When a Mom in a Parking Lot Tapped Me on the Shoulder After My Child's Meltdown


I must admit that I used to be snooty. Oh, not outwardly, I mean my friends would never have described me as such, but in contrast to today, I was snooty. I looked at parents in stores with small children having temper tantrums, and I would think to myself, Boy am I glad my kids don’t behave that way! Then I had my fourth child, Katie (I call her Katie Bird). She is 8 years old and the apple of my eye.  She is extremely intelligent, hyperlexic (can read on a college level with pretty good comprehension), and can name characteristics of most every animal in the wild. Katie was diagnosed with autism just before her third birthday.

One busy Saturday afternoon two years ago, I took Katie with me to our local Costco for a relatively easy trip. At this point, she still liked to ride inside the big part of the cart. Then we reached the aisle that had toys – that was all she wrote. I refused to give her the stuffed animal she was screaming for.  So I immediately took the items in my cart to the checkout that thankfully wasn’t too long, and made it through with some crying and screaming. As she calmed down slightly, I decided to stop at the customer service counter to do some quick business there. While interacting with the clerk, she had a meltdown. I remember thinking to myself that this shouldn’t take long, and we’d be out of there quickly. But the clerk stepped away a little longer than expected, and then took longer on the computer, then took a phone call, etc… The meltdown grew. People were staring, muttering not-so-niceties, and some were even leaving the line. I was actually starting to sweat, all the while trying to rub a fast-kicking leg of a 6-year-old in severe mental anguish and distress with a calming tone of voice, saying, “It’s OK, Katie Bird, we’ll be done in a minute and we’ll go home and get your guys.” We call her stuffed animals “guys.”

As the business finally concluded at the customer service counter, I made my usual apologies to the clerk, and started pushing the cart out the front door. As I was walking up to the gentleman who checks your receipt, he simply waved me on which at first I thought was nice… until he started clapping. And the clapping didn’t stop until after all the laughing started behind me. I was humiliated! I finally made it to my car and opened the side door to the van, picked Katie up from the cart and put her in her seat and started to belt her in when I felt a tap on my shoulder… Oh, here it comes, I thought… It’s a holier-than-thou parent to tell me off! So I spun around to find a small, young, smiling woman, holding her son’s hand.

She simply said, “Hi, what’s your name?” I sighed and said, “Julie”, and then started to blurt out that my daughter was autistic, but this woman put a hand on my arm and said, “I know, I know, it’s OK.” She went on to tell me that her nephew is also autistic, and that she thought I had done such a wonderful job inside the store with my child that she wanted to come tell me. Tears started running down my face as I muttered my thanks, and then she asked if she could say a prayer with me. She put both hands on my shoulders and started to pray as I silently wept. She told me her name, and then she was off as quickly as she had arrived.

I don’t remember her name, but I will always remember my little angel that day because she truly turned me from thinking everyone in the whole world was mean to thinking that there are some really good people out there, and sometimes you just need to be receptive to other’s help and prayers. I now pay attention to struggling moms in stores and ask them if there’s anything I can do to help — because it’s not the help, but just knowing that someone else can empathize with what you are going through and that you’re not alone.

As a side note, I did call the Costco manager to speak with him about the employee at the door. I asked that he not be fired, but counseled on autism spectrum disorder, and that not all screaming children are just “spoiled” by “indulgent parents.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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