Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sometimes we are THAT special needs family

The scene: Sunday morning. We are en route to The Original Pancake House. We've tried to come here before, only the din has wigged Max out and we've had to give up and leave. But we are fools for pancakes, and so try again, we must.

I call the place. I tell them we have a kid with special needs, and ask if I can put our name on the waiting list now. "Sorry, no," the lady says, nicely. "We can't do that. But we can make sure you get seated really quickly once you're here." We decide to go for it.

As soon as we arrive, I jump out of the car and check in. There is a horde of pancake-hungry people waiting for tables. The hostess tells me she'll get us the next one that's free, and I say we'll wait in the car and could she call us when she's ready? She agrees.

"Oh, one more thing," I say. "He likes corner tables, if there is any way that is possible, that would be great!"

Never the shy type, I have become the world's pushiest person since having Max.

She says she'll try, without even a hint of WTF in her voice. It takes a lot of patience to be a parent of a kid with special needs, but I suspect it might take even more patience to be a hostess at a pancake place.

We hit the parking lot and entertain Max by finding Toyota Siennas (his favorite car) and letting him pat them. That's his thing: he runs around them and pats them down. Only this time, he sets off the alarm on one, and we grab the kids and slink away. Max has also turned me into an adult delinquent.

Five minutes later, we get the call from the hostess and walk in. Max wails. He screeches. The crowd gathered in the entryway stares. Literally, everyone stares. I pick him up and he flails his arms and legs, managing to whack me in the eye. I carry him to the lovely table in the lovely quiet corner. Sabrina sits down. Max makes a break for the door.

"I'll handle him, you order," Dave says, and he and Max head outside to feel up more Siennas, no doubt.

I order pancakes for the kids. "Can you please serve my son's in a skillet?" I ask. The waiter stares at me like I've just asked if they serve pancakes here. "My son likes to eat out of skillets at breakfast," I explain. It's true. If that's what it takes to get him to eat his eggs or oatmeal, we do it.

"I'll have to ask," the waiter says, and scurries off. The hostess who seated us returns, no doubt not surprised it is me again. "Sorry, the skillets are only for cooking food," she says. I realize that next time, I should BYO. I'm not sure a skillet will fit in my purse but when I get home I try and it does. So going forward, we will be THAT family who brings their own skillet to the restaurant.

Dave returns a few minutes later with a calm Max. "How did you do that?" I ask, once again amazed by Dave's ability to placate Max. "First we touched all the Siennas," Dave says. "Then I talked about his friend Caleb, and how much he loves him, just to get his mind off the restaurant." Smart man I married, eh?

And that was pretty much that. We had to keep asking the waiter repeatedly for napkins, since Max is a messy eater. Then Max needed his chocolate milk in a paper, not glass, cup. Then I needed a fresh cup of iced coffee because Sabrina decided to drop a crayon in there. But otherwise, we had ourselves a very pleasant pancake breakfast: Max, plain; Sabrina, chocolate chip; me, potato; Dave, wheat. And wow, were they good.

Have you ever been THAT family?!


  1. I love this post. Yes, you are "that" family, but we are all "that" family, and your being out of the closet as "that" family makes it so much easier for all families to be themselves. And yes, anything for pancakes.

  2. Someone needs to be "that" family,so why not you?

    Your post made me smile, and glad you got to eat your pancakes!

  3. Yum pancakes!

    I sometimes ask people if they can, "Not be Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally"

    Sometimes we are THAT special needs family, and I have nothing to do with the special part.

  4. You've now taught me how to be "that" family. I try not to rely on the "kindness of strangers", but I really should be more gutsy when it comes to accommodating my daughter's needs...better that then never leaving the house.

  5. LOL! Yes, we've been THAT family, too. We especially get lots of looks these days as Nik's got his speech device and is constantly "singing" Old MacDonald or Happy Birthday ad nauseum.

    I LOVE the frying pan fitting into your purse. THAT, my dear, is sheer awesomeness!

  6. I would totally let Max stroke our Sienna - well except that ours is always dusty.

    I LOVE that you are willing to make a small stinker as ASK for Max. I do too - for things like food color - and peeps look at me like I have 10 heads. - and yes we are that family.

  7. I feel like we are the "loud" family. My kids have always been quite boisterous, and no matter where we go and how much we discuss restaurant etiquette, it seems like people are always staring at us. All three of my boys (hubs included) are redheads, and they get stopped everywhere we go. People rub their hair, ask where it came from .... you get the picture! So we're the loud redheads, I guess!

  8. Totally rocks that you got your pancakes!! We are that family,(Type 1 Diabetes, Autism and Epilepsy) but can't leave the house to go out to eat too often and now that our little one has Epilepsy it is nearly impossible (so many triggers right now), but when it comes to getting what I need for my kids, by golly I would put a pan in my purse any day!!

  9. This was a great story, Ellen! You tell a story so well! Great encouragement for others to try.

  10. Yep, we are *that* family, too. I have no qualms about speaking up for things my kid might need when we're out and about, or bringing things with us that might come in handy. Never had to bring a skillet though... :-) Good thing 'cause that wouldn't fit in my purse!

    Max can pat my Sienna anytime - kid's got excellent taste in minivans!

  11. Hmmm. . . I think we're always "that family" even before Charlie. but I blame my mother for that completely.

  12. As someone who was a waitress for 12 years, I never minded THAT family, as long as they were friendly when asking for stuff (and a nice tip never hurt!)

  13. YES! It used to bother us that people stared when our son crawled under the table in the booth at the local restaurant and we fed him there like a stray puppy. But now some of the waitresses will even duck down and ask him if he'd like another juice box :-)

    Love your blog! So glad to have connected with another autism mom.

  14. What a great reminder that it's OK to ask for assistance sometimes. For a long time we just didn't go out and do things with Noah because I couldn't handle being "that" family. I think I'm getting better at it, but there are times when I just don't have the patience.

    I may try the frying pan bit with my 2 yo, who has no special needs but is just a crappy eater!

  15. That was just awesome! We too are "that special needs family". Captain Autism would like his chicken and fries served under the table please, when the restaurant noise gets to be too much. We were also that family that embraced the mobile web as soon as it came available so that he could disengage and watch YouTube videos if a stranger tried to talk to him. Ryan gets his personal jollies from watching videos of matches from the "Street Fighter" series of Nintendo games. He doesn't want to play...just to watch.
    I always ask for stuff, if it's extra, I'll pay for it, and if someone is really helpful, their manager gets a call with a compliment. If you don't ask, you don't get!

  16. Us too. I have been known to let my daughter sit in her wheelchair with a large paper bag over her head while we are out - she thinks it is hilarious and it is the only way she can cope with a trip to Macca's but yes it does make us look like 'that' family.

  17. Oh absolutely we have been that family! I don't think it ever gets easier either. We were that family yesterday in Lowes. After being in there for about 30 minutes CJ was done he did not want to be there anymore. We were just finishing up and because we had something large in the cart he had to walk. He is a wiggler, a pacer, and always moving and touching. Well he moved just once to hard and mom lost her balance and down I went. Of course I was not hurt, just the ego. I saw everyone looking at me with this look like " I can't believe shes is not getting on that child for doing that" Something like that anyway, the looks were not nice. He could not help it, I did not blame him. I gave him to Terry, and took a few steps away to gain my composure.
    Until society accepts that accommodations need to be made no matter how off the wall they sound when requested, we will always be those special needs family's.


  18. Yes, we were just that family last night. For some reason we decided to go along with a large crowd of friends who got tickets to a professional soccer game and were all taking the train into Newark. However, the train was really a car, then a train, then a bus then a "short" walk! We DROVE and then told every single person in every single parking lot that we had to park closer because our son doesn't walk. After the 17th parking lot attendant, we got to park on the grass right in front of the stadium. If you don't ask, you don't get!

  19. So first of all, I have been 'that' family and my daughter is typically developing but is, hello, 2! But seriously, I love the Original Pancake House and now I love them even more that they were accommodating. I am glad you were able to try them. Oh and the omelettes are awesome and you get a side of pancakes with them.

  20. This post made me smile. Too funny-- a skillet in your purse!

  21. Yes.

    It's hard when it's just me. Less of a challenge if I have my folks with me.

    I've had to just up and leave on more than one occasion. It's getting better though in the last, oh, six months or so. I say "You're getting on my last nerve--don't make me say 'ENOuGH!'" See. when I say "Enough" we're out the door, no exceptions. And I don't say it softly, either! I've walked away from half filled shopping carts, or wrapped up burgers and shoved 'em in my purse, and made the dramatic exit to the whispers/stares. Oh well!

    The place where I work is open 24 hours. We get special needs families in all the time, especially in the summer--quite a few in those massive RVs that I'd be too scared to put in reverse. The dining area is big enough that we don't have any trouble accomodating folks with differing requirements--lots of windows, too, so unless you come when it is super super busy, you can pretty much know you can get a window or a booth--unless you want to sit at the counter and stare at all the pies and cakes. I've served more than one meal under the table too, and I've made up plates that have no relation to anything on the menu (broccoli and peanut butter sandwich was one very memorable one) and just charged the closest equivalent charge--hey, whatever works! You gotta help out however you can, I figure.

    One thing I don't do is go anywhere when it is crowded if I can avoid it. It's just too much of a sensory overload, and the noise and commotion produce tension and fretting in my oldest. I try to maintain a Zen Calm attitude, aand sometimes that works, but sometimes not--it's a crap shoot, so going during "off peak" just works better.

    Ellen, hustle on over to AMAZON and type in LODGE LOGiC SKILLET. You'll find ones that are five, six, and ten inches across (and other sizes too) that should do the trick. A six incher is about ten bucks and would fit in your purse just dandy, and is a pretty good size for most breakfast foods. Also, if you ever got mugged with that thing on you, you just whoop your mugger upside his head with your pocketbook and you'll send him to the ER! I swear by cast iron, it's all I use--I have all sorts of skillets and dutch ovens and so forth--great for slow cooking on top of the far end of a wood stove.

    Hope I don't triple click again!

  22. How did you find out about the skillet and how much were the hospital bills?

    You are crowned the problem solver family, help the rest of us think outside the box! Creative or theraputic training must be your forte. Keep sharing ideas and thanks.

    We are loud and silly and were already too. Now I wonder what people are wondering more (three, two yr old with Down Syndrome). I knew the disapproval before and didn't care. I care now cause I am even more sure our ways are best and want to tell you about it, with more compulsion to do it and "save" the naysayers.

    Which is pointless most of the time. But I'll stay optimistic cause the alternative leaves me frozen in despair. Be there and live by example. Our presence changes and heals.

    But more people can forgive a skillet than an overly rambunctious or self soothing fidgety child (that may be on the floor).

  23. We were definitely THAT family.

    I remember way back when Owen was 100% tube fed and put NOTHING in his mouth. Not food. Not toys. NOTHING.

    We were at a restaurant and he started chewing on a crayon. We were so excited we clapped and cheered him on for gnawing on a crayon.

    I would have loved to read the minds of the onlookers.

  24. We've been THAT family before more than once. Usually my Max is pretty good when I bring him out to eat but if he is too hungry the waiting for food can be really hard for him. Especially if he notices other people have food and he doesn't.

  25. Ellen,
    I am not part of "that" family, my kids are all grown, but have become "that" teacher with "that" class! We weekly take our students with multiple disabilities out into the community and pancakes are on of our favorites. I am very shy, usually, but I have learned to assume that they will give us the table we want, all the napkins we will need and move all the chairs away so we can fit our wheelchairs in. Thankfully no one has ever stopped me, I think I scare them :)

  26. We were THAT family not too long ago. We were in Branson, MO and stopped at the Olive Garden for dinner. One of our son's is disabled and has Epilepsy and requires a number of meds in the AM and PM. We walked in during dinner rush and they told us there would be a wait. My wife asked if there was an open chair somewhere she could sit and feed/administer meds for Kade. They hostess declined to help us find a chair so we sat in the middle of the foyer with Kade in his wheelchair and started to open pills and feed Kade which can be a site. Once they saw what we are doing they found us a chair around the corner to use.

  27. Ellen -- the thing(s) you did that are important for all of us that are "that" family is the prep work you did - make a friendly phone call, talk politly to the hostess, double team when necessary (e.g. take Max outside). You let them know HOW they could help you, you didn't assume that they would know.

    If we go to a real sit-down (menues at the table) type of place we tend to go for an early dinner to avoid the crowd.

  28. This had me laughing and crying right along with you and I could very much relate.

    A few months ago we tried going to a new restaurant. Our son Leo (age 6, Down syndrome) took two steps inside and declared it "too loud" even though the place had just opened and we were literally the first customers of the day!

    After a good twenty minutes of patient coaxing, Leo joined us at the table and proceeded to eat his entire meal with one hand over his ear. We didn't need much special accomodation that day but it was nice that no one made us feel weird and they were all smiles.

    Refreshing to hear all these stories, I certainly know I'm not alone in theory, but nice to get the reminder.

    And as you know, a sense of humor really helps!

  29. on the rare occassion we do go out, with the kids, we are that family that everyone stares at, lol. but I still carry around a huge diaper bag and I load it to the brim. sometimes I bring another canvas bag, along with my own purse. to make sure it goes as smooth as possible.
    I love how you checked to see if a skillet would fit in your purse. waht we do for our children's happiness!

  30. Love this post. And yes, you married a bright one! I think we're not that family often enough. Because our son was diagnosed late, we often felt more self-conscious about what we perceived as our inability to control him than we do now we know he's autistic! And we're still not that good at thinking in advance what needs to be asked before we go somewhere. I think I'll take a leaf out of your book and try to become more like 'that family'.

  31. A big chocolate pancake flavoured Yes! We
    Are very much the same, although I always
    Take coloring pens and lots of paper for Amy
    Whenever we go out for a meal. Amy is

    A fabulous post.
    CJ xx

  32. Ha! We eat bfast at the same restaurant EVERY DAY (except school days) and the waitress just goes to the kitchen door and says "Kate's Here!" and they fix everything exactly like she likes it: fried egg, over medium, corner biscuit, a BIG bowl of gravy even tho she won't eat it, sliced tomatoes to dip in strawberry jelly, maybe a bowl of marchmallows to dip in gravy for breakfast dessert. The only variable is whether she'll have milk/coffee in particular style of cup (with scissors to cut off the straw) or tea with one slice of lemon. They love us, we love them, they get great tips, we get great food. Everyone wins, particularly Kate since she actually eats something!

  33. @ Hollee Temple, not to threadjack but my son has red hair and he gets an enormous amount of attention so three redheads together must be like a traveling circus--insane, but in a fun way!

    Regarding being "that" family, people with "typical" kids can be "that" family too, and in the most obnoxious way possible. There's a restaurant I go to regularly that had a celebrity guest--Soleil Moon Frye (okay, pretty C-list, but anyway...), and she literally let her kids run wild. It got so bad that the owner went over to their table and threatened to throw the entire family out of the restaurant if Frye didn't control her kids. Frye Tweeted later that day, "Can anyone ever really control children?" Oy.

    Simply asking for a few accommodations for your special needs kiddo doesn't make you THAT family. It makes you a mom who's doing the best for her family while also trying to be considerate of the service workers and customers around her. That sounds good to me!

  34. LOL that made me lsugh so hard. I dont know how many times i have had to plan ahead to go somewhere as simple as mcdonalds. it is those days i sit back and remember and now someday i will miss them when he gets older.

  35. LOVED this post.

    Love your take on being "that" family.

    Love how you approach the little obstacles of life. (Feeling up Siennas - pure genius!)

    Love that you got to eat your pancakes. ...And that you described them. Mmm.

    Oh! And LUUUUUUUUUH-VE your purse. Awesome color. Perfect for skillets. :-)

  36. Yes, we too, are "that" family. I like to call us the traveling circus. Wherever we go we seem to draw eyes towards us. Wasn't so bad when my son Brandon was younger, but now that he is an adult his oddities get more looks. Just signed us up for our first blog if you want to check it out. I have no idea what I am doing so bear with me. We're at: Life with Opie
    I'll try to blog at least every few days. I have many stories to re-tell from the past 21 years.

  37. Hi Anonymous again. The circus has come to town,,,,,everyday.

    You are not alone!

    by the way, I mentioned that I was new to this blog thing. I gave the wrong blog address.

    We just started

    Hope you can check it out. I'm just getting started and have 21 years to cover......

    Thanks again for your blog. Saw it in my newest GH subscription.

  38. Yep, that's us, the loud family making a big mess. I've learned to go with the flow, be polite, ignore the stares and leave a big tip. If they get pissy I get bitchy, but usually everyone is really nice.

  39. It is nice and reassuring to hear that a whole lot of us are THAT family sometimes!!! And Debra, YESSSSSSSS to this: "Until society accepts that accommodations need to be made no matter how off the wall they sound when requested, we will always be those special needs family's."

    Hollee, I know there are plenty of families with typical kids who can be THAT family, too! Thx for that reminder, and loved the Soleil Moon Frye story!

    Terena, I have not yet totally learned to ignore the stares. Maybe someday.

    I probably should bring more props for the kids. I wrote about taking Max out for dinner once over at 5 Minutes for Special Needs, and someone suggested pipe cleaners. Really smart idea! CJ, coloring materials definitely helpful, too!

    Felicia, thanks for the thoughts on where to get skillets, I will be sure to get Max a new one today, and perhaps a bunch for his birthday. !!!! Living in the NY area, yes, carrying one in my person could definitely come in handy for a would-be mugger, though Mace is maybe a wee bit lighter.

    If this post inspired any of you to be more upfront about making requests for your child, I will be a very happy girl. OR you can just take me along to your next pancake outing, k?

  40. Wow! I'm no 41!

    We are so THAT family. But what I love even more is how you have automatic amnesia so no matter how painful the meal went, you are so willing to go through it again cause you never know, it might be different next time.

  41. Wonderful story- excellent getting it done. If I see you wandering about town with a skillet in your purse I will give you a high five.
    Because my twins are NPO, the one thought that always comes to mind when we eat out is "do people wonder why I'm not ordering food for, or feeding, them?".
    I mean, people mostly get they're disabled by their wheelchairs (and that usually gets us a nice, out-of-the-way spot) but I wonder what they think when my "typical" daughter is eating a giant hot fudge sundae and her older brothers aren't interested. My boys turn their heads like it's poison.

    Our dining-out always ends in one of the twins clearing everything off the table. Once, the twins took their shirts off and threw them on the floor and we nonchalantly cheered (one has moderately severe CP). Shoes always come off, and fly across the room. We are definitely *that* family.

  42. I just remembered something: the time Leo (Down syndrome, he was then about 2 1/2) was in an obsessive take off his shoes and socks everywhere phase.

    We were at an Italian restaurant and he threw a sock and it landed in the dish of olive oil (for dipping bread). Thank goodness it was on OUR table.

    I was pregnant with #2 at the time, had wretched morning sickness, no sense of humor and wanted to crawl under the table and hide. Now however, I can laugh about it!

  43. I am a single mom, divorced when I was pregnant with my son. My daughter had sensory sensitivities when she was small, and my son was born with Down syndrome. Their grandfather knew how much they enjoyed eating at restaurants with him during visits so he would send a check every so often just so I could take them out. On my own. Just me and them.
    But, on days when one or all of us was *on the verge* or over it, I would pack them up and take them out to eat.
    One particularly stressful day we were sitting at a booth with one in a high chair and one in a booster seat and I was keeping my eyes on my plate so I would not see whatever they might be doing with the food on theirs. Miraculously, we had five minutes of peace and I was eating my food while it was still hot and fresh from the kitchen.
    And then along comes an athletic looking young couple who wants to say something to me. Oh dear!
    But the young man introduces himself and says he just wanted to say how much he admired me; he grew up with a brother who has Down syndrome and his brother made him the success he is today. He was so glad that his mom gave his brother every opportunity and gave him the opportunity to know his brother.
    He went on to say that he admired my patience, and I quickly glanced over to see what my children might have been doing to earn what he evaluated as my patience.
    With his eyes on me he was saying "I know how patient you must be" and both my kids looked at him and shook their heads 'No' with sweet sincerity.
    It was so funny I looked back to the young man to see whether he enjoyed their silent commentary but he had kept his eyes on me ~ and really lit up since he had finally elicited a big smile from me.
    I motioned toward my kids so he would see them now shaking their heads more solemnly "no" but he missed it completely, and concluded by saying he was amazed at their good manners in a restaurant.
    His companion had been beaming at him during the whole conversation so she did not catch my kids' two cents either.
    When we left the house, I had told my kids I had absolutely no patience left and we *had* to go out.
    I figured it would be better to be 'that family' in public than to absolutely lose my mind at home. And then they were perfect angels at the restaurant?!?
    So for the first time I became aware that sometimes we could be THAT special needs family ~ or at least, seem to be.

  44. Jacqui, yes, we definitely have short-term memories for this sort of thing, otherwise we'd never try again.

    Ms. Crabass and Maya, your story about the kids throwing stuff at the restaurant reminded me of a story when Max was about two. We were dining out, and Max grabbed a dinner roll and tossed it. This was a BIG deal since had so much trouble grasping, let alone throwing. Anyway, the roll landed on the table next to us and without thinking, Dave and I cheered. You should have seen the looks we got!!!!

    And Pam? That is an awesome story. Made my day.

  45. Shame on you for not packing a skillet LOL. If I can carry a Magic Bullet blender in my bag and whip it out at a Pub when they claimed they couldn't blend up a meal I reckon you can get a skillet - I wonder if they body holsters for skillets...

  46. You know what you want and what works for your family. The skillet in the bag is priceless. If someone can carry ranch dressing in their purse, then a skillet is totally dioable. I purchased a tiny frying pan from TJMaxx/Home goods for an Xmas gift for a couple of kids who like to cook. I t was in the kitchen gadget section. I think it was small enough to fit in a coat pocket. Food for thought.

  47. OH my! I just discovered your blog and love it! So I've been reading through so many posts!

    I am not the mother of a special needs child but an older sister- and Your adventures in trying to eat out- remind me alot of my own family trying to take my brother out.

    Other's are right we are all "THAT" family at any given time.

    This one time shortly before I moved for college. We took my brother out to his favourite restuarant at the time. He sat through the meal, ate nicely, it was amazing.

    At that time we had been teaching him at home to clear the table after eating. So after he was finished eating he gets up and starts clearing the table with the waitress! my parents were so embarassed. But the waitress and hostess were gold! Even though it was probably against restaurant policy they let my brother help clear not only the dishes from our table, but the one next to it!

    He felt so important because he was a "helper" and helped my family have a decent meal out. They must of told all the staff. Because the next time my parents took him there- the staff let him help clear the tables again!


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