The Scene: Pizzeria Uno’s Restaurant
The Date: October 7th, 2010
The Occasion: Our Anniversary
The Players: The Whole Family
Our main character had a great plan for that night, or so she thought. The whole family out to celebrate. She had forgotten that it was a Thursday night and the kids were usually physically and emotionally spent after the long week of school. She neglected to notice that they wouldn’t be eating until almost 6pm, about 45 minutes later than they usually do. And she had forgotten, maybe on purpose, that one of her kids has autism spectrum disorder. She just wanted a nice dinner out with her family for her anniversary, dammit. Just this one time.
I sent Tim an e-mail around 4:30pm asking if he wanted to meet us out for dinner for our anniversary. Seemed like a pretty good plan at the time. It had finally stopped raining, Gerry didn’t have any homework, and Lewis had taken a pretty good nap. Plus, I had to go out anyway to get some special cupcakes for Howie to bring in to school so he could eat a treat along with the other kids celebrating birthdays. We agreed to meet at the restaurant at 5:30pm.
My first mistake happened before we even left the house. Howie had asked me for some juice as I was packing up our toys/cars/coloring books/yogurts/juice boxes for dinner. I ignored it, thinking I’d remember to bring his juice cup in the car with me. I didn’t. His juice cup is his comfort – when he’s feeling out of sorts or not feeling great, he asks for juice. He asked three times. I missed it, and told him in the car that he’d have to wait until we got to Uno’s.
Tim was running late from work, so I brought the boys into the restaurant myself. We used to go to Uno’s a few times a month, until it starting getting too expensive once all five of us were each ordering our own meals. In the past, we’ve sat on one side of the restaurant – the side where the windows face the parking lot where we park. This time, the host brought us to another side – a side where the walls were too high for Howie to see out of from his seat. Cue meltdown number one…
With Lewis in one arm, my bag of food and tricks slung over the other arm, I dragged Howie screaming across the restaurant to our booth. Wailing “BUT I WANT TO SIT OVER THERE!!”, I grabbed him by the arm and pulled him into the bench seat of the booth, while the host took about an hour to get me a highchair for Lewis. Gerry slunk into the corner of the other bench. Lewis threw the crayons onto the floor. Howie continued with “Mama! Mama! Mamaaaaaa!” – his cry when he can’t formulate the words to tell me what is wrong.
(Now I know at this moment I could have stopped this. Well, I know it now. I could have asked the host to move us. I could have calmly tried to understand from Howie what the problem was. And had I known that things were going to continue to spiral downhill from here, I probably would have said something. But instead I dug in my heels. And I turned around and yelled at Howie to stop or else he would be waiting for us all in the car with Dad. You know, whenever Dad got there.)
The world’s most indifferent waitress came over to take our drink order, and I told her we were actually ready to order our food. Tim had already given me his pizza-no-cheese order, Gerry and Lewis always get the same thing, and I had brought Howie’s yogurt to have with french fries. I was trying to order all this while Howie was trying to climb into my lap…check that, climb into my skin…still screaming “Mama! Mama! Mama!”. The waitress looked annoyed to have to be listening to me through all of that. Imagine trying to talk through it.
The waitress quickly ran away to process our order, I got Lewis drawing circles on the kids’ menu, and I was finally able to turn my attention to Howie. “What IS it???” I asked him, much more loudly than I wanted to.
“I don’t want to sit HERE!”, he shouted. “I don’t like the fans and the red light on the seat!!”
I looked up. Above our heads were several circular fans, including one very old one up near the ceiling. They were off, but for some reason were still bothering Howie. And on top of each of the posts near our booth were two red lights. Completely innocuous to the untrained eye. Totally overwhelming to the kid already on sensory overload.
“I want to sit where there are yellow lights! Not the red ones!!”
Thankfully Tim arrived at this moment. He took Howie away from the table to look at the giant fans to see how they worked. I walked around the restaurant with him to show him that none of the tables had yellow lights, and that if we sat at a certain angle, we couldn’t see them anymore.
We sat back down at our table and Howie climbed into my lap. He turned around and gave me one of his hugs – the ones that tell me he’s trying so hard to calm his body down and feel better. The hugs that dig deep into the skin on my neck and tear at my soul. While he’s hugging me, he whispers into my ear:
“Why is everything in my life so difficult?”
At this point, our main character’s eyes filled up with tears. “I don’t know, sweetie.”, she says. “I just don’t know.”
“‘Lady Peaceful,’ ‘Lady Happy,’
That’s what I long to be
All the odds are in my favor
Something’s bound to begin
It’s got to happen, happen sometime
Maybe this time I’ll win” – Maybe This Time from Cabaret