How cliche is this: Our kids are growing so fast. But really, they are growing so fast. Babyboy is busting through his sneakers. Literally. There are holes in the seams at the toes because his feet are pushing through them. But I have made the mistake of skipping the official store fitting, guestimating the size  and buying his shoes: I was off by 2 sizes. Never again!

So this morning I went to the junk mail pile and found that Stride Rite coupon that came a few weeks ago. Aware of  the weather reports that we may be in for another foot of snow tonight, I also went through our pantry and made a list for Target. I found those coupons too. And as soon as our babysitter arrived (to sit with Babygirl), I got myself and Babyboy dressed and out the door, on a mission: To the mall.

Now, busy public spaces are not always easy/ pleasant for any family with small children. Babyboy, like most kids with an autism diagnosis, and some without,  is particularly sensitive to crowds, noise, stimulus. He has a tendency to melt down, especially if kids get in his space.

But, feet had to be measured. And we needed milk. And hubby is out of town for work.

So, off to the mall it was. The earlier the better.

I hesitated in the parking lot. Take the umbrella stroller? It would make the trek to the Stride Rite in the middle of the mall easier, but would complicate things when we had a cart full of staples from Target at the end of the trip. Hmm. Decided to leave it and carry Babyboy.

I wasn’t even all the way into the mall when I started to regret that choice. I was wearing a down coat and hat (it’s cold out!) and I was sweating. I stripped down somewhat in the elevator but then had to carry all the stuff, as well as Babyboy. Ugh.

We walked by the Lego store. “Toysh!” pointed Babyboy.

“Yes, toys, Legos, if you’re good at the shoes store we’ll look at the Legos!” I promised.

Made it to Stride Rite. Thankfully we were the only people in there… at first. Babyboy let the nice lady measure his feet. He let me un-velcro his old shoes. He let me put a new pair of sneakers on him. He was so good, until…

A big boisterous family burst in and immediately spread out around the store. Two school-age kids, a girl and a boy, came right up to us, flanking Babyboy as he sat on the little bench.

“Oooh, you’re getting new shoes!” shouted the young boy, getting up close to inspect the shoes.

“No!” yelled Babyboy. “No no no no no!” and he started swatting at the kid.

“Why you sad? Don’t you want new shoes? I hug you!” The kids started to put his arms around Babyboy.

“AAAAAAAH! NONONONO” Babyboy pulled away and really hit the kid, luckily on a well-down-coat-padded area. Plus, Babyboy, at two and a half years old, was a lot smaller than this kid. The kid didn’t seem to notice. I was wondering what to do- lift Babyboy up and away from this interloper?

The mom called over to her son: “Honey, get out of the little boys’ space, please. He doesn’t want you to hug him.”

And the boy did back off, though he came in close a few more times.

After that Babyboy wanted out of Stride Rite. He started grabbing things and throwing them. At people. Hard. He yelled. He grabbed onto my legs and yelled. I managed to pick out another pair of shoes (It was buy one get one half off!) and some socks and pay.

The store lady was sympathetic. “So many kids are attached to their old shoes and don’t want to get new ones,” she offered. I was tempted to say, No, he’s just autistic, to help excuse/ explain, but then thought better of it. Who cares? Probably loads of kids melt down at the shoe store. It may not even be an autism thing.

And that is a common question for us right now. What’s autism behavior, and what’s normal challenging two-and-a-half-year-old behavior?

So I just smiled and packed up Babyboy,  my and his down coats, our hats, gloves, and the bag with the two pairs of shoes and bundles of socks. Sweating for real now.

“Okay buddy, Okay… ” I murmured, and once out of the store, Babyboy calmed. We walked past the Lego store. There were… alot of kids in there. It was like Christmas. What the heck? It’s 10 am and snowing out. I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to venture in.

So I asked him. “Want to go in?”

He was captivated by the window displays of Lego animals and airplanes and cars and fantasy vehicles… I wasn’t sure he’d heard me. Then: “Go In!” he declared.

And so, we went in. I saw what the big draw was: they have tables and buckets of Legos for free playing. This was a hit with everyone. He went and stood at a table across from a little girl, and they stacked Legos independently. She couldn’t have cared less about him, and that worked well. After awhile, I led him to the wall of preschool-appropriate sets and told him he could have a little treat. He initially gravitated to a huge boxed set, and I was kicking myself, thinking, Dummy! You set yourself up for that! But then he eyed a smaller set, a numbered train. We left with that one. He insisted on carrying it himself.

“After you eat lunch at home, you can open it, ” I explained. He seems to do well with that kind of instruction. First this, then that…

We ventured into Target. He sat in the cart, with his box of Legos by his side, one hand protectively on it at all times. He was so good and calm as we trucked through the aisles, me ticking off all the usual items: baby food, diaper cream, wipes, milk, cream, yogurt…. He seemed to feel safe in there, with me close, me a barrier of sorts between him and all the colors/ noises/ people. He looked around and observed. Only once did he fidget- when we passed some sort of price-checker machine. I had to scoot past and distract with his juice cup. Worked.

We made it home without incident. Babygirl was napping, so our babysitter got him his lunch,  and he did eat well, all the time with that Lego set box  on the table in front of him, within clear view and reach. After he ate,  I opened the box and he got right down to business: playing. An hour later, he is still captivated with it.

I am tired. I suppose with time we’ll figure out that some of his behavior is autism,  some is totally normal, and either way, we’ll manage.

All in all, it was a good trip to the mall.