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When I Wondered Why a Woman Was Apologizing to Her Screaming Child

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I saw a woman standing outside Target the other day desperately trying to get her son into a shopping cart. He was a big kid, maybe 5 years old. He was screaming and stiff; she couldn’t even get him into the big part of the cart. He had a binky in his mouth and wasn’t talking or yelling anything at her. He was just mad, so mad. I think she was signing to him, but it could have just been her trying to make him laugh with hand movements. He was getting madder and madder. The part that was hard to watch was when he started grabbing and pulling her hair, jerking her head all over the place. He was unconsolable. Other people were staring at his mother, too.

She held him in her arms while he flailed and arched his back, shaking his head, still pulling her hair. He actually he pulled some of it out. She kept saying to him, “We have to go shopping, I’m sorry you’re so mad and frustrated. You can hold my hand and walk or get in the cart.”

The look on her face was so odd though.

She looked so calm. She never raised her voice. She just waited for the storm to wash over.

The screaming stopped for a minute, and she whispered something to him and all of a sudden he relaxed. Still holding him, she walked towards the store.

She was telling him, “I’m so sorry.”

I was trying to figure out what the hell she was sorry for.

Later that I day I saw the same lady.

I was at the mall, and this time, she had her son back in a carrier. He had a cup of binkies, a whole cup. He wasn’t screaming this time, but he was pulling her hair again and trying to throw his weight around to get her to where he wanted to go. He was tossing his binkies, and every time someone looked at him, he’d hide his face and cry.

I couldn’t believe I was seeing her again. She had the same look on her face and kept talking to him, telling him they needed to do this and that she was sorry.

Seriously… what is she sorry for?

But I realized that woman is no stranger to me; that woman is me. The kid that looks like he’s 5 years old is my son, who just turned 3. I’ve heard people talk or say snide comments as they walk by when my son is having a hard time. I remember not being a parent and seeing parents out with their kids and watching their kids freak out and judging or assuming I knew whatever it was they were doing wrong.

Everything stops and slows down when your child is having a meltdown. I have to quickly figure out who, what, where and why he might be struggling with whatever it is that sends him over the edge. I have to think about the entire week, our day and where we are. Sometimes I have no clue what actually triggered the meltdown. I just have to find a way to get through to him in that moment.

My son is notorious for pulling my hair when he gets frustrated or overwhelmed. Trust me, it hurts so badly. I muster everything I have to not scream at him or squish his little hand to get him to let go. I try hard not to yell back at him. I find a soothing tone and talk to him even though he can’t think straight. I cannot put him down when he’s like this or he will throw himself on the ground or just bolt. I’d rather have him pull my hair, even if he’s pulling it out.

My job is to keep him safe and try to understand why he’s feeling the way he is.

This is the part of autism that I have a hard time with.

Not because he physically hurts me or because people stare or make comments, but because I know he’s in so much pain.

Suddenly, I understood why that woman was sorry.

Because I’ve been sorry for dragging him out of the house knowing all he wanted to do was stay home and watch TV and cuddle with me. I’ve been sorry when he had horrible diaper rash and we had to go to the store so I could get him ointment. I’ve been be sorry when I couldn’t just give in and go home because we needed other items. I’ve been sorry when I knew the week was full of firsts for him and he was struggling to understand why there were so many changes. I’ve been sorry he was hurting so bad and I couldn’t make it stop.

This post originally appeared on Finders Seekers.

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Originally published: April 6, 2015
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