The beautiful swell of violins envelopes the Italian restaurant, and the raspy, familiar voice croons the words that make the whole world smile:
I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.
Across the table, Kristen listens and asks, “Who is that?”
My husband, Rick, says, “Louie Armstrong.”
Kristen’s eyes widen as she repeats, “Louie Armstrong?”
We nod, knowing her incredible memory for singers will catalog this name forever.
But this is not what brings sudden tears to my eyes. It’s the song itself.
It is, indeed, a wonderful world…now. The world has changed for my little family, just in the last hour or so.
Call it redemption, call it a turnaround, call it whatever you want. I just know God gets the credit.
You see, before our peaceful lunch at the Italian restaurant, we attempted to eat at a Mexican restaurant elsewhere. Sunday lunch at a restaurant is our tradition, and it’s Kristen’s favorite activity. She had given a thumbs-up to the Mexican restaurant, which catered to our family’s various food allergies. All was right in the Wells World.
Until it wasn’t.
When we got out of the car, Kristen slammed the door, began shrieking, yelling, and amping up for a temper tantrum. Why? I don’t know. The last time we’d eaten out, she’d done this very thing and had continued her shrieking as we stood in line. People around us had been startled, probably frightened, and of course stared at us, trying to figure out why this person was so upset. Now, Kristen was repeating the same behavior, and one peek through the window told us the Mexican restaurant was shoulder-to-shoulder with the after-church crowd. Rick and I concluded we shouldn’t attempt taking a shrieking, yelling girl into an already chaotic place. (You’re welcome, Chiloso)
As we all got back in the car, Kristen alternately yelled, screamed, begged, cried, and said hateful things to us all the way home. Not fun.
But please don’t misconstrue her behavior for that of a spoiled-rotten person who just wants her way. With autism, it is so much more complex. I don’t have everything figured out, but here’s what I think I know:
- She has no confidence in herself.
- She feels like a failure in many areas.
- When she gets in a rut, she doesn’t know how to get out. She is in a rut in terms of appropriate behavior while eating out (her favorite activity).
- When we leave the restaurant and opt to eat at home, we are essentially allowing her to stay in her rut, even though we know we can’t take her inside a crowded place in her frame of mind. It’s the proverbial rock and a hard place for us as parents.
We came home, terribly discouraged. In the front room, Kristen was sobbing. She had wanted, more than anything, to go out to eat. It was the highlight of her week. Yet, she had done the one thing that would keep her out of the crowded restaurant. It was like the old saying, cutting off your nose to spite your face.
At loose ends, my husband, daughter Sarah and I talked through what had just happened. We felt so helpless. But the more we talked, the more we realized the answer. Sarah went in the front room to talk to Kristen. Rick and I listened to her soothing encouragement.
Sarah’s words were simple, and Kristen hung on them. Sarah’s words reminded me of Abilene’s encouragement in The Help. Sarah told Kristen how much she believed in her. That she was a good girl. That she was kind. That she loved her.
To each affirmation, Kristen responded, “You do?” or “Yes.” She needed to know she was loved no matter what, even if she had screamed how much she hated us. Unconditional love was what her sister was offering, and Kristen gratefully accepted it.
That was the moment the day went from horrible to wonderful.
At Sarah’s suggestion and Kristen’s insistence, we all prayed, linked together like a football huddle. Then we gave lunch another go.
Another restaurant, again with Kristen’s thumbs-up approval. Italian food, no line (the after church crowds were long gone). We had a relaxing lunch, praising Kristen’s quiet, appropriate behavior. She confidently overcame her rut. There were lots of hugs, smiles, thumbs up and affirmations.
And when Louie Armstrong began crooning, I almost lost it. Because that song says it all. Enjoy the happy, easy moments. The little things, like flowers blooming. Your child smiling at you across the table. Enjoying life together. Breathing easy. These moments are magnificent and simple and fleeting and sometimes, hard won. They make life truly wonderful.
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.
Image: Alex Jones, Unsplash
Song: What a Wonderful World
Written by George David Weiss, Robert Thiele
Sung by Louis Armstrong