Yesterday was the day before Mother’s Day. We decided to celebrate a day early by going out for breakfast.
I would imagine most of you figure that’s no big deal. People go out to eat breakfast all the time.
That’s true for most people, but not for my family.
As it happens, yesterday was the first time my husband, our nineteen-year old daughter and I ate in a restaurant as a family and completed a meal.
Yes, you read that correctly. It was the first time ever.
Eating out as a family is something so typical that I imagine most people take it for granted.
As the mom of a young adult with “special needs,” many of our activities are not typical.
My daughter is autistic. She is developmentally delayed. She is essentially non-verbal. She is a loving person who can get rattled easily because she doesn’t process the world in the same way as most people.
Is she “special?” Is my family “special?”
I don’t know about that. In fact, I’d say, no, we’re not.
We’re just an ordinary family that has to face challenges every day because my daughter has a number of limitations. One thing we had never been able to do was to enjoy a meal in a restaurant.
Stressful situations can cause Cathy’s daughter to exhibit strong reactions. Over time her daughter has been learning to cope with everyday challenges.
There’s nothing special about that.
Unfamiliar situations could cause our daughter extreme stress, which in the past meant our daughter would (check all that apply):
– Cover herself with a blanket and start screaming.
– After the blanket was gone, start screaming, and begin extreme, uncontrollable rocking or spinning.
– Cry uncontrollably.
– Throw herself on the floor.
– Refuse to eat. This is an extreme behavior with a medical and behavioral component, this is not just a kid who’d being stubborn.
– Tune out the world, i. e. zone out so that her eyes lost focus.
– Other ___________ (Just fill in the blank because some days there were surprises.)
One of her favorite activities is horseback riding. There is a horse handler as well as two side walkers to ensure the safety of all special riders.
Needless to say, if we were in a restaurant we would barely get through ordering a meal, let alone have food served to us.
When my husband made the suggestion that we go to a restaurant for Mother’s Day I was hopeful. I realized our daughter has made tremendous strides in the past couple of years; she’s had quite a bit of assistance to learn appropriate behavior in social situations.
More on that assistance in a bit.
My husband also knew that this was something I always wanted to do, I just wanted to enjoy a simple meal.
We looked at each other and realized with a bit of planning that we could do this!
We decided to celebrate a Mother’s Day meal on Saturday because Sunday would be too crowded. No need to cause additional stress. We also packed a small item that my daughter would enjoys in case she started to get restless.
On the way to the restaurant our daughter was puzzled but she remained calm.
Cathy’s husband and daughter wait for breakfast.
We arrived at the restaurant and were seated in a booth.
My husband and daughter sat across from me. When my husband and I picked up the menus that were on the table our daughter took them away from us then laid them back on the table in their original places. We picked them up again and told her it was alright for us to look at them. I handed her my phone so she could look at pictures. It redirected her for a few seconds so it took her mind off the menus.
We ordered our meals, then after the waiter walked away, I traded spots with my husband so he could snap some photos of his two girls.
She was patient, looking out the window, smiling.
Cathy’s daughter looks out the window while waiting for breakfast. This seemed to keep her attention for a time.
The waiter was a bit puzzled when he saw we’d rearranged ourselves. We asked him to just place our food on the table and we’d take care of it! He had a friendly smile and was very accommodating.
For the most part our daughter enjoyed her breakfast. She sipped her orange juice and made a face. We realized she didn’t like the sensation because it had pulp. She just set it aside. It wasn’t a crisis. She was a little bit restless after she finished eating but she calmed down when we pulled a small bag of candy from my purse.
Here’s the thing. My daughter doesn’t eat this candy. She likes the color and texture of the bag. The sensation and sound of the pieces of candy moving in the little package calm her. She discards it when the bag is crinkled to the point that the texture changes. Such a simple thing, and yet such a lifesaver! It was my husband’s brilliant idea to take the candy with us.
Well, earlier in this post I mentioned that my daughter’s had quite a bit of help in recent times. You see, this one simple meal could not have happened without all the people who have assisted her.
Left to right: Our daughter in church, receiving her first Communion. Our daughter with her speech therapist.
Families in a similar situation to ours will understand what I’m expressing. There is a small army of people behind the scenes who have supported us at various times. They have worked with my daughter and with our family so that my daughter could be part of everyday society. This is not an exaggeration. It’s a fact.
Left to right: Our daughter with her ABA therapist. The instructor for our daughter’s Special Needs Faith Class.
…the speech therapist …occupational therapist…applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapists… physical therapist…a variety of doctors and medical practitioners…educators…advocates…equine therapists …the recreational therapist who recently is providing a bit of respite for us while taking our daughter out into the community…countless people…
There is our hairstylist and friend who has helped us with our daughter’s grooming, and has helped our daughter to be patient, and more social.
Left to right: Our daughter enjoys a manicure. In addition to medical and social services, we have also benefited from the services of an advocacy specialist. Our daughter enjoys her therapeutic horseback riding.
There is the middle school teacher who told us that our daughter did challenge her, but also taught her to be more loving.
There are the teacher and aides in her Special Needs Sunday school class who remind us we are ALL made in God’s image; a reminder so powerful because we’ve learned that when we see our children, all our children, we see the face of God.
Cathy’s best buddy and husband, Al. There is neither time nor space to describe all that he does.
There is my husband, who has always called himself the butler, the chauffeur, the bodyguard, the cook, the laundry guy, the court jester. He is our daughter’s primary advocate. He is my truest partner, my heart, my strength, and my funny bone. We both understand that we will be our daughter’s voice, and that we will protect her with a fierceness which requires no words between us.
There was so much leading up to this quiet, peaceful moment. Once we finished breakfast, we simply went about our day as we planned.
I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
My husband took our daughter to her riding lesson. I went to the gym and had a great workout and training session.
We looked back on the morning and realized that this was the start of something new for us. We were excited to think we can finally enjoy eating out as a family; and this may be an activity that may help our daughter feel safe in new settings.
Mom and daughter share a light-hearted moment at breakfast.
Yes, this simple meal had an impact on me.
It left me grateful that my husband remembered my wish to share a meal.
It was nineteen years in the making.
It was a gift that left me completely content.
Just an ordinary family.