Divorced and kids – including a nineteen year old with autism – at their Dad’s for the weekend, I went grocery shopping around noon and struggled to find a parking spot as a few flakes of snow were imminent.
I grabbed a shopping cart and headed inside to purchase my usual hodgepodge of items. There was a table set up near the vegetables where you could pick up a Valentine’s Day flower arrangement. Another table had free cups of sparkling cider. There were doughnuts with red icing hearts, pink cookies and cupcakes, and a voice boomed over the loud speaker encouraging the busy shoppers to buy a cake or a bouquet of flowers.
As I made my way down the pet food aisle to grab some cat food for Chester (OK, maybe I wasn’t really alone because Chester was lumping around somewhere in the house), I heard some familiar sounds coming from another aisle. I turned my cart around and followed the noise until I found them: an older man with a young girl, maybe nine or ten years old, and she appeared to have autism.
I trailed behind them for a bit. She’d yell something out, or kick her leg back behind her, and he’d pull the cart over and quietly talk to her. I wanted to stop and tell him, “Screw the shoppers,” and I remembered my friend Roe telling me about the time she was on an airplane with her son, and he was making a racket. A passenger nearby made a comment and she shot back, “I deal with this every day of my life, you can put up with it for five minutes.”
After I stopped stalking them, we crossed paths a few more times, and I witnessed the same scene again and again – a small commotion and then dad quietly containing his girl. When I got in one of the long checkout lines, I could hear her a few lines down, and I glanced over trying to catch a glimpse of what she was up to.
As I stacked the grocery bags in my car, I wondered if there was a mom at home, and if he took his girl grocery shopping on Valentine’s Day to give her a break. I searched for them as I drove out of the parking lot, wanting to thank him. Thank him for taking his girl out and into that busy grocery store, for reminding me how enduring love is, how even if she never knows what a Valentine’s heart is for, you pull her aside, quietly talk to her, contain her. Love her.
Lori Brozek is the mother of a nineteen year old with autism. She lives in NJ.