• Katie Vahey Gaebler

Thank you to the woman in blue

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

Brys and I were at the grocery store, as it is now becoming routine 1-2x p/week. When he was younger, I never took him shopping. His meltdowns were inevitable; the task would take so long and maybe got accomplished. It just didn’t seem worth it. Without him there, I could fly through the job on a Thursday late afternoon, after work. It was an hour of focused, purposeful time. For a while, I even looked forward to it (even though pre-children, typically I dreaded the job). Now, he’s a little older and won’t totally melt, but I do anticipate an episode of elopement, him getting handsy, yelling, ticks, etc. Frankly, I'm more apt to order click-list to pick up groceries, or online for anything else. But when I need to shop with him, I try to make that the one field trip of the day, only go to 1 store, be organized and efficient, and go in the morning or mid-day when the store is less busy. And I know being out in public is an important lesson for him to learn, so best with me in this sort of setting.


About three-quarters through our trip today, it was around 11:30am, and Brys got into his antsy zone. Touching everything, hanging on me, and stimming (clucks, squeals, spinning). I promised him we were almost done, that I just needed to get milk, that I needed his help to pick it out, and then our last 2 stops he could choose his preferred yogurt and crackers. As I was deciding on the milk options, out of the corner of my eye I see him load a couple cans of Red Bull (not that he knew what that was) from a display into our cart. Not a big deal moment, I gently let him know that wasn’t for us, and asked him if he wanted an altoid (his go-to) instead.


A woman likely in her 70th decade, dressed head to toe in a bright blue pants suit, quietly approached me. “Good job, mom” she said; I said thank you, and walked on. There have been plenty of times I lost my cool in public with my child, and this was not one of them. If he had been born in a way considered "typical" for a child his age, so that this would be an a-typical moment of annoyance, I may have lost my cool. But our normal is autism, and what other families consider annoyance, are often my son’s best behaviors. I have plenty of stories of other kids commenting out loud on my son’s behavior, of me trying in earnest to hide the sting, this isn’t one of those stories. In that moment to have the validation from what appeared to be a seasoned mother, on my ability to hold it together, was most appreciated.


She wouldn’t know the specific challenges I face with my son, but in a good moment for us, what she might interpret as difficult, she reached out to validate my effort. It makes me reflect, for all our hardest moments, in both the good times and less so, I can do a “good job, mom.” In my world, even the littlest validations mean something big.

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