Attention Costco Shoppers: You Have Destroyed My Faith in Humanity

Had to go to Costco this afternoon. Had to. I needed to buy a bushel of apples for a conference that SEPTAR is hosting in two days, plus snacks to give Iz and all thirty of her classmates caloric boosts to help them plow through the mandated silliness that is STAR testing, plus stock up on the treats that Seymour's parents prefer as they're coming to stay with us in less than 36 hours.

I've had good luck taking my three kids to Costco. Leo likes to ride in the big cart and get straws from the restaurant area. Mali likes to make new friends every five yards. Iz likes to cruise the sample carts and tell me which food items we simply have to buy. It's fun. Most of the time.

Today I needed to buy more bulky items than I usually do, so Leo had to walk for the last half of the shopping. And Mali was being a serious PITA* to Iz, who lacks the self-regulation to move away instead of retaliating. The three were fairly roily by the time we reached the checkout.

At which point Mali lost it, because they had balloons and she wanted one and she couldn't have one. She turned on the tears.

So then of course Leo lost it. He started sobbing, with big tears of his own, and smacking himself in the head. This scared Mali, so she cried harder. This made Leo more upset, so he kept trying to reach Mali in her basket seat, to hit her and make her be quiet.

They were really, really loud. They drew the attention of every single person in the crowded space between the checkout stands and the exit, many of whom watched/tried not to appear as if they were watching as I struggled to push the overfull cart to the side while trying to keep Mali and Leo apart, hugging and kissing and reassuring them to see if I could help them calm down.

At least forty people walked by. Not one asked if they could help, even as Leo's attempts to hit his sister grew more obvious and his crying grew louder.

I was able to get Mali to take a deep breath and stop wailing, and resumed our shuffle to the exit. We then had to walk across the parking lot to our car. It was a visible struggle to push the weaving and uncooperative cart with one hand while holding onto Leo with the other. He was still determined to get his little sister. Iz, bless her, kept stepping in to deflect Leo's maneuvers, but her actions made pushing the cart even more difficult. At one point I resorted to hopping on one foot and pushing the cart with the other. All as people kept passing us on either side, pretending we weren't there.

We made it to the car and I got Leo and Mali strapped into their seats. That's when I started crying, too. Iz was concerned, but seemed relieved after I told her, "Yes, I'm crying. That was really hard. You were very helpful. Thank you."

Please know that if you see a child who looks too old to be having a tantrum going into full tantrum mode, there's a good chance that child is autistic. It's okay to watch and see if the adult has the situation under control.

Please know that if you see someone who looks like they might need help -- as opposed to someone who is disabled yet going about their business -- please ask if you can be of assistance. Even if they tell you "no, thank you" or even if they're hostile in refusing your offer, think of what would happen if they really did need help and you didn't offer it because you were too afraid of offending them or interfering. Were those people at Costco waiting to see if one of us actually got hurt, first?

Leo has been doing so well on these kind of excursions, today excepted. I don't want to stop bringing him along. Learning to tolerate routine errands is critical to his social and cooperative learning. Leaving him at home even more than we already have to do fractures my kids' perceptions of sibling- and family-hood. Most importantly, Leo is a social boy. He doesn't want to be a shut in.

But we don't always have successes. Sometimes, like today, we have catastrophic failures. And when that happens, it is doubly difficult when our community fails us, too.

My hands are still shaking, hours later.

*Pain in the ass


  1. Aoife5:39 AM

    I think you are brilliant. And I will approach someone that appears to need help, without fear of offence, simply because I'll remember your words.

  2. Anonymous6:07 AM

    I have been there, but with less kids, so I can only imagine how difficult that was. I am sending lots of hugs to you and the kids. It makes it even worse when so many people pretend like nothing is happening. These are the same people that would leave an old woman on the ground or a unaccompanied child wandering. If one person had just offered to push the cart, it might have made all the difference.

  3. This makes me so GD mad I could scream! I'd like to think that wouldn't happen in my town but, I'm sure it has/will. Sending hugs and soothing vibes for the next trip. xo

    um, and a stiff drink if you want one!

  4. I'm sad in the heart for you. I get in these situations, too, but have no autism - just wrangling 4 kids is enough for me. We don't have such a store as you do in this little part of the world (I've honestly never even been in a Costco), though I do pray that if I ever see a mom who needs help, I'll step up and offer. Thanks for the wake-up call. Hugs from afar.

  5. This is good to know because I am very, very loathe to step in and ask parents if they need a little help. I'm so afraid of offending them. I feel that they'll think I'm judging them in some "because, clearly, you the parent are not handling this well" way.

    Also, my word verification was "prefark." I think that's pretty awesome.

  6. Kimberly9:56 AM

    I don't know what I would have done. To be really honest, I am pretty sure that I would not have intervened. If I saw you struggling with the cart and the kids I probably would have offered to help with the cart but that's all. I honestly would not have wanted to offend you or make it worse.

    If I ever do find myelf in a situation like that, I am going to remember this and ask if I can help.

  7. Anonymous10:25 AM

    Sorry Squid.

    Like maisnon, and kimberly, I suspect that I wouldn't have tried to help either. I would have been more worried that an offer of help would have been seen as interference, rather than a real help, also that trying to talk to you in that circumstance would have impaired your ability to deal with the situation.

    So, a useful update would be more details about *how* we should offer to help, if we could. Let's say, I'm pushing my own cart with my own two kids, who are behaving adequately (but not phenomenally; although they are neurotypical, I do not find them easy to handle in big box stores). What should I do? The most obvious think I can figure out from your story is offering to push your cart (and that would be an easier offer if I didn't have my own kids to handle).


  8. i was thinking the same thing; how loath i'd be to offer help, feeling like the all-too-likely implication would be something like, "hey, since you're clearly doing this wrong, let me step in."

    every time this comes up in your blog, i count myself lucky to be reminded what the truly humane response is to a person in difficulty. i hope that the next time, i'll offer to help--and even if the person gets mad, realize that it's better to make an attempt than to ignore the need.

    you do something really good when you remind us of this stuff.

  9. Anonymous12:25 PM

    You can ask for help too.

  10. That's lame that others can't realize that help might be needed. To restore your faith, I once had a total stranger carry my tantruming child with autsim from the haircut place to my car.. I was saying "no, that's ok" and he said "let me do this!" Then he said he had a child with autism, so I guess it takes one to know one and other are clueless.

  11. I just want you to know.... I'm non-social and shy and when I'm out in the world I usually do my best to pretend that other people don't exist. But after reading your blog for the past couple of years, I really do try to summon my courage when other people appear to be struggling, and ask if they would like a hand. I live in the same town as you, so maybe one day I might help restore your faith in Costco shoppers!

  12. @anonymous I am asking for help! :)
    Scanning the people around me for sympathetic eye contact might have made a difference, but I couldn't take my eyes off my kids.

    @maisnon @kimberly @L: I find someone saying, "I'm here if you need help" to be non-judgmental and very kind. Offering to push the cart would have been great.

    @teach-this how wonderful. Wow.

  13. I'd've just stepped in there and said, "Can I help you with your cart?" or "Let me get that cart for you." But...we're in Texas, and people do stuff like that here, for the overburdened or the very old who look like they need help. It's kind of cultural, I think, so it might be more acceptable, so it seems like a no-brainer to me.

  14. @emily, I hear you about the hesitation. I am very much the same way by inclination. That's why I'm telling you it's okay.

    @Emily any time anyone mentions Texas I start singing Sandy's "Texas" song from SpongeBob. Sigh. Wish I was back in Texas, indeed. I'm glad your community has your back.

  15. Dear Squid,
    about 10 years ago Black and I saw an older woman getting hurt at Home Depot. The accident was due to the negligence of an employee who loaded a cart with too many (heavy things) and the whole thing collapsed on her. She was hurt. No one helped. No one stopped. Some people looked at her as some sort of freak show. But nobody stopped. Black and I sat next to her, as she was in complete shock. She didn't speak English very well, she was in huge pain and freaking out. So all we could do was to sit by her and argue with the store manager to call an ambulance. He didn't want to call because scared of liability... nice huh?!
    If I remember well, Black was the one who ended up calling an ambulance from a pay phone.

    I think people didn't help you because a lot of people don't really want to get involved. They may care if taken one on one, but in a crowd they rather avoid any uncomfortable situation.
    Sorry you had such a crappy experience.

  16. I've offered help to strangers from time to time and it's never been turned down. I'm so sorry no one thought it was "appropriate" or "necessary" to help you. Sorry, but sadly, not surprised.

  17. So I'm really glad you wrote this. A few months ago, at our swimming pool, a lady on the pool deck was having a similar experience with an older child having a tantrum and upsetting the siblings. I felt awkward doing this, but could not hold back, so I did go up to her and asked her that if she needed help, to let me know. She said no thank you, and soon thereafter got the situation under control. I think we (the passersby) need to get over the 'afraid because we might be offensive' part of stuff and just reexamine our own humanity and offer help. If it ends up offending someone, at least we've tried to be helpful. Now that you've written this article, I know it was the right call. We live in such silos, it's ridiculous. Thank you for bringing this day to people's attention, and I certainly hope that the rest of the day is treating you more peacefully.

  18. Squid, where were all the flipping employees of Costco??? Just one stupid little stock clerk could have pushed the cart with Mali in it to your car while you focused your attention on Leelo. They could have stayed with you while you loaded up the kids.

    That's what I would have offered to do. Because of liability issues in this sue-happy society, I think people are very hesitant to touch other people, especially kids. Sad but true.

    I'm so sorry you had to go through that.

    Love, Laura

  19. Is it okay to ask for help? I read this and I sympathize, but also know that in a couple of situations where I have had not enough hands and something critical to attend to, I have "shouted out" so to speak, for help. Usually with a "Can somebody hold my baby/hang onto this cart?" capacity. 9/10 times I get someone.

    Also, is Iz old enough to wait at the entrance with a cart (perhaps even holding Mali's hand) while you secure Leo and then drive on up? I know it sounds like a chicken/grain/fox in the boat puzzle, I'm just brainstorming at this point.

  20. Kathleen in Oregon10:55 AM

    Dear Fellow Autism Mama,
    I would help you in a heartbeat! I have twins, both on the spectrum and even if I had them with me on my own I still would have charged over to you (cape flying in the breeze, no doubt)to provide whatever assistance I could. I have walked miles and miles in your shoes, many of them at Costco, and I am equally APALLED at the lack of response from the rest of our population to moms in distress. I have helped pregnant women load their cars at Costco, and I folded one lady's stroller for her while she put her kids in their carseats. It is not difficult to do and it has taught my sons something about lending a helping hand, even to a stranger. We give our kids little awards for making 'good choices' and after the stroller episode, my son Daniel told me, "Mama you should get a Handy-Helper!" YES!! I thought, Mission Accomplished!

  21. You can ask strangers, too, just ask to the air, Can anyone give me a hand with my cart? Often people will, they are just hanging back and don't know how to offer to help.

  22. Anonymous2:30 PM

    I'm sure people are not focusing only on you when they are out and about. Instead of complaining about everyone else, ask for help if you need it.

  23. Been there, too. It's not every day that I get a chance to lecture a police chaplain on the value of not making assumptions of brat over autistic.

    Glad you got through it. I know it's hard, but you keep trying and keep Leelo social, and it'll be worth it.

  24. Anonymous6:44 PM

    That sounds so draining--just going to Costco to get a boatload of stuff takes enough energy!

    Wish I'd been there to help, I probably would have since I often offer. Even though I've been rebuffed, I really try to help other mom's. "I'm here if you need help", is a great idea, I always prefer statements to questions when I'm freaking out.

    Hope you had someone to help unload on the other end. And thanks for your blog, I learn alot from your writings.

  25. Thanks for all the support and suggestions. It's good to know there are so many souls out there who are willing to look out for strangers.

    I wish I'd had the wherewithal to be able to yell for help, but my crisis-response and social skills are not great. And I'm less worried about me -- my crisis is over -- than about people in similar circumstances.

    My hope is that the next time readers see someone in a public child-wrangling crisis situation -- because of course it'll never again be me -- they'll go with their instincts to see if help is needed.

  26. I'm just reading this and I started tearing up, after what happened to Jim and Charlie by a picnic table in a gas station not far from our old house. Charlie was hot and wanted food not just sodas and started knocking his head and, well, the response was that people came running to yell at Jim, as if he were doing something wrong. Then a bunch of police cars.....

    Anyways. We have been talking it over and agreeing, we need some quicker way of communicating what is going on (like a card and maybe it's dorky, but I realized that if Jim had been wearing an "I love someone with autism" t-shirt, that would have helped even a little). And we also need to learn how to ask for help---Charlie got upset (much less spectacularly) this afternoon and Jim and I were hanging onto him and someone asked if he could help. Jim said Charlie is autistic and no to help (a male thing....) and I said, it would be nice if you could just stand by. The man did and it was awkward but reassuring.

    So there's two portraits of help, such as it is, in the Garden State.

    Thanks Shannon for writing this.

  27. You amaze me. I had a faith destroying moment last week too. I am just really glad that for the most part people are good.

  28. Melissa9:53 AM

    Wish I could say they gro out of it, but I do not think they do.
    My 13 year old is having the same issues again in public, tantrums, throwing things, hitting. My 14 year old has new behaviors in public too.
    My heart goes out to you Squid.
    I have experienced that, lived that and breathed that before.
    What a NIGHT MARE for you!
    Sending my love your way!!

  29. Melissa9:54 AM

    Oh I forgot, Autism sucks!

  30. Anonymous9:35 AM

    So sorry to hear you were so alone that day. Maybe you DO need a t-shirt for shopping trips that says "Not too good to accept help" or "barely hanging on" or something :) Only a tiny bit tongue in cheek.

    It reminds me of an anecdote I read recently from someone who had been visiting Tokyo: "The rules of courtesy are not the same as ours, however. Japanese politeness consists of benign blindness. When someone does something ill-mannered or appalling, unless it's an actual emergency or criminal act, it is simply invisible.

    I was on a train on the Chuo line, heading from Musashi-Sakai to Kichijoji, when a young woman (who was dressed rather like a country girl, so perhaps she was a visitor to the city) suddenly had a sneezing fit. At once it was obvious that she had been caught without a tissue, and was in dire need of one.

    I happened to have a pristine packet of Kleenexes with me, and, being an American, I immediately pulled it out and gave it to her.

    Only afterward did I realize that I had just done something appallingly rude. Until I did that, the young woman was invisible. Her sneezing, her nose-wiping -- none of them had actually happened until I called attention to it by offering the Kleenex."(swiped from www.hatrack.com)

    Unfortunately, I think you ran into this at Costco! Weird that it was here in America, right? But it's possible that everyone was totally sympathetic with you, but didn't want to offend you by implying that "you couldn't handle your own kids."

    Not that any of this helps you out when you desperately need it, but perhaps it can provide just the amount of push you need to restore your faith/patience with those people who stood by and didn't help.


Respectful disagreement encouraged.