The kids and I had been shopping all afternoon, and with two of Anna's best galpals along, it was quite a rowdy crowd. I had one more store I wanted to visit, but as we all piled into the car, David begged me for a drink because he was thirsty. Come to think of it, I was thirsty too, and really, I didn't need anything at the last store in a major way.
As we headed down the road, I made a snap decision to go through the drive through at McDonald's and skip the shopping. Unfortunately, the line at the drive-through was a dozen cars long, but luckily, this was a McDonald's with an indoor playground, so another spur-of-the-moment decision led to us sitting down to a pile of McNuggets and Fries, and a bunch of happy kids.
As we sat eating, a boy who appeared to be a year or two older than David walked over to the girls at their table and began talking to them, but something about his conversation was a bit off. Disjointed sentences. That "deer in the headlights" look in his eyes. I had a hunch, and a moment later he confirmed it.
He sat down at the booth next to me and David with an older woman, and then he calmly turned to David and said "I have to take a pill. 'Cause I have autism." David said "you have to take medicine?" The woman smiled a bit nervously and said "Yes, Zachary has to take medicine. Sometimes, people need to take medicine. Everybody does that sometimes, don't they?"
I smiled at her, and I said to the boy, "Zachary, this is David. He has autism, too. I bet you two could be friends." Zachary turned to look at David, who smiled his biggest smile and said "Let's play!"
And so they did. For over two hours! They laughed, they chased the girls, they pushed each other in the rolling booster chair, they played with their happy meal toys, and they were having a blast.
At one point, Zachary stubbed his toe hard and began to scream, huddled in a corner and going into meltdown. Before any of us could get up from the table to help him, David walked over and said "What's wrong, Zachary?" Then he put his arms around him, rocking gently, and saying "You're OK, you're OK," over and over, just like I do with him sometimes. It worked. Zachary stood up, wiped his eyes, and they were off and running again.
While all this was going on, Janet and I sat and talked. She listened with sympathy as I told her I'm a newly single mother, and I listened with awe when she told me she was 73, a cashier at a local supermaket, and she's been raising Zachary for nearly 7 years. She had traveled across country, tracked down her daughter and disovered she was homeless, strung out, and frequently neglecting Zachary. She took legal custody, and began the exhaustive task of getting Zachary diagnosed and into therapy. He has a few more issues than David, some of them severe, like his seizures. "What are you going to do, though?" She said. "You just do the best you can. You know what I mean."
Yes, I know what she means. So we sat there for a few hours, watching our boys play with a friend who won't ask them why they say strange things, or expect them to know all about Transformers and sports teams. It was beautiful.
We exchanged email addresses, and vowed we'd find a way to meet up for a playdate soon. "Thank goodness you came today!" Janet exclaimed, as she hugged me goodbye. "It's so good to just sit and talk with someone who knows how it is." I was smiling as we pulled out of the parking lot, and I realized that we wouldn't have been here at all, if David hadn't told me he was thirsty.
I guess that was his soul talking. And I'm so glad I listened.