We just got back from eating out with Janey, at an actual sit-down restaurant. I can't think of the last time we did that successfully, and I don't know how I got up the courage to try. I was feeling hemmed in, and also drawn in by the constant commercials you see for chain restaurants---meals that look incredibly good and reasonably priced. I know they often aren't as good once you actually get them in front of you, but I'm a dreamer. So we drove out into the night (all but Freddy, who begged off due to homework) and started thinking about where we should try. We drove into the parking lot of a Chile's, but Janey took an instant dislike to the place. She answered very clearly when we asked if she wanted to eat there---"NO!" We tossed around a few more ideas, and then drove to a Uno's (used to be Pizzeria Uno's). Janey seemed to like the looks of that place better, and we went in, ready to leave as soon as it became necessary. And it did NOT become necessary!
Some of the keys---the crayons they gave Janey---she didn't actually draw with them, but liked holding them. Getting her chocolate milk stat (it didn't arrive quite as quickly as she'd have liked, which we did hear about from her). Taking her for a walk the one time she asked. Getting the right table, a booth in a quiet area of the restaurant. Ordering her a kids' steak and fries. What didn't help as much as you'd think---having the iPad there. Janey seemed to feel it was out of place in a restaurant environment, and wouldn't play with it at all.
And then there's luck, or karma, or whatever. At one point, Janey tossed her crayons into the next booth, hard. Tony got up to get them and said he was sorry, that she had special needs. One of the women there laughed and said "Don't give it another thought. Our family is full of them!" When they got up to leave, they stopped to say hi, and that is when I realized one of the three middle-aged women, who I think were sisters, had Down Syndrome. That woman especially was sweet with Janey and made a point to try to connect with her. Then, as we were leaving, I somehow felt compelled to tell the waitress we hadn't tried a dinner out at a sitdown place with Janey for probably four years, and that she was autistic, so we were very happy how well it went. The waitress said casually "Oh, yeah. My sister is autistic too" I left feeling less alone that I often do. There are other people out there living a life similar to ours, and the life we will someday live, with adult children or siblings with special needs. There are lots of us. It doesn't always feel that way, but there are.
We gave Janey a big high-five after the meal, and let out our breath. It won't always work that well to attempt to live the ordinary life, but it's good to know we sometimes still can.