Supermarket Pas de Deux (#197)

At the supermarket, the shopping cart becomes homebase as Charlie and I move bumper-car style past other carts and shelves crammed for the annual Can Can Sale. Today, as I was counting out a dozen green apples, it occurred to me that Charlie knows to come back to the cart. I used to sprint after him once we got pass the automatic doors, to beat him before he made it to the sushi display case (yes, Charlie can find sushi in any large grocery store). Today he ran in, grabbed a pack, and took the long way round the potato aisle when I called him.
Charlie helped to push the cart down the juice aisle and over to where the chips and dairy products are. This aisle is always jammed with carts and I left ours near the rows of Utz chips Charlie has favored these past two weeks. “You get the yellow chips while Mom gets some eggs,” I said. “And stay by the cart.”

I ran-glided backwards, the yellow brim of Charlie’s hat easily evident. (There are some advantages to his being bigger and taller.) I turned just fast enough to get the eggs and race-walked back through a sudden pack of shoppers. Charlie had drifted a few feet away, to inspect several shelves of pickles, a small bag of chips clasped in his arms.

Neither his head nor his body moved, but his eyes turned towards me. “Yallo chips.”

“Sure, put them in the cart, and let’s get in line so we can go home and have dinner.” Charlie did just that, his face bearing the same peaceful, soft, open look he has worn ever since he did his ABA session yesterday. School was great today, as was a 2 1/2 hour home Lovaas session, Charlie working his way through his reading programs, playing Elefun, and trying out a new software program. He pulled on his hat, coat and vest as the therapists were leaving: “Where do you think you’re going?” they teased him. Charlie laughed. “B’ack car!” He ran out to see there was no black car (it was getting serviced) and then back in to retrieve an old booster seat. “Gween car!”

The supermarket has the potential to send every one of Charlie’s senses into overdrive–the smell of the broccoli and the floor cleanser, fat paper towel rolls to touch, fluorescent lights in full glare, clatters of metal and voices and wheedling children, an unwrapped food item to get a lick of. Once Charlie grew too big to sit in the cart, I used frequently to abandon it and all the groceries as he wandered into the soft drink aisle, or started to pry open the lid of a cake. Last year I often tried to squeeze in fast trips for groceries in the twenty minutes before I picked him up at school–Charlie kept running away to find the soy ice cream and the frozen wheat-free waffles, and punched holes through the saran-wrapped trays of chicken and ground beef.

During that time, I was annoyed at myself for letting Charlie’s behaviors control our lives and limit his freedom to walk down a supermarket aisle–any store aisle–calm and easy. It was October of last year when I again ventured to bring Charlie to stores. We had re-started our home ABA program and I knew who I could turn to for help if any meltdowns, or anything less or more, occurred. That first time he stepped back into the grocery store Charlie’s eyes opened wide. (Though, during the month he was home between school placements, Charlie refused to go to the store. He wanted “school.”)

From then on Charlie and I have been regularly dancing away from and back to the shopping cart, which takes on a bit more weight with each pass. I put in grapes and mushrooms; Charlie appears with a bag of frozen shrimp. I select a pack of chicken parts; he picks up a cucumber and pats the oranges. When I say “Come on!” Charlie walks away from the bakery section–still craning his neck to sight the cupcakes–and returns to orbit round the cart I keep pushing towards the next aisle.

4 Responses to “Supermarket Pas de Deux (#197)”
  1. Eileen says:

    Reading about you and Charlie’s successful trips to the grocery store back in September is what motivated me to begin to start to take Andrew out of the shopping cart so he can walk through the store. A few minor tantrums, but still not easy. I have to admit that I have been doing the 20 minute run on my own lately. Today’s post has reminded me that he will never learn if I don’t continue to let him practice these little adventures.

  2. gretchen says:

    Oh, Kristina, you give me courage. Henry, at 6, is still small enough to fit in the shopping cart seat. But not for long, and I’m afraid all hell will break loose if I leave him to his own devices.

    But the day will come, and I will be brave like you 🙂

    I love the picture of Charlie at the checkout! I love that you take his picture everywhere you go- I need to start doing that more.

  3. Joel says:

    I swear, supermarkets must have a perverse sense of humor. They seem to be designed so kids can instantly find everything they’re not supposed to get into. To make matters worse, that stuff is never well packaged. A jug of orange concentrate? indestructible. Tubs of kitty litter? even I can’t open them. But the snack food? all packed in flimsy lil cases or baggies. Never, ever, up high either (unless it’s the baked, caffine free, low fat, reduced sugar stuff).

    🙂 at least Charlie does super in them.

  4. Kristin says:

    I’ve started to let Gabe out of the shopping cart more and more lately. He loves to walk with me and look at the lobster tank. I have to remind myself to treat Gabe as if he was 3 (only 3 more months!). In the blog Autism 911, the author writes about many parents who use strollers with their Autistic children past the age appropriate cut off. Now, there are good reasons for keeping our kids safe and sometimes a stroller can provide this. But, we have to remember, if we want our children to grow to be independent from us, we have to give them opportunities to learn those skills.
    The opportunity that you give Charlie to “shop” is a prime example of this. Great job!


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