Erik Quinn: The Heart of a Family: Greetings and Salutations

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Greetings and Salutations

I reached into the back seat of my Jeep, unfastened the twisting straps on the car seat, and encircled Erik's rib cage as best I could with my outstretched hands, extracting him from inside the vehicle. I pulled the generous length of him out into the bright sun, my back reminding me that doing anything wrenched at this angle was likely a chiropractor's wet dream. Erik immediately dropped to the surface of the parking lot like a damp rag and began to retreat into that strange, autism-flavored world of his, running his fingertips over the surface of the sunbaked asphalt while I tried to coax him into standing up and looped my purse over my forearm at the same time. He ignored me and went about his business. I pulled him up by a stiffening arm, but he easily yanked his hand free from mine. His hands seem to be amazingly boneless at these times. I sighed and made another attempt. I was able to hold onto him long enough to drag him across the parking lot to the shopping cart return. His distracted gait was unsteady and he fell more than usual, but we made it in record time. Curious, I read the print on the flip-down child seat on our cart and saw that it was designed to hold children up to 24 months or 35 pounds at the most, although this was discouraged. I crammed Erik's plastic orthotics through the cart's metal skeleton and pulled his long legs through. He will never make it to 35 pounds in this, I thought. Not if he grows like this. I know that our trips to the store together are numbered now--at least until he is old enough and able/willing to follow my instructions so he doesn't go home with someone or get hurt trying to access the wheels of another shopping cart. The fear of being trapped at home hasn't completely faded. It's still a knot in my stomach, leftover from Erik's dark days of infancy. I took a deep breath and reminded myself we would adapt and wouldn't be trapped anywhere ever again.

The grocery store was dark and cool. We began cruising the glossy aisles, filling the cart with items from a list written on a sheet of notebook paper with year-old notes from the children's hospital on the opposite side in my block print with an uncharacteristic, worried slant. It was the only piece of paper in range when I made the list, and I planned on crumpling it into a small ball when I was through with it or letting it languish and fall to pieces in my purse. I suppose at the time I chose this particular piece of paper to write on, it was without much thought at all, but now I considered it a symbol of the past I planned to destroy. I certainly don't need it anymore. As I shopped, Erik shot off greetings as if he was firing a weapon.

Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hi! Hello! Hi! Hi! Hi!

Most of his words efficiently found their intended targets in the relatively quiet store, most of whom seemed a little surprised and uttered, "Oh! Hello!" I imagined them falling to the floor and screaming, "I'm hit!" When there was nobody in sight, his long neck craned so he could see the aisle behind him. When there was nobody there, he would say hello, anyway. I searched the cold shelves for a variety of cheeses and was asked by a gentleman working there if I needed help. As we launched into a gripping discussion concerning Swiss cheese and lower-fat dairy products, Erik repeatedly greeted the man, who smiled and occasionally very patiently greeted him back as he answered my questions. I stood there for an uncomfortable length of time searching for few items for my weekly menu and then exited the aisle. Two aisles later, I realized I needed lunch meat and that it was located exactly where that same man was working. When we arrived yet again, Erik greeted him 12 more times. I grabbed the item I needed and continued down the length of the store to the baking aisle. Three children ran past our cart, and Erik was visibly quite happy to see them, sitting even taller where he was perched. As I wandered a few yards down to find Italian bread crumbs, I heard a child say to his mother, "Mommy, that little boy only says hi!" followed by the laughter of this kid's siblings. By the time we made it to the produce section, the last section of the store, my brain was cluttered with the voices again, and I wanted them to stop. Most of the people shopping around us had been an aisle or two behind us and were quite familiar with Erik's voice by now. A woman in crisp office attire asked an employee about fresh coriander, and Erik yelled "Hi!" She tried to ignore him, but he kept it up. A few other shoppers turned to see what was going on and then looked back down at the fruits and vegetables with amused half smiles on their faces. Finally, she turned to him and said, "Well, hello there." A man stood by the salads and almost aggressively smiled at me, but I was receiving a slightly pervy vibe from him and largely ignored the weight of his presence while I hastily tossed lemons and bundles of romaine lettuce into the cart as if I was Michael Jordan trying to make a 12-footer at the final buzzer. Finally, Mr. Aggressive saw his opportunity and said, "Boy, he's really testing those social skills!" I felt myself losing my final grip on my sanity and smiled a dry smile before making my way back to the checkout. As we turned the corner, Erik shouted a final greeting, and I heard more than one person laugh. As the checker rang up my mountain of groceries, the bagger, obviously deep in discussion with my charming boy, looked up and me and commented that Erik probably likes to go shopping so he can pick out his own things. I said, "Yeah, I can't WAIT for him to do that!" and laughed, receiving a quizzical look from the man and realizing Erik looks more than old enough to do that now.

Exhausted from battling the mama bear overprotectiveness that kicked in each time Erik engaged strangers and drew some of them in around us, I wondered if I will ever be comfortable with Erik inviting the people of the world into my own private one. It's hard for me to relax now, as I am so busy scrutinizing these unfamiliar, new reactions to Erik coming from strangers. I declined an offer of help to my vehicle and pushed us back out into the sunshine and the wonderfully wide-open parking lot where I could breathe again.

Erik squinted in the sunshine and smiled at people in the distance, far out of earshot.

He said hello anyway.

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Blogger Rosemarie said...

My heart goes out to you as you are trying your best to make this situation fit into some kind of normalcy. Still, just as the reverse of the shopping list had been a time of insecurity and questions you found the courage to move forward and deal. This is another phase for both of you. You're adapting Nancy, and boy, can I hear the pain. Hang in there! You're doing great!

As a mother, it's understandable that you would like to protect Erik from the world and its uncomfortable or compromising situations. For you it's more so. Nevertheless, let the feelings of all the good that comes from having children rise to the top of your emotions to dismantle the fear and anxiety.

9:26 AM  
Blogger Rosemarie said...

PS How is it that your life and courage can bring my spirit to a place of gratitude? Thanks for the tears.

9:44 AM  
Blogger ~Deb said...

Each time I read your stories, it’s as if I’m reading a book. The way you describe everything makes the reader feel as if they’re right there. I think people feel the awkwardness of the situation, between your tension and their tension, so it manifests into anxiety for you. The main thing is, Erik’s happy and loves people. That makes a helluva’ difference, as opposed to him being scared and fearful of others. The over protectiveness is just a self-defense mechanism that stems from love.

God bless!

P.S. Your writing is just incredible, beyond the should really write a non-fiction book based on your life. I bet you other people in your situation will relate to it all. Have you thought about that yet?

11:24 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Rosemarie, thank you for all of your kind words. I'm so glad writing down my feelings creates something good for someone besides just myself. I also love watching you succeed, as it gives me more fuel for my own fire!

Deb, I love you to pieces. Yes, I am probably going to write that book, but I think I'll wait until I am better at all of this and can look back and really see how far I have come. I am picturing my book being born now but not being complete until Erik has ended his teens. Thank you thank you thank you for the encouragement.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Teresa & Shawn said...

It's okay to be Mother Bear - who else is going to be that for Erik? But you never know - Erik might have been a bright light in someone else's day today. That energetic "hi" (even if heard a gazillion times) might make you cringe sometimes, but I bet it brings plenty of smiles.

5:21 PM  
Blogger kathi said...

Ditto rosemarie and deb, girl...I do love the way you write. You are amazing, the way you put us into the story and we're filled with emotion, it's nearly like we're there with you. I love your writing, you are so very talented.
You've allowed us to love Erik through your eyes and from your words, and I thank you so much for that.

6:47 PM  
Blogger Katie said...

Oh god Nancy.
I dont know how to reply to you sometimes- its like you reach into my brain and reword my jumbled thoughts. So all i can really say is:
I Understand. I really understand, i know that sometimes a simple greeting can make you laugh,cry and want to scream all at the same time.


8:24 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Kathi -- Just when I feel too vulnerable to do this anymore, I get kind words that keep me going. Thank YOU for THAT. :)

Kati -- Thank you for giving me some validation and making me feel like I'm not crazy (completely, anyway). One complaint -- Could you girls LIVE ANY FURTHER AWAY?! Sigh...

9:48 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Ummm, are you sure that you weren't writing about every trip Avery and I take to the store...are you spying on me?

6:31 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Oh yeah, but instead on touching the asphalt, Avery would try to taste it. Your little is getting bigger, huh. It sounds very different from how things were just 6 months ago. Sorry , I initially missed the point of how people's reactions are changing towards Erik as he "grows up" on the outside. I think those pervy guys are hired by the store so we don't linger to long.

6:42 AM  
Blogger Life's a peach said...

Nancy, I have you on my favourites list for a reason, girl, I love Erik from afar - maybe he was saying "Hi" to me! I hope that my tolerance for other peoples' situations is being stretched from reading your experiences. Bear in mind he is not only inviting the people of the world into your private one, he is inviting them into his! xxx

10:52 AM  

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