an autism journey

Adjusting to going out in public with a service dog is very much like adjusting to going out with a new baby. You have to plan and pack a bag with supplies, you have to always be thinking ahead to the nearest “potty location,” and it is clumsy, awkward, and down right nerve wracking. It is challenging enough to try to get things done with a child with autism, but the addition of a service dog can make it insane as I am still new at this. For the past few months, I have tried to keep our outings limited to short trips or when I have another person with me to help for just this reason. As time goes on however, real life is kicking in, and by the seat of my pants, I am learning how to go out and shop, run errands, etc with a service dog in tow. The biggest challenge has been learning how to  carry everything at the same time. In a perfect world, my son would be tethered to his dog and both would behave perfectly and keep hands (and noses) to themselves, and we would all walk nice and gracefully throughout the store until we finally check out and the cashier looks up oh so surprised and says “why I didn’t even notice you had a dog!” Ummm, yeah.  (Someday!)

Our tethering team at this point looks more like the clown act at the circus. Me, an excited child, and an overly eager dog all in one tangled up mess, with hands grabbing and one or the other of us trying to go ahead while the rest try to catch up. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the new found freedom that my son is able to have when tethered to his dog and it is truly a lifesaver  as his dog is able to keep him from bolting off. It just needs a little more practice. So for longer outings, we are still using my son’s stroller. That presents a challenge when it comes to pushing a stroller, handling a dog, pulling a cart from behind and actually trying to shop all at the same time. (There comes the clumsy and awkward part.) We are learning though.

So today, even though I am still getting over the flu, we had just spent an hour in therapy (complete with one full meltdown), and I had a restless dog (from sitting for an hour), I decided to throw caution to the wind and make a “quick” trip into WalMart. I knew this was going to be tricky, but I had this crazy idea that I am supermom and can do all. (Ok so we all have delusions from time to time).

 I left the cart behind (because I wasn’t THAT delusional) and chose instead one of those handy dandy baskets that I was pretty sure I could loop through the same arm that was handling Lugnut and we were off. Just one problem… I underestimated the amount of items that would quickly begin to overflow a small basket.  I underestimated how tiring it could be to push a 55lb child in a 35lb stroller with a basket that surely must have weighed another 30lbs on my arm, while handling a 65lb dog, who really wanted to walk just a little faster than I did. I underestimated that the flu wipes you out for days afterwards and leaves you with no energy. Somehow though we managed to survive and get all the way to check out without a single incident (I should probably leave out the part that I decided to skip half the items on my list because of my “underestimating”).  

Ah, Checkout…. You know that feeling you get when you see the cashier and you just somehow know that the yellow smiley face on her tag is the only smile you are going to see? Yes, well from now on, I will listen to that feeling and walk away, but today, I was just about ready to drop everything in my arms since the basket was full and I had taken to piling items on top of the stoller and had items tucked under my arms. I could NOT go any further.

Apparently the cashier got up on the wrong side of the bed . Maybe she didn’t like dogs or tall people or strollers coming though her line, or maybe her dentures were too tight. Who knows, but she was bent on making my day more difficult. She was not amused when I dropped the items I was trying so gracefully to juggle. Instead of helping me pick up the items or trying to take something out of my hands as I was piling the rest on the counter, she instead chose that moment to try to pry the Pringles can out of my son’s hands. Really? Yes lady, because we are so inconspicuous, we are going to slip out of here with a can of Pringles without paying! You saw my plan and quickly put that to a stop. Well played.

Needless to say, I had to leave the items dropped on the floor and quickly intervene on that situation. The lady obviously had never seen a meltdown in action or she would have known that there is an unwritten rule when it comes to kids with autism and a favored item in their hands….. never, ever, EVER quickly reach over and try to take it from them without any warning. She seemed annoyed that he would not easily give them up. I simply smiled, gently stepped in and explained to my son that we needed to pay for them, (he obliged for me),put them on the counter, and asked for them back so that my son could carry them out (totally bummed that my plans of involving my son in a crime spree of shop lifting Pringles from the local Wal Mart had been busted).  I smiled and carried on. I continued to put the items on the counter and walked over to put Lugnut in a sit with only a hand gesture (because I AM supermom and I have a super dog and wanted to show this cashier how awesome we are) and proceeded to get out my credit card to pay. Of course the woman was still bent on her own plans and told me I needed to push the items (clearly within her reach and clearly NOT within mine) closer to her. And so the trip went. But you know what? I smiled and went on.  She underestimated me. If I can do all the things that I am doing, I can surely put up with her bad attitude, so I smiled, I was polite (which she seemed disturbed by). My child behaved perfectly. My dog behaved perfectly. I behaved perfectly (by the grace of God). I could not have been prouder of the three of us as a team, not because we were perfectly in sync but because we did it and we were pleasant in the midst of it! That which does not kill us makes us stronger, Right? Hmmm… well, it doesn’t kill us anyway. Hopefully the next outing will be easier and the one after that even easier. Regardless, we will be there, carrying on. So the next time you see a clumsy person pushing a stroller, handling a service dog, with a basket looped over her arm overflowing with items, and 12 more items dropping out from under her arms… think of me. Oh wait, who am I kidding? That WILL be me, so just say hi (unless of course, we are stealing the Pringles…  in which case, look away).

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Comments on: "The Misadventures of a Service Dog Team" (1)

  1. When you find a minute (such as the middle of the night – I’m an Autism Mom too so I know what life is like when you have a kid you need to watch 24/7) please email a copy to the PR folks at WalMart corporate, and print out a copy of this to hand to the manager at your local store. WalMart has been in trouble before (and may be under some kind of consent decree, I believe) with regards to the way they’ve (mis)treated folks with service dogs. You might want to let them know that they still have some room for improvement.

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