As I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries, Alex loves to grocery shop at Wal-Mart; in fact, pushing a cart down the crowded aisles is one of his favorite things to do. With just a little guidance from Ed or me, he somehow easily navigates around displays, people chatting on their cell phones as they stand in the middle of the aisles, and carts thoughtless shoppers have left blocking pathways. Despite these various irritations, Alex remains constantly cheerful, keeping a smile on his face the entire time. Watching him stroll confidently down the busy aisles, all the while staying out of other people’s way, I feel a pride that he has mastered an accomplishment most of his fellow Wal-Mart shoppers have not. In fact, I’ve half-kiddingly thought about having a bumper sticker made that reads, “My autistic kid pushes a grocery cart better than you do!”
A couple of evenings ago, we stopped by Alex’s favorite fun park, I mean, favorite grocery store to pick up the type of ham he likes to eat for breakfast. Since we were only getting the one item, we didn’t need a cart, but Alex still managed to stay out of other people’s way as he walked through the store. He has a habit of holding his hands up near his chest when he walks, which is probably a sensory or balance issue, or may just be a teenage self-conscious one since he’s so tall and lanky and doesn’t seem comfortable with his long limbs. Ed has been working with him this summer to try to get him to keep his arms down as he walks so that his gait looks more typical. Over the past several weeks, Alex has gotten better about keeping his hands at his sides, and he’s very cooperative about putting his hands down when gently reminded with the cue word, “Arms.” Without the cart to push, Alex’s hands went up to his chest, and as soon as we picked out the ham, we gave it to him to carry so that he would have something to put in his hands. Trotting through the store with an ear-to-ear grin, Alex looked as if he were carrying a trophy instead of a ham, which reminded me of a funny family story from my childhood. One time when we were visiting my grandfather, he wanted to give us a canned ham to take home. Because we were riding the train home, my mother explained that there was no good way to transport the ham. Undaunted, my grandfather suggested that my brother, who was probably about ten years old at the time, could carry the ham on the train. My mother explained that he wouldn’t want to carry it, to which my grandfather earnestly replied, “Why, he’d be proud to be carrying a ham!” This has become a joke in the family, as we have asked each other through the years in jest, “Were you as proud as if you’d been carrying a ham?” My cousin Beth tells this story best because she punctuates the details with an infectious giggle. Anyway, as I watched Alex carry that ham through Walmart, I finally understood what my grandfather, whom we called Paw Paw, meant about carrying a ham with pride. I think Paw Paw would have enjoyed watching Alex carry that ham proudly as much as Ed and I did.
While Alex has learned to maneuver the cart through the crowded store, Ed and I have developed a well-choreographed routine after we’ve checked out the groceries to get the food and Alex into the car quickly and efficiently. Last week, Ed commented that he and I were like members of a racecar pit crew the way we assume certain responsibilities in loading Alex and the groceries cooperatively with speed while staying out of each other’s way. Like the racecar driver, Alex pulls the cart into the pit stall, that is, up to the hatchback of our station wagon, which Ed opens. Then, I as the jack man, cue Alex when to go, making sure he is safely secured in his seat. Next, I run around to the back of the car to help Ed, the gas man, load the car with the fuel (i.e. our food for a few days), putting the groceries in the back of the car. Once he’s emptied the gas can, or grocery cart, I take the cart to the corral as he shuts the hatchback, and we quickly get in our seats and get ready to leave. Even though we can’t complete our tasks in less than fifteen seconds, as actual pit crews do, we’re fairly proud of how well we work together getting the job done so that Alex doesn’t have to wait too long for us to get rolling and on the road—almost as proud as if we were carrying a ham, that is.
“Yes, you are our pride and joy.” I Thessalonians 2:20