I had just pulled out my Costco membership card and was waived into the store with a drone of other people. I couldn’t help but giggle to myself thinking we all looked like a bunch of sheep being rounded up by the herder as we swarmed through the front door, narrowed into a single line and then walked our own separate ways once inside. I had my usual list of items chicken-scratched onto a piece of paper that I pulled out from my purse. I veered around the jewelry display with my cart, heading into the back of the store where the bread aisle waited for me. I noticed the baker was at the display case, placing new cakes in the shelves when I first saw mom.
She seemed exhausted. Her hair was dark brown and her sunglasses were propped on top of her head holding her hair away from her eyes. She had a pencil in one hand and was straining to read something in her other hand (I presume her shopping list). She had dark, black circles under her eyes which seemed to age her and she looked as if she hadn’t gotten a solid 8-hours of sleep in months. She had on a simple pair of jeans and her tee-shirt had purple splotches on it from the juice in the sippy cup that was poking out from her purse in the cart. She appeared sad and very nervous. I then heard a blood curdling scream followed by laughter and directed my attention to two small children with her. One was a boy of about nine, who was shrieking into his shoulder while shoving danishes and cupcakes off of the display shelves. The other child was a girl of about four who was sitting in the cart while running bags of food along the rim over and over again. I watched her as she held the bag of food in her hand and carefully dragged it along the rim of the cart, let it fall to the floor, and would begin laughing. Then another blood-curdling shriek from the boy, followed by three bags of chips being flung off the shelves. I knew immediately what was going on: #Autism.
I walked over to the woman who immediately began apologizing while putting the food back on the shelf. Without looking at me, she reached for something in her pocket and promptly handed it over in my general direction. It was a homemade business card that said, “My children have Autism. They are not being naughty on purpose. Please be patient with them as they are still learning how to function in our community.” I bent down and began helping mom pick up the baked goods that had been tossed off the shelf and noticed I had tears in my eyes. I offered to hold mom’s groceries in my cart and walk with her to the checkout, but she quietly replied with “Thanks but we’re ok. I still have a lot of stuff to get.” We exchanged one final smile and nod that seemed to last forever. Her smile showed her soul; her strength, her unyielding passion and dedication to her children. And I hope my smile gave her some comfort that I understand where she is coming from. I then wished her a good day, and went back to get my cart.
To the mom I saw at Costco, I hope you know how much respect I have for you and how strong you are as a mother, as a woman and as an advocate for Autism. I hope you look into your children’s eyes and see that you have given life to two beautiful children who adore you and live life on their terms, creating their world in a way that works for them. I hope you smile a little longer in the mirror when you see the dark circles under your eyes as badges of your beauty and strength you possess. I hope you continue teaching your children about community outings and handing out your homemade Autism cards to passersby. I hope you went home that night and realized….you are my Hero.