Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Mall

Outside of torturing our kids by making them see Santa every year, the mall has been a place our family has avoided over the past couple of years. Once our son was added to the mix, it became impossible for one parent to control all three kids and just not worth the tension it would cause between my wife and I if we all attempted to go.

We tried visiting the mall using several different configurations: Luis and Bianca in a dual stroller and Sofie walking, umbrella stroller/dual stroller combo, dual stroller/backpack with a leash, two umbrella strollers, renting one of those car strollers from the mall information booth… you name it. No matter the combo, it was always a nightmare.

The only other reason we ever go to the mall is that they have a nice bouncy house place that has its own entrance/exit separate from the mall, so you can really avoid the mall altogether. Saturday they had a deal where special needs kids could jump for free and siblings at a discounted rate for an hour and half. So we got up and out of the house and trekked to the mall in the hopes that our little balls of energy could expend some of their reserves.

My wife ran RECON and went in ahead of Bianca and I to make sure that the place was clear of any vacuum cleaners (Bianca’s biggest enemy and cause for an immediate hour-long meltdown) before we entered the building. We were the only ones in the place, but rather than take advantage of the lack of screaming kids frantically running around, Bianca kept trying to run out into the mall. Finally we gave up and I told my wife I would walk with Bianca a little bit while the other two continued jumping and running around. Since the mall was still closed except for a couple of stores that catered to the mall walkers, the place was empty so I let go of Bianca’s hand and worked with her walking beside me. She walked methodically right to the candy kiosk about 50 feet away and pointed right at the M&M’s. “Candy” she signed over and over, followed by a verbal “M&Ms”.

She remembered. About 8 months ago, I had taken her to that very kiosk and gotten her some M&M’s. Bianca might be the hard-shelled candy’s biggest fan. I had no change so I had to get some cash from the wife. As SOON as I started to lead Bianca away, she FREAKED out. Crying, saying, “NO!” and “M&M’s” while feverishly jamming her index finger into her cheek and twisting it. I assured her we would get her some candy but that I needed to get some money.

Luckily the convenience store was open right next to the kiosk, so after I got some money from the Mrs. I gave it to Bianca and walked her in and told her to pick out her candy. She went right to the M&Ms and I told her to put it on the counter… she did. I told her to give the nice man the money… she did. She wouldn’t take the change, but she did give an echo-like “Thank you” to the clerk as we exited to rejoin the family.

Bianca sat at the party tables by herself in candy heaven as her siblings were running around screaming and fighting with one another and bouncing from one inflatable structure to the other. Once she had her candy fix though, off she went. Climbing, and sliding and jumping… Bianca was as happy as could be. She held on to the wrapper though. She wouldn’t let me touch it or pull it away. She was going to go through the maze of inflatable objects holding that wrapper… end of story.

They really do eat better than this normally... I promise.

After jumping a while we decided to gather the troops for a snack break. While our kids were munching away on chips and sugary drinks we realized we had some errands to run that we could do right there at the mall. My mind raced as I realized we were ill-equipped. No strollers, no backpack with a leash… nothing. It was still fairly early though and the mall wasn’t packed, so despite my nervousness I stayed silent and off we went.

What I experienced was really nothing short of a miracle. Sofie was her usual goofy and obedient self, Luis listened for the most part and stayed close, and Bianca walked with us happy as could be with barely a complaint. I even let go of her hand more and asked her to follow. The only time she blew me off was when she found a toy that she wanted to play with. Dare I say that walking around to three stores was… enjoyable? We even went into the Disney Store without as much as a complaint when we left. Luis did linger over the Cars stuff and was hesitant, but when I asked him to put the toy back... he did.

When we had lunch afterwards, Bianca sat in her seat the entire time and ate quietly. She sang some and stole a few of my breadsticks right out of my hand. It was Luis that was the issue. He is 2… and I mean he is TWO. He screams a lot. He cries a lot. He laughs a lot. He is stubborn. At one point my wife pointed out that it amazed her how quickly people forget what it is like to have young kids. Luis was screaming because he wanted to draw on the real menus and not the kiddie menu, and people were staring at him. Apparently he was ruining the Olive Garden ambiance.

“But you know what?” I asked with a smile. “At least they are staring at our neuro-typical kid.”

Happiness comes to people from different sources. Those scowls and eye rolls directed at my son not only made me happy, they made me proud. They meant progress. Bianca has worked so hard. She has made great strides over the last year and we are so proud of everything she does. I know Bianca’s autism is her own and her path will be unlike any other autistic person’s path, but I encourage all parents with kids on the spectrum to celebrate the baby steps because before you know it the combined results of each of those tiny steps covers a great amount of ground.

At the mall... no equipment necessary.

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  1. Lou,

    This is terrific. The Mall is a place my wife and I avoid also, since we have 5 kids including a 6 year old with autism. I know EXACTLY what you mean when you say outings like that are "not worth the tension." We almost never go out together as a family. It's just not worth it. But I'm glad you are conquering that mountain!

    I just found your blog, but I saw your "Fix You" months ago (shared it on FB). I had to fight back tears as I recognized I needed the kind of resolve that you showed in that video. What is it about Autism that saps all the strength and courage from fathers? Finally, 3 years after my son's diagnosis, I think I am figuring out how to "accept" his condition without surrendering.

    I say all that to say thanks, Lou. I'm going to be watching your blog often. I'm starting to blog a bit about our own journey if you're interested. Thanks for leading the charge and giving me a kick in the pants.


    Jason Hague

  2. Very nice! You still amaze me when you write. I love how you pay attention to the things that I say, even though the chaos can tend to draw me out. I have to say, it really was alot of fun going to the mall together. Do I want to attempt that again? Not for a while. But I know that things are improving. Bianca is definitely making great strides. Thank you for all of your love and patience!

  3. Hooray for a successful outing! Playland, the mall, AND Olive Garden with no meltdowns? Any one of those would be reason to celebrate. All the more so because it was unexpected.