My family has encouraged me to write down the stories of my interesting if not glamorous life with my husband Dan. So, for prosperity’s sake, I am…18 … Normalization. This was the buzz word in the 70’s when trying to change behavior. Our job as house-parents, as we understood it, was to expose our boys to “normal” everyday activities. One of those normal activities was grocery shopping. Now mind you, our boys couldn’t count, read or drive. They had a tough time remembering their own last names, but B.F. Skinner and his theories ruled the group home.
Taking them shopping was no small ordeal.
Our local IGA was as small as most and you couldn’t get everything there, but you could get fresh meat, cheese and homemade bread. And… I certainly wasn’t brave enough to take our little family to a bigger store in the city. Dan and I had decided to divide the grocery list and the boys. Dan took Robbie and Kirk and his part of the list. Robbie was a pleasant young man who said “yea–ha” to every question you asked. Especially, when you asked him if he understood something. Being reassured by Robbie’s “yea-ha”, Dan turned to Kirk, severally Autistic, who pointed at his wrist and asked what time it was. This was one of the two sentences Kirk spoke. The other was “Bob Barker channel 6 at 7:30”. Once again being fooled in to answering Kirk’s “what time is it?” question, Dan mumbled and placed Kirk’s hand on the grocery cart’s handle and headed off to teach the boys to shop for groceries, “normally”. I had the baby and George.
Little Holly was snug in her carrier and I placed it in the section of the cart usually reserved for toddlers. I then began to get George ready to shop. Dan and I tended to argue over who was responsible for George. It wasn’t because he was a bad kid or hard to work with, really, George was a great kid. It was his seizures. You never knew when he would have one. He averaged 30 a month both petit mal and grande mal. Sometimes, he would just zone out for a bit his eyes shifting quickly from left to right in their sockets. Sometimes, after an activity, he would just fall over and his arms and legs would shake with mild tremors, but sometimes he had full-blown grande mal seizures. His arms and legs would flail and he would hallucinate at the top of his lungs. Sometimes, you had some warning that something was about to happen, sometimes you didn’t. It was a crap shoot. This day, I had a warning, but there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. Holly and I had one cart and George pushed one of his own. He was very pleased and excited about this granted boon. George getting excited was not necessarily a good thing. It tended to set him up for yet another seizure. We had noticed that George’s bouts didn’t happen during an exciting activity, but rather when he was done. Getting off or on the school bus was a very dangerous time for him. He was excited to go to school and excited to come home. I can’t tell you how many times he hit his head on the steps of the bus or the steps of the front porch, but it was often. Knowing this, I guess I should have seen it coming …but I didn’t.
We had just put some Kraft mac and cheese in George’s cart and were making our way to the next item on our list. “George the spaghetti is right here. Would you like to put it in the cart?”, I asked. George didn’t respond and kept pushing his cart. “George…stop”, I firmly requested. George just kept pushing. Too late I realized what was going down. Before I could reach him, George went into a big and LOUD grande mal. He hit the floor with the grocery cart handle still in his right hand. As he shook, so did the cart that had tipped sideways and spilled its ingredients including the milk and eggs. “Bang, Bang, Bang”, went the cart. George then began to hallucinate and require loudly that someone take him fishing. ” I WANNA GO FISHIN, I WANNA GO FISHIN”, was his epilepsy induced mantra. Dan, in another aisle, admitted to me later that for a moment he seriously thought about ignoring us. Coming to his senses, he found us three aisles down. What a picture that must have been. George on the floor amongst the crushed eggs and spilled milk, the banging cart, the loudly requested fishing trip, me holding the baby and looking left and then right for deliverance and the crowd gathering at both ends of the aisle. Dan quickly assessed the situation and did what any normal thinking man would have done. He offered to take George fishing. To which George promptly replied, “Ok” and went as limp as a new born. Dan bent and lifted the teenager into his arms continuing to assure him they would indeed go fishing and carried him from the store.
God Bless small town folks. There I stood surrounded by the havoc created by George’s seizure with a baby and two obviously handicapped teenage boys. The folks literally put their arms around me, blessed me and called for clean-up in aisle six.