Then I opened the rear door of the car and, as this revealed Adam's screaming, sobbing face, she looked quite concerned. Understandably so. She watched, while not watching, as I wrestled Adam's screaming, thrashing body out of the car and struggled to strap him safely into his pram and wiped his tears before limping into the chemist. Adam kept screaming, his body contorted as he thrashed against the pram's safety harness.
What this lady didn't - and couldn't - have known is that Adam had already been screaming and thrashing for half an hour. I picked him up from nursery in a sunny mood but the usual meltdown started when I wouldn't let him open all of the car doors. It had taken me twenty minutes to even get Adam safely strapped into his carseat as he screamed and screamed and screamed. All of the usual offerings of his favourite CD's had been met with screams and as we drove slowly home. the car vibrated with the ear piercing, mind numbing screams that echoed from the backseat.
It would (perhaps) have been easier simply to drive home but in fact, Adam had run out of one of his asthma medications and so a stop at the chemist was essential. As I limped inside, wishing my sprained ankle had already healed, Adam continued to scream. The pharmacist, who knows us well, came out to greet us and even she was concerned asking if Adam was alright. I had to shout to reply that he would be fine but couldn't summon the energy to explain the car door scenario. She filled Adam's prescription and we slowly walked back to the car.
As I opened the doors, the Marie Curie lady watched - more openly now. After a moment, she hesitantly approached me and offered to help. I smiled, thanking her and explained that Adam has autism and so he wouldn't accept a stranger's help. She replied that she hadn't wanted to just stand there and not offer to help - which was very kind of her.
But then, that comment, the one that is always hard to take. First, innocuously, "But he really is lovely and sweet," she said. I smiled in agreement and then she said, "So will he grow out of it? You know, be ok when he's older?"
In the background, Adam continued to scream.
I was polite, explained that Adam was infected by Group B Strep Meningitis at birth and, as a result, he is disabled. No, he won't "grow out of it", yes, life is hard sometimes (an understatement on occasions like this) but I hold onto the fact that he is alive, when no one expected him to be. She smiled and said that he was a beautiful little boy and so tall....as he screamed and thrashed in the background. I smiled too, knowing she meant well and fully intended to be kind and compassionate, then I turned back to Adam to begin the ten minute process of wrestling him into his carseat so we could drive home.
Over the next ten minutes, I was smacked across the face (turn the other cheek is quite literal for me), I was kicked, my shirt was ripped and my sons nails raked across my face leaving red marks. My ears were ringing from his screams. I wrestled him into his seat because I had too, but I also wiped his tears and told him I loved him.
Finally, he was safely secured and as I got into the drivers seat, I rolled up the windows enclosing Adam's screams within the car. As I started to drive away, Chris responded to an earlier text message saying simply, "Do you need help?"
Do I need help. Some days there were no words to answer that. I tugged up my ripped shirt and slowly drove home with my son's screams echoing around me.
One hour of a life with autism.