It was all my fault.
Simple as that – the whole thing could have been easily – really easily – avoided.
It should have been a perfect afternoon. The weather was gorgeous (finally!) and Luau and Katie were on their way down to Connecticut to drop Katie off at her grandparents’ house for her first big kid sleep-over weekend. Brooke and I had the rare luxury of going to the pool ALONE. I couldn’t wait.
I packed a bag with the few things we needed to bring along and headed out, thrilled to be spending an ENTIRE day alone with my little bug.
On the way out of the house, I saw the ‘real’ pool bag by the door. There was some useful stuff in there – a bag of goldfish, some pool toys, extra goggles, a can of sunblock with far more in it than the one that I had. I grabbed the few things that I had thrown into the original bag, switched them over and gathered us into the car. I didn’t see the cash on the bottom of the bag that I was leaving behind.
Off we went.
We swam and splashed and jumped and spun. Brooke rode the toddler slide. Twenty seven times. We were happy as clams.
At about 11:45, she stopped splashing and said, “I’m hungry. I will get a hot dog and french fries.”
At the pool, Brooke gets a hot dog and french fries. There are fifteen or so menu options. Brooke gets a hot dog and french fries. It is what she does.
I pointed to my nose, “Mama …”
“Mama, MEEEEEEE I get a hot dog and french fries pleeeeeeeease?” she asked.
I happily agreed. The concession stand is run by the keystone cops, so ordering before the lunch rush is never a bad thing. Dripping wet and shivering despite the sun, we waddled over to our chair and I rifled through the bag to find the cash.
It was nowhere to be found. Brooke was getting antsy. She was cold. She was hungry. And I was panicking.
I emptied the contents of the bag onto the chair and feverishly picked through them. Finally I had to admit to myself that there was not a dime to be found. Actually, that’s not true. There was a dime. And four quarters. And one penny. Yes, I had $1.11 – NOT helpful. I searched around to see if I could find anyone that I knew. I saw no one that I so much as recognized.
All I had was a bag of Goldfish and a stale old bottle of water.
I explained the situation to Brooke as well as I could. I told her why we couldn’t buy a hot dog today. I brought her to a table with the bag of Goldfish and the warm bottle of water. Oh yeah – the lunch of champions. I told her that this would be our snack and we would get a hot dog somewhere else after swimming was all done.
I couldn’t believe how flexible she was being. She seemed to be totally fine with eating the Goldfish and going out for lunch after the pool (to a place where Mama could use a credit card). She seemed to understand.
After about five minutes of Goldfish munching, she said, “We’re waiting for the hot dog and french fries. They are cooking it. I’ll have my hot dog and french fries when it’s done.”
Damn, damn, damn. I thought she had understood.
I tried to explain again. “Mama forgot the money, baby. We need the money to buy the hot dog. We can’t get a hot dog at the pool today.”
It was perfectly clear that she had stopped understanding anything I was trying to say.
A toddler cried in the distance. Brooke shouted out in response. Heads turned, startled by the shrill yell.
A little girl at a nearby table sneezed. I watched Brooke tense. She sneezed again. Brooke lost it.
She had no further interest in the Goldfish. She was shaking.
I wracked my brain. There had to be something I could do.
When my mom was a little girl, she collected $2 bills. I have always had a couple of them – cherished good luck talismans. A few years back, I was at a restaurant in Dallas. Walking back to my table from the ladies room, I found a card folded around five $2 bills. The card said, “Lucky you!” on one side and bore the name of the restaurant on the other side. It made no sense and perfect sense that I should find it. On the spot, a friend tried to ‘buy’ the bills from me. I refused. “These ain’t for spending,” I told him. I’ve carried them in my wallet ever since.
Why hadn’t I thought of them earlier?
I told Brooke that I had an idea. We ran up to the bag and dug in my otherwise empty wallet for the $2 bills. I grabbed three of them and headed to the concession window, now four deep. I ordered the hot dog and fries and handed over my bills. Brooke screamed.
A child nearby was coughing.
By now she had absolutely no defenses. Every single noise was under her skin. Every hiccup in the universe was rocking her little system to its core.
I tried to soothe her, but I was worse than useless. I tried to pick her up, but she squirmed violently out of my arms and screamed through her sobs, “IDON’TWANTYOUTOHOLDME!”. I tried to speak softly to her, but it was far too late for her to hear me. I tried to touch her gently, but she screamed again. “YOUWOULDNOTTOUCHME!” I tried to prompt her to cover her ears, but she simply couldn’t process it anymore. She was miserable. So was I.
I glanced at the crowd of people waiting for their food. They were all looking at her. I wanted to kick the man who stood nearby sneering at her. I wanted to knock over that smug mother in her chair who kept shooting us both the oogly eye. I wanted to disappear into the corner. Melt into the pool.
The keystone cops were too busy bumping into each other to actually serve more than one piece of food at a time. It was now just shy of twenty minutes since we’d ordered one God-damned hot dog and fries. I must have jinxed it when I said, “as quickly as you can, please.”
I thought of our friend with a nonverbal son. A couple of years ago, his son simply wouldn’t sleep. Ever. At his wit’s end and desperate to let his wife and daughter get some sleep, he took him to a bookstore around nine pm. He had a meltdown by the registers. He was simply done. He was on the floor, wailing and banging his head. Our friend was exhausted, spent. From the middle of the line he heard,”Well, that’s what you get for bringing a kid out so late.”
My friend turned to the entire line of people. He had had enough. Like his boy, he was simply done. A big man, there was no missing what he was about to say, especially at the volume that he was going to say it. “My son has autism.” He was spitting his words at them. “THIS,” he said, nodding to his son, out of control on the floor, “is life with autism.”
I thought of him as Brooke shouted and sobbed and heaved. All because she can’t fend off the rest of the world without fuel. All because that tiny little body goes haywire when she’s hungry. All because Mama forgot the money. All because she hadn’t understood the explanation. All because there’s only so much she can handle when she’s hungry AND confused.
Stop looking at her, God damn it. Stop judging her. Stop judging me. You have no idea what you think you’re seeing.
We got through it. A friend eventually came by. We sat with her and her twin girls, who very sweetly shared their food with Brooke. She even bought back my $2 bills. I was grateful. Lucky me indeed.
Brooke was eventually calm.
And I felt like crap.