Yesterday afternoon, Mr A was out running errands. Miss J was spending the afternoon with her grandparents. M and I had the afternoon to ourselves.
"M, do you want to get a cheeseburger?"
:"Yes, Mama!" he cried, "Let's go now!"
M put on his shoes, grabbed his coat and headed toward the car.
Taking M out for his cheeseburger is much more than indulging his love of grilled meat slathered with ketchup and draped in cheese.
It is a lesson.
It is a lesson that begins the moment we pull into the parking lot.
As we pull into the parking lot, I shut the car off and turn around to face M. He is excited and is working to unbuckled the clasp of his seat belt.
"M, we're going inside now."
"Quiet mouth.Calm body. Be a good boy." he tells me, the look on his face quite serious.
"That's right bud. We have to behave in a restaurant. Let's go get your cheeseburger."
Lesson One: Outline Behavioral Expectations.
I open the door and help M out of the car. I remind him to take my hand and we look for cars. As he usually does, M tires to wiggle his hand free from me. I remind M, "In a parking lot, we always look for cars, we walk and we hold hands." We cross the lot. I feel the tension in M's body and can tell he'd rather run, but he remembers to walk.
Lesson Two: Parking Lot Safety.
We go inside and M and I take M to the counter to order. His face is beaming.
"Hi! I want a cheesebeeger,please!"
I coach him a bit. "M, what would you like to drink?"
"M, tell the cashier. Use a sentence, please."
"I want some apple juice, please."
"M, would you like some french fries?"
"French fries, please!"
I hand M the money and he proudly gives it to the cashier.
"Thank you!" M chirps to the cashier, just a bit too loud.
We step aside and wait for the food.
Lesson Three: Ordering Food in a Restaurant.
The food is placed on the tray and M and I collect napkins (lots of napkins!) and ketchup (a must). I ask M where he would like to sit. Except for two other patrons, the restaurant is empty. There is a sunny atrium and M motions that he would like to sit there. He finds a table in the corner, surrounded by windows with the afternoon sun streaming in. It gives M a view of the street and the drive thru lane. Most certainly M has picked this spot on purpose so he can watch the cars zip by.
M settles into a chair and begins eating his food. He is sitting still and is remembering to use his inside voice. He has placed his napkin in his lap and is remembering to say, "please" and, "thank you."
Lesson Four: Proper Restaurant Etiquette
As we are enjoying our lunch, another family enters the restaurant. It is a mother and father and their grown son. My eyes go to the young man and notice the awkward gait. I hear him giving his order to the cashier behind the counter. His speech is slow and deliberate and somewhat garbled. I wonder if the cashier taking the order is having a difficult time understanding him. I am not. My ears, well trained to listen carefully to speech that is less than perfect, can easily make out what the young man is ordering.
Once their order is complete, the find their seats. The restaurant is nearly empty, but they chose a table next to ours. I am not surprised. Frequently parents of children with special needs will seek each other out in public places. We chose to be near each other.
M and the young man greet each other. The young man asks M is he likes his cheeseburger. He tells M that he does not like pickles. I learn this young man does not particularly like sports and that pink is his favorite color. He lifts a pant leg to show me a hot-pink leg brace, the same type of brace M once wore.
He is quick to tell me, "Colors are not for boys or girls. Colors are for people." He flashes me a gap-toothed smile.
M and his new friend continue to eat their lunch and engage in conversation. Strangers looking on would certainly find their mannerisms awkward and their conversation strange. They would be correct in their observations. The picture I see is different. I see two people with extraordinary circumstances getting down to the very ordinary task of eating a cheeseburger and making small talk.
The parents of the young man and I talk. Words find their way easily between us. We don't know each other, but we know the other's story. Undoubtedly through the years in raising our boys, we have walked the same path. Perhaps at different seasons in life, but still the same.
I feel myself relax. I am sure they have noticed that M's fries have slipped off the waxed paper wrapper of his cheeseburger and have collected in his lap, just as I have noticed the spot of ketchup that has landed on their son's chin. These details don't matter. The detail that does is the momentary kinship we have all found in each other. The pleasure of seeing our sons happy in the moment.
When lunch is over, I help M gather his trash and pile it onto his tray. He carries it gingerly to the nearby trash can and he does his best to get it all inside. I stoop down to pick up the flutter of napkins that have landed on the floor.
M returns to the table and smiles and says, "Goodbye! Goodbye, new friend! Goodbye!"
Lesson Five is for me: Always Try To Make A New Friend Wherever You Go.