Be Your Way

The following is a Facebook status written by my wife about an experience she had recently at an area Burger King.

A little context here… This particular Burger King is one that I spend hours at and quite a bit of money. My mother-in-law has pretty advanced dementia, so we usually drop my wife off so that she can have some quiet time with her mom while the kids and I kill time at this Burger King because of the indoor play-land and free WiFi. Bianca gets to use her iPad and my other two get to run around like nuts and blow off steam.

It was because of this familiarity, that my wife chose this particular establishment to duck into in a time of desperation.

A few years back, this sort of incident would have crushed my wife to the core. I couldn’t be more proud of her response to an incredibly stressful situation. But what if this had happened to a mother not nearly as far along in her journey raising an autistic child as we are?

To the blond young lady working the register at the Burger King on Route 30 in Valparaiso on August 15th… Yes, the very loud and opinionated lady who made it a point to sarcastically yell across the restaurant as I was walking out with my 3 boisterous children, “Thank you for coming. Please come back again”.

I understand that it may have annoyed you that I didn’t purchase anything. That I just rushed in, with a look of panic on my face, spent a whole 8 minutes in your restroom, and proceeded to walk out with my kids. I may not have spent money there today, but I have done so many of times, as we visit your restaurant when we visit my mother at the nursing home. You see, I have a 9 year old daughter who is still not completely verbal; one who I am so very proud of because she works so hard at communicating with us.

Until almost 4 months ago, we were spending an insane amount of money on diapers (which cost quite a bit more than those that babies wear, because of course, she’s 9). We finally got a break in that department as she is now wearing big girl underwear.

We have come a long way, but we’re still struggling with little accidents as Bianca has yet to learn how to control certain functions. Example, if she says (and signs) “potty”, we must find a potty… NOW! There is a tiny window between her expressing her need and her actual using the potty. We are teaching her to “listen” to her body so that she doesn’t wait till the last minute to tell us she has to go.

Today was an eventful day. We got to see the Air Show downtown and we were very grateful to have many porta-potties available. We left Chicago and headed to Valparaiso, Indiana for a family member’s birthday party. Perhaps it was my fault for not stopping at home to see if she had to use the potty. We were 15 minutes from our destination when I heard Bianca say “potty, potty”. I acknowledged her need and assured her that I would stop as soon as I could. 

My intention was to stop at this very Burger King, take her to use the restroom, and buy the kids some Icees. However, not a minute passed when an all too familiar smell came over us. (Bianca was wearing a dress, thus making this that much more of a crisis).

The kids started to complain, and the panic set in. My kids, as well as every other parent with a child on the spectrum know what comes next! As gross as this may sound to everyone else, the smearing and even ingesting that typically follows is nothing short of a fecal war movie.

I step on the gas, praying not to get pulled over, begging with Bianca to not pull her undies off, and to hang tight. She kept reaching, but would stop at my command. Needless to say, those were the longest 7 minutes of my life. I was worried less about my car or the mess I’d have to clean, and more about adding to the trauma my other two kids already endure. I knew they’d come to understand, but the heartbreak of being so close to enjoying themselves with the cousins they love, having to turn back around after being just blocks away was something I didn’t want to see.

I pull into the parking lot like a maniac, still pleading with Bianca not to take her clothes off or reach into her undies. I get the kids out, then slowly pull her out. I rushed into the restaurant with only the diaper bag, leaving my phone and purse behind. I get into a stall, and proceed to clean up. Luckily, (thanks to her healthy eating habits) the mess was minimal. Major Code Brown averted. I cleaned and changed her. Put her in a fresh pair of pants and shirt. Then I washed her hands.

She rarely listens to me the way she listens to her daddy. Today, she proudly obliged to my desperate pleas. I’m so proud of her. Meanwhile, my other two minions were still freaking out, wondering if there was a mess in the car (and there was not). I cleaned the stall even though there were only a couple of spots affected. And I dried my sweat. I couldn’t buy Icees as I’d left everything in the car.

So as embarrassed as I was by the employee’s comment, followed by the snickering and laughter of her co-workers, and the judgmental stares, I managed to continue on with our plans.

What would have normally resulted in a tear fest, cancelled plans, and a night of self-pity, ended up being a fun filled evening for my children. Bianca has come a long way, but so have I! My child is not a monster. She will not stay home. She will not be hidden from society because the world isn’t prepared to deal with her. She is learning, as am I. So if you want to embarrass someone, go ahead. But today, I’m not ashamed. I’m a proud Autism mom!

We have come a long way. A long way as a family and a long way as a society. But you can see there is still a lot of work to do. Perhaps it was just youthful ignorance on behalf of the employee. I am sure that the employees have been talked to about letting people entering the restaurant know that the restrooms were for customers only. But imagine how different the outcome would have been had the young lady behind the counter simply asked, “Is everything OK ma’am?”

And perhaps therein lies the lesson. In a day and age in which we safely hurl snark from behind the screen of our electronic device of choice in the cyber world, let us not forget that in the real world compassion, empathy and understanding go much farther and are more appreciated.

In all honesty, this event could have happened anywhere. Burger King didn’t set out to wrong my family. It was a lapse in judgement by an employee. Still, the current slogan at Burger King is “Be Your Way”. Nobody defines that slogan more than Bianca. She is true to herself and as authentic as you can get. Maybe BK needs to take that slogan to heart and encourage their employees to not be so judgmental.

If you have not already, please take time to watch my videos, “Fixing” Autism and Autism Awareness with Nichole337 and share them with your friends.

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Lou Melgarejo
A married father of three, Lou's oldest daughter Bianca is autistic. She is amazing, beautiful, perfect and has taught Lou more about life, respect and unconditional love than anybody. They have a bond like no other and Lou's only wish for his daughter is that she grows up to be the best Bianca she can be.
Lou Melgarejo

Lou Melgarejo

A married father of three, Lou's oldest daughter Bianca is autistic. She is amazing, beautiful, perfect and has taught Lou more about life, respect and unconditional love than anybody. They have a bond like no other and Lou's only wish for his daughter is that she grows up to be the best Bianca she can be.

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