We were in a restaurant. It wasn’t Denny’s, but it wasn’t Ruth’s Chris, either–your standard American fare, in an attractive but not terribly trendy setting. It was late, particularly for Santa Barbara, which is a town that closes early.
It had been a big day. We’d taken Baguette on her first train ride, and had spent several hours at the beach (where a stranger had asked us to move our beach chairs and umbrellas because they blocked her open view of the water–from her third story condo). Baguette napped late, and had eaten, but Mr. Sandwich and I still needed dinner. I’d gotten her a new app on her iPad, and she was playing it happily and describing what was happening and what hat the monkey was wearing from one moment to the next.
Baguette likes her iPad on full volume. We tend to be immune to it, but we are aware of it in shared public spaces. We know it’s loud, but we also know what happens when we try to lower the volume. And she was talking, and happy, and we really hate to interrupt that when we don’t have to.
So when the woman at the booth next to us said, “Could you please turn the sound on that down?” Mr. Sandwich said, “I’m sorry. I’ll try, but she may scream,” and leaned across the table to try to make things a little more quiet.
As she turned away, she said something that I couldn’t quite make out, but I could see Mr. Sandwich’s face. It went a little feral, and he turned back to her and said something that is not our go-to approach.
“No, actually, that’s where autism comes in.”
We don’t hide Baguette’s diagnosis–we talk about it quite openly. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed by. But we also don’t use it as a defense or a come-back. It’s an explanation, but not a justification. So I knew something had happened.
I managed to get Baguette to shift the iPad down to her lap, where the speakers were a little muffled. Mr. Sandwich and I had one of those wordless couple exchanges that meant that we would discuss it later, and we went back to eating our dinners. And while Baguette went back to talking about the monkey and its hats, we were silent. It was awkward.
Then the woman stood up, walked over, and faced me–carefully standing so that Mr. Sandwich could not make eye contact with her. She said, “Excuse me, have you ever considered treating your daughter with essential oils?”*
It was 9:40 p.m. I was exhausted. I didn’t know exactly what had transpired a couple of minutes before, but I was not so tired that I couldn’t tell that this woman was determined to make some kind of point. And I just didn’t want to talk about it. So I said, “I’m sorry, I’ve looked into essential oils as an autism treatment, and I don’t believe in them.”
She said, “But have you tried them?”
I said, “Excuse me?”
She said, “You said you’ve looked into them, but that doesn’t answer my question of whether you’ve tried them.”
So in rapid succession, we have:
- Criticism of our child’s behavior
- Criticism of our parenting (presumably, at this point)
- Criticism of my thought process and word choice
This is when I got the expression that Mr. Sandwich describes as “a cross between a police bloodhound and a Stinger missile.”**
A series of responses flashed through my mind like slides in a carousel, and then one–informed by my time in the blogosphere–came into focus. I asked:
“Do you sell essential oils?”
And she saw fit to answer, “”Yes, I do sell them. I have a sample here, I can just wave it under your daughter’s nose and let her smell it, I think you’ll find it soothes her.”
Sure. Why not? I’ll just take some unlabeled vial of some poorly identified substance and wave it under my daughter’s nose.
But I didn’t say that. I said, “I’m sorry, but I’m not interested in giving her essential oils.”
And finally, she went back to her table. I don’t know if she could relax, but we couldn’t. Dinner was over, no matter what we had or hadn’t eaten.
It turned out that what she had said to Mr. Sandwich, when he said he would try to turn down the volume, was this:
Ah, well, that’s just where parental authority comes in, isn’t it?
No, lady. That’s where autism comes in. I think you missed the parental authority part; it happened when I said “no” to you multiple times, because Mr. Sandwich and I are the best judges of what Baguette needs or does not need.
*The correct answer: Yes, I have tried essential oils for a variety of purposes. I believe that they have some helpful properties. I also believe that their efficacy is limited. For example, I believe that lavender can be calming, and that it has some antibacterial properties. But I would not use it to treat pneumonia. And yes, I am aware that there is scientific research into essential oils and autism. I also know that the study in question uses essential oils as a sensory tool. In other words, it’s something for kids to smell, used in conjunction with other senses such as touch.
**I consider this a compliment.