Five-thirty is the worst time to go to the grocery store! Every parent knows that, but I had to go. The kitchen cabinet held approximately two heals of bread and a can of beans. I had a meeting until the very minute my older kids got out of school. I raced to get my older son to and from Karate. I scrambled to pick up my younger three from their afterschool club. I arrived just in time and my sons loaded into the car laughing about their day.
Then the conversation got serious, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” I replied cheerfully, “Grilled cheese and tomato soup, but we have to go to the store first.” The little boys were ok with that but I heard my older son sigh. Even as I pulled into the overcrowded parking lot, I knew that going to the store was a bad idea. It wasn’t too late to turn the car around and go to McDonalds and for a second I considered it. It only took a minute to weigh my options. My boys have a lot of food sensitivities and fast food tends to set us up for a pretty bad night. I decided to brave the store.
I found a parking spot and turned to face my sons. “What kind of behavior are we going to have in the store?” They shouted, “good behavior.” My seven year old, always needing to be reassured said, “I’m always helpful and good. Right mom?” “Yes, you are baby, you always do a nice job in the store.” We were off to a good start and I got a little bit over zealous. I added cereal and milk to the grocery list, thinking it would be a good idea to knock out tomorrow’s breakfast at the same time. I handed the list to my oldest, hoping that a job would pull him out of his funk.
Immediately, we had problem. My youngest wanted to push the cart and began tugging wildly on two carts that were tangled together. Before I could reach him, my older son stepped in, pushed past the younger one and pulled the carts apart. He began to maneuver around his now whimpering brother, “Mom, you said I could do it this time!” I patted the little one’s head, “It is your turn, and I’ll remind your brother.” I did remind him and he stomped his foot and grumbled, “You never let me do anything.” I did my best to take a deep breath before I replied, “I know you’re frustrated, you can have a turn next time.” He stomped off and I let him go.
I began to quickly find the items on the list. My little ones trailed behind. We didn’t see the older son until the cereal isle. Just then, my older son came around the corner with a box of Lucky Charms. I actually laughed out loud, “Absolutely not!” My laughter was a mistake. My son was not joking and I had just really triggered the panic switch in his brain. He returned the box of cereal to the shelf and followed me reluctantly to the check out. “Thanks for returning the box, son. I appreciate that, I’m sorry I was laughing. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” “It’s ok mom,” he muttered.
My son wasn’t ok though, I could tell. We had tried to do too much. I could see the frustration all over his face. He was bouncing from foot to foot. His eyes were darting around and his voice had taken on a low and warning tone. All I could do was get out of there as fast as possible. My eight year old and I were practically throwing things onto the belt when I heard my 12 year old criticize one of the little ones, “you don’t do it like that, are you an idiot?” I turned around and faced him. As softly and calmly as I could manage, I responded, “We do not treat others like that. You can take a breath, you can wait outside, or you can help us unload the cart. What would you like to do?” “I want a pack of gum!” the pitch in his voice was rising. I glanced at the cashier and the customer in front of me. They were both uncomfortably shooting looks my way. My little ones had started to get silly in the midst of the tension. “Boys, please put your hands on the cart and do not remove them until we leave the store.” I ignored the customer who was now staring unashamedly at the spectacle of us. I turned to my older son and said firmly, “We are not buying gum today.” He rolled his eyes and I turned away from him. I pretended not to hear what he said next. “You’re a jerk mom, I’m going to tell my teacher who you really are!”
He paused for effect and that’s when I heard the comment that really stung. The woman in front of me was leaning in close to the cashier. “That kid is the jerk. I can’t understand why parents these days allow their children to talk like that. She shouldn’t have so many kids if she can’t handle them.” I tried to tune her out and leaned into my little ones thanking them for turning their silly behavior around. I can’t blame the woman really. My son was being really mean, and I was ignoring it. I did look like a bad parent. What that woman didn’t know was that my pre-teen has FASD which is caused by pre-natal exposure to alcohol. She didn’t know that when he was little, a tantrum would sometimes last longer than 8 hours. She had no idea that even in this embarrassing moment, I was celebrating the success in his newfound ability to use words rather than force (as hurtful as those words might be.)
I paid for the groceries and didn’t even bother to remind the bagger to use the bags I brought from home. I was ready to get out of the store. I thanked the cashier and made my exit as if nothing had happened. My oldest son trailed behind the whole way not saying a word.
I turned the key in the ignition and let the car warm up. That’s when my son finally spoke up, “I’m really sorry I did that in the store, mom. I heard what that lady said. I am a jerk. You’re not a bad mom though. I’m sorry.” “Oh son,” I squeezed his hand. “It was too much for us to do that shopping trip after such a long day. It is important for you to not talk to others the way you did, what can you do differently next time you are starting to feel anxious?” He came up with some great ideas. My son is not a jerk. He is an overcomer. He will always have brain damage, but I have absolutely no doubt that he will continue to grow and mature until even minor tantrums will be a thing of his past.
Are you walking down a similar path with one of your kids? Share your story with us in the comment section.