Yesterday it was so bad that they called me and asked me to pick him up from school at lunch time. So I did. I put aside the rest of my day and the things I was supposed to be doing and I picked him up early from Kindergarten and we went out for lunch on our own. I saw what they meant. It was definitely worse than normal. He had so little control over himself and I alternated between being so angry with him that I wanted to cry, and so sad for him that I wanted to cry. But we still had things to do. I couldn’t take him to church to work at the A/V booth with me, but I could take him to the store to pick up dinner supplies and maybe some things for the gingerbread party this weekend.
First we went to the bookstore, because I thought it might be fun for him, but that was a mistake. I mean, it was definitely fun for him, as he tossed books down the escalator and knocked over holiday displays while screeching at the top of his lungs. This was not okay. This was not acceptable. He has always been a bit of a destruct-o-bot, but not like this. He is 5 now, and he is big and strong. He can do some damage. So we left the bookstore and headed for the grocery store, even though I knew it wouldn’t end well. What choice did I have? We needed food, and my wife was not coming home until well after bedtime due to a work dinner. There was no other time.
So in we went, he generally upset because he is having a crappy life, and me steeled for battle, which is a terrible way to think about parenting, but oh well. As expected, it was not long before he was knocking into things and people, trying to climb out of the cart, screaming like he was being murdered in an 80’s horror movie, and trying to smash me with his mighty fists. I asked him gently to stop. I asked him less gently to stop. I reminded him to focus his mind and body. I told him to use his words. I physically restrained him as he bit me and shouted that I was hurting him (I wasn’t). And all through the store came the looks.
Some were looks of curiosity or pity. Those were the nicest. Most of the looks were looks of judgement, and I was judged wanting. And then were a few looks that bordered on outright contempt. They stared me down as if to say “how dare you bring that child in here?” “You don’t belong here.” “You should leave.” And believe me, I was thinking the same things in my head. I didn’t need the majority vote to tell me that my son should not be throwing food at strangers or trying to rip open bags of powdered sugar. But the worst part was knowing that they didn’t know. That maybe they thought my son was a bad kid. That they definitely thought I was a bad parent/evil kidnapper.
I wanted to scream at them from across the store, “It’s because of his meds!” but what good would that do me? I wanted to shout “my son has epilepsy, and his behavior is out of control because he literally can’t control it!” But he looks fine. Epilepsy is invisible, until it’s not. And even then it can be. He had a seizure in a public pool on Saturday with dozens of people around him as my wife carried him out of the water, and I don’t think a single person noticed. So what good would it do to yell at the jerks in the supermarket? Especially because I’ve been that jerk myself plenty of times.
I have seen kids throw tantrums in stores and assumed that bad parenting is to blame. I have heard kids scream in the aisles and wondered why the parents would take them out like that. I try not give withering looks to beleaguered parents, but I’m sure I have a few times. I wonder what those parents were thinking. I wonder what they wanted to tell me. What would they have liked me to know as they tried desperately to keep their children from disrupting the peaceful shopping experiences of the other customers?
I know that the people in the store yesterday are probably not going to read this, and so they will never know that my family has been suffering through hospitalizations, ambulance rides, medication changes, side effects, and other delightful surprises over the past 8 months. They will never hear me say “I’m sorry,” not for bothering them, but just for the circumstances in general. I’m sorry that this is happening. You can be sure of that. They won’t let me explain to them that we are going to wean him off the medication that is doing this to him in a few weeks, but that the possibilities involved in doing that are even scarier than what we’re doing now. They will continue going about their business, glad that my son and I are gone, and probably not thinking about us anymore. But I can’t stop thinking about them. Can’t stop seeing their faces. Can’t stop feeling the shame.
This message is not just for me, but for all of the parents out there struggling with issues like ours. Please, be kind to them out there today. Don’t judge. You have no idea what is going on with that poor family in the supermarket. And they’re not going to stop and explain it to you. Just remember that your job in life is to help, not to judge. And even a quick nasty glance can be enough to ruin someone’s day.