display. My nine year old son Joseph was drawn to the over-sized candy bars like Yogi to a picnic basket.
"Mama please, I really want one."
My heart melted as I stared into his blueberry-colored eyes, so full of hope and childish excitement. Joseph is the baby of the family, and at the moment, I wanted to be enshrouded with his childhood innocence just a little longer (more like forever).
I turned back to the selection of cottage cheeses, smiling as I heard Joseph's excited squeals. I didn't have to look to know he was flapping and twirling, something he did when he was excited, and a trait of autism. I noticed, as I put an item in my cart, that my son was twirling, spinning in the aisle and in front of a man with a cart. My emotions changed from horror to gratitude as the stranger leaned on the cart, smiling and watching as Joseph whirled. He wasn't in a rush.
"I'm...I'm sorry. My son has autism and he..."
The gentleman grinned and shook his head. "No big deal. He was so excited, and I didn't wanna move, because I didn't wanna hit him."
I wish I could say the entire shopping trip was that wonderful, but it wasn't. Shoppers swarmed in every aisle, and few had little tolerance for a small boy who was overstimulated by lights, sounds, and smells.
I can't lie and say it's not irritating when I'm shopping alone and there are children in the too-crowded aisles, doing everything but swinging from a pantyhose display; but I don't make it my goal to race toward the tykes, aiming my cart for them as if there were targets on their backs.
What irritated me the most was the lack of courtesy. I pulled Joseph out of the way of a shoppers enough times to make it an Olympic sport. There were some who offered a tense smile and a mumbled "thanks", but most bulldozed their way through with an exasperated sigh and eye roll.
I don't make excuses for Joseph's actions, but I do try and educate people on autistic traits. It seemed necessary to do so for one perturbed young lady in particular.
"Really?" she said, sneering. "Well the last time I checked, there were places for kids like that. Perhaps you should take your brat to one."
I grew up in the era of compassion, friendly greeting to strangers, returned phone calls, and customer service with a smile. Now I live in the times of road rage, obscene gestures, and obsession with the latest trends.
Do you remember the smiling attendant of yesteryear at the gas station, the one with the crisp uniform who slipped candy to kids in the car and happily serviced every automobile? If you happen to ever see him, tell him I miss him.