Saturday night my twin and her husband came over. We hashed a plan out loud that Carrie, Melissa, my twin and I would go out to dinner first while Brandon and Joel (my twin’s husband) watched the kids. Then, upon our return, the men would go out.
A few times Rhema took my hand and dragged me to the door. But I was too busy chatting with my friends, so I would just say “No Rhema” and appease her with a popsicle or something.
It was time to go, and we were rushing out the front door to go to dinner when we noticed Rhema standing by the side door.
She had gotten herself “dressed.” Hair disheveled. Shirt on. No pants (of course). She was wearing one of Hope’s diapers and her clunky brown Dora boots. No socks. There she stood with a tear in her eye and her heart on her sleeve. She understood that we were going somewhere. And. She. Wanted. To. Go.
Rhema is not always one to make her wishes known. So when she demonstratively requests something, it just melts me. And I appreciated her initiative to put her shoes on – she despises shoes!
“We’ll take her with us,” I said.
I caught Brandon’s look. “I know,” I said. “We’ll just go for a quick drive. Then I’ll drop her off back at the house and we’ll head to the restaurant.”
In our minds (Brandon’s and mine), there was no way she could actually go inside the restaurant with us. The reasons are many:
-She can’t sit still.
-She’s a flight risk.
–She’ll attack some poor diner’s ice water.
–She’ll sample another poor diner’s food.
-She has strong food aversions and is on a gluten-free, casein-free diet which eliminates just about everything on the menu.
(Add to that, Hope’s long list of severe food allergies…. We have not been to a real restaurant as a family in … well… ever?)
We drove around. Rhema was so happy to be with us that I decided we would try her at a family-style Mexican restaurant. My twin and my friends were with me and I was feeling brave. And nervous.
Upon entering the restaurant, she tried to climb into a baby’s highchair (the baby was still in it), but I quickly re-directed her and the baby’s life was spared.
The restaurant was very busy, but we were seated right away. Rhema sat down in her chair and began clapping her hands and saying, “Quack, quack.” She was so excited.
My autismometer (as Kim Stagliano calls it) was in high gear, scanning our surroundings. Could she handle the input – the sights, sounds and smells? Where were the trouble spots? What could be broken or upturned? Where was the exit in case we needed to make a fast getaway? I noticed that Carrie’s autismometer was working overtime as well. I had to laugh -oh, someone who understands! She sat on one side of Rhema and I sat on the other.
I did not have my usual arsenal of distraction tools with me because we had not planned on Rhema being with us. So each woman discreetly inventoried her purse, and in no time we had a list of items to pull out when we needed them: a small box of Mike and Ikes (box could be shaken, then candy consumed if things got desperate), peppermints, crayons, small toys, key chains, cell phones, and a safety pin (just kidding!).
We paced ourselves. Melissa took her for a walk when she got antsy. Carrie let her eat the ice out of her water glass. My twin prevented her from bolting while I used the restroom. I put her in a high chair. She loved it.
When the drinks came out, we saw that she was interested in the orange wedges. We asked for a bowl of orange wedges, and Rhema devoured them. When she started eating the rinds, Carrie went to the bar and came back with more oranges.
So went the night.
She did manage to steal one bite of forbidden food (a flour tortilla), and she did bolt once. But I caught her before she could sit in a stranger’s lap or jump up and down on their table.
It was a raving, amazing success!
Later I said to Carrie, “I didn’t think she was ready for this. But she did so well, I’m going to have to do this again!”
“She did great!” She told me some of her own family’s dining out experiences. (She has four children.) There have been bumps along the way, but overall her kids have learned to behave in restaurants.
“Every time may not go as smoothly as tonight,” she concluded.
Then, with a shrug and a wink she added, “But if there’s a disaster at least you’ll have a good story to blog about.”