When a Stranger Approached Us After a Day of Mess-Ups and a Meltdown

Today was a day in which I felt I’d failed 136 times. I have days like this often. You see, I have Asperger syndrome, and I have three small children, the eldest two of whom are also diagnosed on the autism spectrum.

So I messed up — royally. And then I messed up again. I felt so awful about messing up that I had a meltdown and cried. And then I messed up yet again.

By the end of the day, when I picked up Juliette (my 4-year-old daughter who has autism) from therapy, I wasn’t really in the mood to venture into a crowded public place.

But the kids were starving, and I had found two rumpled coupons for free custard crammed into my wallet. And I thought maybe, just maybe, I could redeem myself of my failures by being the “cool mom” and taking them out for a treat.

“Big mistake,” I thought, as I entered and saw a long line of people and every table full. But I couldn’t turn back now. I had to push on through.

There was a woman in an adjacent booth staring at us the entire time we were there. She watched as Baby Roland refused to sit and jumped up and down in the booth. He ate his custard with his hands instead of his spoon and dropped some onto the sticky tabletop and tried to lick it up. She also watched as Juliette got out of her seat and hid under a chair. I attempted to transition them to leave by saying, “Let’s go home and play hide and seek!”

On our way out, I stopped to refill my soda. Caffeine was much needed today! I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the woman. I was immediately filled with dread and self-loathing shame. I braced myself for the “hands full” comment that was surely coming. “Yes,” I thought. “I do have my hands full. In fact, I can’t handle all of these kids — or any aspect of my life whatsoever — today.”

But all she did was smile fondly at Baby Roland, who was making my left arm quite tired with his almost 2-year-old big boy physique.

She said, “I’m sure you feel overwhelmed, but I just want to tell you that you’re doing an amazing job with your beautiful children. I remember those days with mine, and it can be so hard raising little ones. You are doing great. Keep up the good work, mama.”

I stood there for a second, mouth agape, and then I think I managed to stammer a thank you. With one last smile and a wink, she walked away.

Later, as I was in bed, relishing the rare but beautiful quiet in my house, I began to replay that interaction over and over in my head. I imagined what I would have said had I not been so caught off guard by her sweet words.

“Thank you. This means so much to me. I’ve been having a rough day and this was just what I needed to hear. The world needs more kind people like you in it.”

Except I hadn’t said any of that.

I sure hope the tears in my eyes showed her.

Amber Appleton the mighty.2-001

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