Since I'm in "take it easy mode" we limited ourselves to one brief outing today. We went for lunch and then headed over to the Carter's baby clothes outlet to exchange an outfit for our growing little weed. Having never ventured in that store before, we were surprised to find it packed wall to wall with garish SALE and CLEARANCE and HOLIDAY DISCOUNT signs as well enough upper middle class mothers with strollers to surely violate some fire code. Since we were sans stroller and lugging the boy around in his bucket, Rich offered to take him over to the video game aisle at Best Buy next door while I stood in a crazy long line to exchange our item.
I stood there amongst the ironically humorous bibs and coordinated bootie/cap/jumper outfits, eavesdropping on all the other suburban mothers. I was awash in a sea of white women in yoga pants with dyed blond hair discussing how many outfits grandma should get and if they should sign up for the store's coupon mailer (realizing that I had only recently been a white woman with dyed blond hair).
As I pondered what sort of subculture I had gotten myself into by procreating, I felt a tug at my purse strap. It was more like a tapping of someone trying to get my attention over and over. I turned around and there was a tall lean black teenager, maybe 15, running his hand up and down my purse strap. Having first deduced him to be the World's Worst Thief, I realized he was not looking at me or even my purse but only at the strap as he ran his finger nails up and down the course nylon material. I noticed his other hand hooked in the arm of his mother as she reached out to inspect some garment for her young daughter.
I'm still surprised that I processed this all as fast as I did but somewhere in my head I thought, "he's not lost, his mother is with him, he's most likely autistic and he's not hurting me. I'll just leave him be." I smiled at him, shrugged and turned back around to wait my turn. I also caught the look of another lady next to me and she clearly looked appalled at both his behavior and my reaction. After about 30 seconds he abandoned my purse strap and started tapping the plastic hangers on the display next to his mother. His mom never knew we interacted.
As I checked out and left, I wondered how many times his hands have strayed in a crowded store like that and how many times his mother has apologized for him. I wondered if she was tired of managing both him and her precocious two-year-old daughter. And I wondered how things might have played out in line if he'd reached out for purse of the lady next to me instead of mine.
A month or so ago, I added Carly Fleischmann to my Twitter friends after watching a TV special about her. She occasionally solicits questions about autism and responds to them in Twitter or her web site. It's very interesting to read what people ask and her explanations. She's a clever kid. Remembering Carly as I processed my brief interaction with the boy in the store, I'm even more glad I didn't pull away from him or scowl. I'd hate for strangers to fuss at me over things I couldn't help. And in his defense, my purse straps are pretty neato.