Isn't it funny how life presents us with opportunities for appreciation and gratitude when we most need it?
I took the kids shopping on Friday. I hadn't planned to and I didn't need anything in particular but they were driving me crazy, I was driving them crazy and we all needed to get out of the house. Also, I'm learning that Oliver feels the most at peace when he is in motion. A walk or swim are the best but a ride in the car or on an escalator, cart or wagon are a close second.
I got the kids into the car without any clear destination in mind but quickly settled on Big Lots because there is always something interesting to look at and because they carry our favorite brand of sparkling apple cider that is packaged with a cork stopper that pops like champagne and that the kids like to drink out of fancy wine glasses that they clink together to "cheer" each other. There is no better way to make something special out of an ordinary afternoon.
My strategy regarding outings is to always be prepared to call it a day at anytime -- sometimes even before arriving at our destination, or after as little as 30 seconds or three minutes. Of course that rarely happens anymore but I had never taken Oliver to Big Lots and didn't really know what to expect. If you have never been to a Big Lots, it has a much more claustrophobic atmosphere to it than say, Target, which is a place that Oliver generally likes. I also wondered how crowded the place would be in the middle of the afternoon on a Friday. Tight spaces plus a lot of people might be enough for us to beat a hasty retreat.
We have been putting a lot of emphasis lately on having Oliver help us with things, with trying to get him to take an equal role in activities throughout the day. It is surprising how willing we have all been to assume that Oliver couldn't or wouldn't participant in everyday activities, whereas Sammy isn't happy unless he IS made a part of whatever we are doing. So even though I didn't arrive at the store with any particular objectives in mind, I did make choices that I might not have otherwise. For example, we chose our shopping cart outside the building and then had to negotiate the front doors with the cart. Without a word or a prompt, Oliver struggled to hold the door open as I got first the cart and then Sammy through the doorway. So I started out right away being totally impressed with my little guy. The trip was already a success and we were barely through the front door.
The carts at there are too small for riding in and Sammy had already claimed the riding spot on the front, so I let Oliver drive (with some assistance from me). The isles were pretty close together so moving the cart from place to place was actually not that easy but he stuck with it and helped me -- really helped -- with it. At one point I couldn't decide between two brands of dish soap and, on a whim, held them out for Oliver to choose. After considering it for a brief moment he selected the green, slightly taller bottle and, pleased with himself, chucked it into the cart. Oliver has a very difficult time making choices, which I think is closely tied to his very genuine lack of self-awareness, so I was tickled that he actually chose one variety over another and made a mental note to myself to offer more opportunities like that to him.
Sometimes when I paused to look at something Oliver wandered up and down the isle. A year ago -- no, three months ago -- he would have taken off running if I didn't maintain physical contact with him. But now I simply have to remind him to stay with me. The store was quiet enough that I even tested him a bit by starting to walk away when he had wandered to the opposite end of the isle. Both times I turned the corner and waited with my breath held only to exhale a moment later when he rounded the isle with an anxious look on his face and he slid his hand into mine.
After loading 8 bottles of apple cider, one green bottle of dish soap, and one each Dora and Diego folding baskets into the cart we made our way to the check out counter. If the trip was going to go bad this is where it would be. Oliver laid claim to the Dora basket and was holding it in one hand while still helping me guide the cart with the other. But really, ALL the things in the cart were now, in Oliver's mind, ours. Taking things out of the cart and loading them on a conveyor belt is very confusing and upsetting to him and the checkout line has been the scene of many, well, scenes. But wouldn't you know it, when we parked our cart in front of the register Oliver automatically started to help me unload the cart. He picked up the soap and handed it to me and then reached for another, and so on.
Wow, I thought, what is going on with this boy?
So, pushing it a little bit I got down next to him and quietly told him that he would have to give the lady his Dora basket so that we could pay for it. I told him twice and then waited. He turned it over again in his hand and then laid it on the counter.
When we got home I even opened a bottle of Big Lots finest and drank a toast to my awesome little shopper and most beloved Oliver.