We went out for breakfast yesterday, en masse. Two children, one almost-adult and us. This happens, albeit rarely these days. For one: it’s bloody expensive eating out as a family and two: Tink.
When she was a baby, she was so portable – we could take her anywhere. She was so well-behaved; we were proud of our little lady sitting so nicely in a high chair, eating whatever it was we were having (she was baby-led weaned, so suitable food was never an issue). She was quiet too, happily filling her little face with food meant she wasn’t making much noise.
Now, however, it is a different story. Deciding to go out for a meal is a little like playing Russian roulette. We decide what kind of mood she’s in and we either take a chance and go for it, or bottle it and eat pasta. Again. I realise this is the case for many (most?!) children, ASD or not, but with Tink, there are added extras.
Take where we go, for instance. Anywhere remotely ‘nice’ is usually out. She has the potential to make so much mess, I’d be mortified in some places and I’d be surreptitiously cleaning the floor with baby wipes and crusty tissues from the bottom of my bag. This, remember, is the child who usually eats semi-naked at home. Then we have to consider how quickly we’ll actually get our food. Going at a peak time is usually out of the question if it means waiting for more than five minutes may be involved. Children like Tink don’t like to wait too long. If you tell them they’re having their breakfast/lunch/dinner, then that’s what they’ll expect. Now. NOW!! Things can get a bit noisy and excitable/grumpy depending on her mood. This pretty much leaves us with two choices – the carvery, or good old Maccy D’s.
We also have to choose carefully the kind of food we’ll be having, due to the fact Tink’s preferences are becoming more and more limited. Pasta is usually a safe choice, as long as it comes with a choice of a bolognaise or tomato-based sauce. Messy though. She doesn’t eat chips, unless they’re Mcdonalds and salty, mashed potato is a no-no now and rice is an ‘in the right mood’ thing. She does love meat, but hates vegetables. For breakfast, as long as there’s toast and sausage, she’s a happy camper.
Then, there’s the looks. If it’s a ‘good’ day, and she’s coming across as a ‘normal’ three year old (I hate saying ‘normal’, but you get what I mean, right?), then all is well in our world. However, it’s the days she’s being more ‘typically autistic’ that I still find hard to deal with. People stare. They probably don’t even realise they’re doing it, but they do, and I notice. I shouldn’t care, but of course, I do. It’s the times when she’s getting frustrated at having to sit and wait, so she’s trying to get up and run around (Tink rarely does sitting still, ever, unless she’s on her tablet, and that would be yet another thing to be frowned upon!), or she’s shouting nonsense, or flapping or stimming in some way. Yes, she’s big for not being able to talk properly and no, me telling her to sit down will have no effect, actually, Mrs Nosey. It’s the times she’s dropping her dinner on the floor, because she can’t use cutlery well or chooses not to use it at all, and she’s smooshing her sauce in her face and her hair. Acceptable, cute, even, for a 9 month old, not so for a 3-and-a-half year old. It’s the times she’s getting very (repetitively) vocal about asking for more food from our plates, because obviously, our dinner tastes so much better than hers (that is exactly the same).
I realise a lot of these behaviours aren’t unusual for a lot of children, however they could generally be applied to children younger than Tink. Outwardly, to look at, Tink is of an age where you would maybe expect her to be able to sit fairly patiently, eat quite nicely and be relatively quiet and calm, and, if any of these things started to go awry, a quiet word from a parent would hopefully get them back in check. And that there is our problem. Tink doesn’t understand. She lacks social skills at the best of times and asking her to conform to acceptable standards just aint gonna work!
So, I envy anyone who can just drop into any old eating establishment at the rumble of a stomach and sit, eat and be on their merry way again with barely a thought. For us now it’s like planning a mission to Mars and I have to steel myself beforehand and have my game face on in case of haters. I breeze in, all ‘I don’t care’, but, underneath that bravado is a mama who is praying we can get through the ordeal with minimal fuss and as few stares as possible. Yesterday was a good day; she was in a good mood and there were crayons to keep her occupied for, ooh, about a minute (crayons can’t stay in their pot – they absolutely must be tipped out, all over the table).