By Kub Marshman
I can feel my upper lip begin to take that familiar shape. It's the same shape my dad's lip used to make whenever he was about ready to explode with fury. That was the first sign of danger, friends. God help whoever was on the receiving end of "the lip" and verbal assault.
There I was, in our local Wal-Mart, with my seven-year-old, Adam. Adam has autism and does not speak. Some children with autism have "their thing." Some stare at ceiling fans, some stare at windows, or some stare at Kelly Ripa for hours (scratch the Ripa comment – that's his old man). Adam's "thing" is doors. Opening and closing doors, especially when he enters a different environment from home, is what Adam does to calm himself (or maybe he just loves to do it – who the heck knows).
There we were walking down the main aisle on one end of the store, heading to aisle number 7. When we pass the freezer section Adam can't help himself. He always makes his way to the same door, gives it a good fling, runs back to me as quickly as possible, and turns around to admire his work. "How annoying," bellows this person who was walking straight at us.
A metamorphosis begins. Not only does my upper lip begin to curl, but my blood pressure spikes to somewhere around 263/182. Like David Banner turning into the incredible hulk, I transform from the usually easy going Kub Marshman into James A Marshman, my deceased father of all that is/was right in this world. Instead of being green, I'm red with anger. I respond with, "Excuse me?!?!" "You shouldn't let him do that", continues this person. "I try not to let him 'do that', but he has autism. He can't help it," I shoot back. "That doesn't matter, you need to make him stop," says this person. I erupt. "DO I KNOW YOU?! YOU NEED TO MIND YOURSELF MA'AM! DO YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT I AM TELLING YOU?" (caps inserted to try and capture the moment)
The whole time this person is backing away from me, literally walking backwards, waving a hand at me as though I was a pesky fly. "You better go get him. He just left with your cart," the person responds. Without looking behind me I say, "I know where he is headed.
He is going to aisle 7. WE ALWAYS GO TO AISLE SEVEN!"
While in Super Target' Adam and I cruise the Halloween gear (to me, I like adding the French thingy at the end of the word "Target." It always makes the store sound so exotic). Adam has discovered that when you push the button on top of this candy bowl, a skeleton hand comes out and tries to grab your hand. Needless to say, this fascinates him. While Adam is paying attention to this bowl a person walks up and says hi to Adam. "Hi, my name is Chris. What is your name?" Adam doesn't hear him or see him. All he can concentrate on is that bowl. "Why doesn't he talk to me?" asked Chris. "He doesn't mean to ignore you Chris", I explain. "His name is Adam, he has autism, and he doesn't talk." "I know", says Chris. "I'll make eye contact with him. He'll have to look at me." Chris steps in front of Adam and tries to introduce himself again. By this time Adam has pushed the bowl button, run about 10 feet, turned around, and watched the hand come out. Adam was at the height of pleasure. "It's as if he doesn't even hear you", Chris observes. "That has to be frustrating for you", Chris says profoundly. I was a little stunned at this observation. "Sometimes it is Chris. Sometimes it is", as my eyes well up.
Can you guess the age of the 2 people above? The Wal-Mart lady was probably in her early 30's. The Target boy Chris was about 4 or 5. In less than 5 minutes, Chris not only made more sense than Wal-Mart lady, but he showed both Adam and me some kindness. He was seeking to understand. He wasn't upset because Adam was more interested in the skeleton bowl than him. He wasn't upset because Adam was dominating the time spent with that candy bowl. Chris was genuinely interested. Chris was looking to help a brother. Four to five years old, guys. He didn't have a hint of ugliness. Wal-Mart lady was the walking ugly. I expect Chris will do wonderful things in this life. He couldn't have been more kind to us that Saturday in Super Target'.
As I continue to march towards my goal of local awareness of autism, I'm reminded there will be days filled with both experiences above. Don't let the ugliness of some deter you from your destination. Others you encounter may be more educated, but don't let them swat you away like a fly. In a way Wal-Mart lady did me a favor that day. Her utter contempt encouraged me to work harder locally. All I know is the congressman's aide I'm preparing to meet with had better not try to swat me away, walking backwards.
Otherwise, he may see James A. Marshman appear and Mr. Marshman doesn't take prisoners.
Kub and wife Cheryl have been married for 19-years and live in South Bend, Indiana with their 7-year-old son Adam and Cheryl's mom Ginny. We're not only Adam's parents, but we're also his voice. We're not trying to change the world, just our little corner of it.