5 things the mom of the kid having a tantrum wants you to know.

It was 10:15 on a Wednesday morning, and I was standing outside a coffee shop, holding back tears.

10 minutes earlier, I'd walked into the coffee shop with my 8-year-old son. We were greeted by the anxious looks of a half-dozen people quietly working on their laptops, wondering if my son was going to disturb their peace. They were right to worry.

I had pulled my son out of school three months before; it would be another year before we got his autism diagnosis, but it was already clear that his combination of anxiety, sensitivity, and giftedness made public school a poor fit. That day, we were on our way to the gym class that was part of our new homeschooling schedule. A pre-class snack was part of the routine.


But that day, the routine was off. My son didn’t want to leave the house; then he didn’t want to get out of the car. I parked directly in front of the coffee shop, hoping to lure him out with a snack – but as soon as he got to the counter, he fixated on a brownie in the display case.

All photos via iStock.

"I want a brownie, please," he told the barista.

I overruled him: "You can get a healthy snack."

"I want a brownie!" This time, his request came out as a shouted demand.

All eyes were on us, glaring over the tops of their computers.

"You can have a muffin and some milk or nothing," I told him.

"I WANT A BROWNIE!!!"

Did I hear a whispered "tsk" from one of the café’s patrons, or was I imagining things? No time to check.

"We’re going," I said firmly, taking my son by the hand. As I pulled him away from the counter, he grabbed onto the legs of a table occupied by a couple of women. I pried his fingers off, one a time, and dragged him across the floor as he screamed.

By the time I got him to the sidewalk, with the café door shut behind me, he was in tears. I held mine back, pushing aside the mortification of yet another public meltdown so that I could focus on calming my son.

It’s a scene I’ve lived through over and over again, as parents of special needs kids often do.

I’ve experienced the glares, the muttering, the unasked-for advice: They’re all part of raising a child with an invisible disability.

Most of the time, I don’t think of my son’s autism as a disability; it’s inseparable from what makes him an extraordinary, delightful, and fascinating little person. But when all eyes are on us during a public tantrum, I feel like he’s just as excluded as a wheelchair user confronting a flight of stairs.

Standing outside the coffee shop, holding back my tears, here’s what I wish those coffee shop denizens had known.

1. Yes, I’d like your help.

If you’re scared that I’ll be offended, don’t be — and I won’t ask you to take over the tantrum management. But I would have welcomed someone getting up from their laptop to open the door while I dragged my son out, and I dream about someone offering to pack up our books on the not-infrequent occasions when I have to pack up with one hand and hold a raging child with the other.

I would have welcomed someone getting up from their laptop to open the door while I dragged my son out.

2. But not your advice.

One of the reasons I drag my son away from public meltdowns is because all too often, my fellow parents have taken those meltdowns as an invitation to offer their own parenting advice. It’s like a knife in my heart when someone "kindly" tells me I just need to set firmer limits — after I’ve spent hours and hours reading up on child psychology, working with child therapists, and setting up visual schedules and reward charts.

3. Talking to my son will make things worse.

Another reason for my quick escape? Getting my son out of the path of would-be saviors. When he’s melting down in public, I say an inner prayer: "Please, please, don’t let any of these people talk to my kid right now." When he’s having a tantrum, input from anyone — especially strangers — just increases his anxiety and distress.

4. Please don't judge me.

What goes on inside your head is up to you. But the staring, the head shaking, the under-the-breath muttering: I see it all. Most days, I see it on Facebook — all those "what today’s parents get wrong" — before we even leave the house. I already feel all the pain and compassion and fear that comes with raising a child who has acute challenges filtering out the noise of the world and managing his own emotions; I am trying to let go of the shame that can go with it. When I see and hear people judging me for my parenting "failures," it makes that a lot harder.

The staring, the head shaking, the under-the-breath muttering: I see it all.

5. A smile would mean the world.

I understand that you may not be able to offer help or may feel uncomfortable getting embroiled in our drama. But a sympathetic smile goes a long way. Nothing feels more lonely than the moment when my son melts down in public; a smile that says, "Gosh, that looks really challenging, and I see you’re doing the best you can" is a lifeline.

The day of Browniegate, I finally got something even better than a smile.

Once we made it to the sidewalk, I managed to calm my son down enough to get him to a nearby park: Sometimes exercise can help him get out of an emotional tailspin. When we got to the park, however, he was overwhelmed by the crowd of kids, and he wanted to flee; he suggested that he could get his exercise by walking back to the coffee shop instead so that he could get half a brownie.

When we got back to the coffee shop, I told him to wait outside because it was too embarrassing to be seen buying a brownie after our earlier drama. But my son wanted to go in and apologize. He asked for his brownie and politely told the barista, "I’m sorry for my behavior earlier."

"That was very nice," I said, to reinforce his turnaround. "You did a good job."

The barista looked at me and said quietly, "You did a good job, too."

That was when I cried.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by R.D. Smith on Unsplash

Gem is living her best life.

If you've ever dreamed of spontaneously walking out the door and treating yourself a day of pampering at a spa without even telling anyone, you'll love this doggo who is living your best life.

According to CTV News, a 5-year-old shepherd-cross named Gem escaped from her fenced backyard in Winnipeg early Saturday morning and ended up at the door of Happy Tails Pet Resort & Spa, five blocks away. An employee at the spa saw Gem at the gate around 6:30 a.m. and was surprised when they noticed her owners were nowhere to be seen.

"They were looking in the parking lot and saying, 'Where's your parents?'" said Shawn Bennett, one of the co-owners of the business.

The employee opened the door and Gem hopped right on in, ready and raring to go for her day of fun and relaxation.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."