I have to admit it. A lot of the time lately, I don’t see autism. I just see a happy little six year old boy, playing, learning and growing. In a lot of ways, I’ve become complacent. And so, true to form, that complacency has bitten me in the behind, in the form of karma. I make the wrong choice. And the choice ended up causing my son angst, which then, in turn, made me feel awful.
Wednesday, as everyone in the world knows, was Halloween. Last week, I posted photos of my son’s costume choices. He knew Halloween was coming. He knew there was trick-or-treating involved. He knew it so much that I figured he was okay with it.
He talked of Halloween all year. His costume choices were varied. He went through phases where he wanted to be a car. No, not a race car driver, but an actual car. Have you ever looked for a “car” costume? Not available. I’m no Karla or Allie so definitely not available.
Then he went through a phase where he wanted to be Elvis. That was do-able. And I thought it was adorable! But then that phase waned and he wanted to alternate between being Elvis, and being a “cheerleader.” He had repeatedly watched an episode of Batman where there were cheerleaders and he liked how they shouted rhymes, spelled things out and shook these awesome things called pom-poms.
As we headed into October, he decided he wanted to be a shark. He was determined so I bought the costume. Then I found the puppy costume he did not get to use last year because he was sick (And, truthfully? Thinking back on last year, I was relieved to avoid the whole Halloween meltdown scene…) So, we alternated between the puppy and the shark. Then, at the last minute, I saw something on clearance that I could not resist. A tiny part of my brain was thinking of Toots’ comfort. No mask. No tight fitting or heavy, hot costume. It was perfect.
He practiced trick-or-treat at our office. He did it with ease. He was ready.
I wasn’t worried. During the day, he was at school for half the day. No one was allowed to wear costumes. But as one of the Wednesday school volunteers, I made up treat bags full of delicious candy and brought them in for Toots and all his classmates. While this seemed a bit out of sorts for Toots, he handed out the bags with the help of his tutor and I, and managed a few “Happy Halloween!”s without making eye contact with anyone or anything.
This should have been a clue. But it wasn’t.
Before it got dark, we headed off to Toots’ second swim lesson. He was so happy at swim. So relaxed. There were not many kids there. I even remarked on that fact. Still, complacent. The plan was to attend swim and then do the usual trick-or-treat at the mall. The same trick-or-treat Toots has done for four of the six years of his life at the same place. With the same people. Routine. Routine…
It never crossed my mind that trick-or-treat might not go smoothly.
So after swim, Toots was dressed in his “good” vampire costume. “Good” vampires do not drink blood. “Good” vampires drink clear Kool-Aid. So, the “good” vampire and I headed to the mall where he was going to meet his friend, B to trick-or-treat as they had done together for four years.
When we arrived, there were hundreds of children all over the mall in all forms of costume. Every store had a line to get a treat. We went to three store front lines to get candy before heading upstairs to meet B.
Tootles cannot stand still. He cannot bear lines. Tootles is upset by crowds. So, obtusely, I took him to stand in lines, asked him to stand still, all amongst crowds of people. And not just any people – costumed people.
Tootles was freaking out at the bizarre costumes which he seems to have noticed for the first time ever – this year. Everything was scary and loud. I could see the panic setting in. Foolishly, I thought that once Toots saw his friend B, he might settle down and trick-or-treat as he has in the past.
Now, I have to give B credit. B has been through four years of Toots’ Halloween meltdowns.
This year, B was dressed as a clown with a wig ala Madagascar III. It was not scary. It was cute. It was funny.
Tootles did not see it that way.
Tootles did not want anything to do with his friend. In fact, he ran away. He began to say – “Stop talking” but he knew that was not what he wanted to say. It was the crowd around him. He was circling. Looking all around and seeing scary faces. Oddly dressed people. His own friend looked bizarre. There was nothing routine about it.
He jerked away from his friend to tried to pose with his arm around Toots’ shoulder. Tootles just wanted to get away from it all. I knew it. I asked him if he wanted to trick-or-treat or if it was too much.
He said it was too much.
I was actually a bit surprised that he was able to tell me what was upsetting him. He said “Scary!” and “Too much!” I told him it was okay and we’d leave. But then, he asked to shop. He knows we go to the mall all the time and when we do, we shop. He wanted to shop.
We shopped. We ignored the trick-or-treaters. We left. We went home.
Complacency is a state of mind that exists only in retrospective: it has to be shattered before being ascertained. Vladimir Nabokov