We are walking in to the mall. Despite all the progress with language, behavior, and speech, we still have routines to which we adhere pretty consistently. I go with the flow of these to make it through without too much drama. First comes the ritual of entering. You would think we had consulted with mystics to learn the dark secrets of the sacred mall entry. Nah, the little guy has created his rituals on his own.
As soon as we hit the sidewalk from the parking lot, my son ditches me and runs for the entry doors. He pushes the “handicapped” buttons to enter two sets of doors into the mall. Each of the double doors has two sets of buttons, one to enter and one to exit. He has to push all of them, in order. The outer door has the familiar symbol on a blue square button. He pushes that. Sometimes, he quizzes me as to its color. Other times, he gives me a pass.
As we wait for the door to slowly make its way to “open”, he then reaches around and pushes a bright red circular button intended for use by those exiting out the same door. He always either comments on the circular shape or the color, or quizzes me on either or both. I do take some comfort in knowing that, in the event I have a stroke and forget my colors or shapes, someone will be there to rescue me from my confusion for the rest of my days.
Next, he pushes a second blue square button to enter the next door. As the door opens, he straddles the doorway and pushes the rectangular blue button for exiting customers. He often blocks the doorway for me and all who are waiting behind me. At this point and I have to usher him forward.
Upon entering our “temple”, we make our way through the maze of clothing and tables of merchandise toward the coffee shop. The walk is nearly always uneventful these days. Dare I say, it’s normal. But once we hit the second ritual, getting mommy’s tea, in the line at the coffee shop, all cover of normality leaves our general vicinity.
In place of normalcy, I am graced with a child who believes that if he stops moving, the world will end. Truly, whether the line is one person or ten people in front of us, he must pace, circle, walk the full length of the floor tiles and back or try to swing on the metal rope dividing the “orderers” from the “post order waiting”. Most of the time, he will circle me like I am the sun and he is the planet Mercury. If he had a rope, while circling me like this, I would end up laid on railroad tracks for the next train.
When I am finally called to place my order, he tries to leave. Without fail, I have to call his name and tell him to “get back over here.” If I had a button that said “get back over here”, that would work better, since buttons are actually interesting to him. Once the order is placed, I wait for the tea. He wanders away. He orbits. He circles near a display of glass and porcelain tea kettles and coffee cups, making sure to have his hand outstretched to graze each object and unsteady it as he passes by. I intervene, by necessity. Finally, I am called and we leave.
We head down the hallways. Even though Thanksgiving has not yet arrived, there are dozens of “holiday events” and crowds of hundreds of people in the mall. He is unfazed by it all. We perform the obligatory “one up and one down” escalator and elevator ritual, a cutback from the five to ten trips I used to make with him in days past.
I seem to focus on all that is hard. I don’t think about the easy parts. The walk from the ritualistic door to the coffee shop. The walking through crowds of people. The loud sounds that used to send him into sensory overload – every – single- trip and end in meltdowns.
We still have our days of tears and ritualistic behavior. Shouting out colors. Swearing “fire truck” at the lines. Touching anything and everything I fear he will break, or hurt himself upon. But now? We can walk the full length of the mall. Sometimes, a new fear will pop up, like cars from dealerships displayed inside the mall. He is both fascinated and in fear of them. He passes these by, yanking on my hand, and pulling me to the other side of the walkway. Yet, with trepidation, he inches over toward them, pushing me back at arm’s length, lest I start one when he is not looking.
If I think back, I see tremendous growth. I remember the days of forcing him in a stroller when he was far too big to fit, to keep him from running away or breaking things. And even with the “quarantine” (or because of it) he would still have meltdowns with every trip there.
He could not talk to me then. He would give me a word or two, a phrase and frustration. Now, he tells me what he wants to avoid, and where he wants to go. He understands when I take him on an errand that is not what he desires and he goes it without protest, as long as it doesn’t take too long. We compromise.
We walked by the center of the mall and saw the display for Santa. I asked if he will sit with Santa and tell him what he wants this year. He is confident that he will bend Santa’s ear. This conversation alone is far beyond what we have done in years past.
Meanwhile, I’m just happy to walk out, tear-free, with the same ritual of button pushing we did when we came in. It means he is coping with more sensory stimulation each day. It all adds up. And even though we’re different from the other moms and kids, I’m good with that. I’ve never been a big conformist anyway.