Yesterday, I decided to run a couple of errands with Matt and Adi in tow...a combo I don't often venture out with. Matt was literally bouncing all over the place, yelling "DANCE!" and "HAPPY!" in the car as we drove to the pharmacy and then Wal-Mart for a return.
We arrive at Wal-Mart and Matt has peed everywhere while sitting in the carseat. We've potty trained him recently and that was the first accident he had in 2.5 weeks. So celebrate the victory, but pee in a 5 point harness car seat requires an engineering degree for disassembly to wash. Didn't feel much like celebrating that part....or the accident itself. But sometimes you just do whatever needs to be done, so we walked into Wal-Mart, pee-stained pants and all, figuring it was the last place I actually needed to be overly concerned about people examining his clothing too closely.
We landed in a relatively short Customer Service line (blessing) behind an old neighbor friend I knew growing up. While we chatted, Matt began to grow increasingly anxious and was getting louder and louder as he yelled "phone!" or "pad!" (meaning iPad...not Maxi, lest anyone be confused). He would try to grab my face when I didn't immediately look at him or became too distracted in conversation. While we continued to chat and wait, I would periodically take Matt's hands and apply pressure while having him count slowly to 10--one of the few strategies that works to calm him. After doing that 1/2 a dozen times, it no longer had the intended effect and Matt was starting to lose it. About 20 minutes had passed and the dude in front of the one and only service rep was still talking to her. I decided I should just leave, but the lady in front of me suggested he seemed to be wrapping up and my friend told me to go ahead of him. About 3 more minutes and we were at the front of the line. Matt is fully charged and LOUD at this point, but I manage to tell the girl that I had a return, here's the cc I used to purchase, I don't have a receipt, happy to take a store credit. Thinking this will be an efficient experience, I was all smiles in spite of the devil child leeched to my side at this point.
She informed me in a not-nice voice that they only accept returns for store credit up to a certain amount. When I asked what that amount was, she said she can't share that information with me. Huh??? Well, apparently my $50.50 (approx) of merchandise exceeded that amount because she turned me down. I asked if she would at least take one of the items back and she said no, she couldn't. The girl next to her piped in and in a bossy tone (grrrr) said it was part of the same return and therefore they could not take just part. I asked why and she couldn't really explain, except to restate the policy. I asked if I had brought it in a separate bag by itself if they could, and she said yes, but I had brought them in together. I took the one part and put it back into the bag and said that they were separate, but they said they couldn't. I asked if it was because it still exceeded the amount and she refused to tell me. This illogical circle drew to an exasperated halt only because the manger walked up and asked if I knew when I had purchased it--which I did. I gave him approximate dates (couldn't take out my phone to look at the calendar) and my card which he took and attempted to look up. Matt is FREAKING OUT at this point and literally clawing and screaming at me. I asked the girl why she hadn't offered to do that in the first place and miss bossy pants beside her said she wasn't allowed to.
At this point, I'm really irritated, but still totally keeping my composure with Mr. Matt and trying my darnedest to calm him while not feeling super calm inside because I'm so irritated by this illogical policy and the people who continue to quote it to me with little to no empathy for how hard this return is or how it made no sense. A woman walks up to me at this point, taps me on the shoulder and says, "you are a wonderful mom!" A second lady who just got to the front of the line said, "yes, you are. You are doing a great job with your son." I thanked them...and then burst into tears. I took Matt's face to distract me and continued to talk to him, tears running down my face.
Bossy pants offered to give Matt a sticker...I think she started to feel bad for me at this point. I told her thank you for offering, but he wouldn't be interested. She insisted she had seen it work with other kids and I declined politely again. Persistent bossy pants tried again to tell me that it might work--her son is sometimes like this (Matt thinks stickers are not even worth acknowledging as an object and I had already informed her he has special needs) and as I open my mouth, another lady says to her, "I think she knows what will work for her son better than you do!" I almost giggled.
We ended up giving up eventually because dude took an additional 15 minutes to try to find our transaction. I told them I was torturing my son and needed to go. He said if he had the exact date, he could find it. I told him I couldn't take out my phone to look because Matt would hit a whole new level of freak out. He, in the nicest voice humanly possible, told me to come back and find him and he would do everything he could to help me.
I turned around to leave and there was a huge line of people behind me. All of them had been waiting for quite some time. I braced myself for the scowls and judgmental faces that I have encountered so many times in the past when going public places with Matt. What I got was literally the opposite. Not one person in that line avoided eye contact and every person with whom I made eye contact smiled at me. I felt absolutely overwhelmed by compassion and love as I left. I got to my car and started a new round of tears because of the showering of kindness through that experience.
Now, I realize that this might not sound like it was any huge deal, but to me, it was. The reason I was so touched it because it did a lot to prove to me that my faith in humanity is not misplaced. I like to think that people are good, that they have good intentions, and that most conflict is the result of misunderstanding or a lack of listening. I know that most people, if they truly learned the art of empathy, would respond with kindness. Most of us have a natural tendency, however, to make up stories in our head about those we come in contact with. I think it makes us more comfortable to fabricate in our minds a world that makes sense--when we don't have all the answers, we create them. Problem is that we aren't always right. But because we do that (and our perception becomes our reality), we don't seek to understand as much as we should. When we DO, though, most of us are naturally kind and compassionate. In my little experience, the story was obvious--Matt very obviously had special needs where at other times (or if you don't watch very closely), people have perceived him to be a loud, ill-behaved child of a negligent mother. In this instance, people watched more closely and therefore understood more and, as a result, responded with a little bit of love.
Every one of us has been there--when people avoid our eyes, we assume judgement. When people scowl, we take it personally (even though some people just have RBF). We can all do a better job at choosing to, in the littlest of ways, show kindness. The little things are the big things to the person on the receiving end who is struggling. A smile goes a mile :-) I'm so grateful that SO MANY PEOPLE did that yesterday.