I have mentioned before that we frequent a cafe in our town whose owners, Julie and Rhys,  are just beautiful, caring and empathetic people. Cafe Tempest‘s motto is enter a stranger and come out friends and they live that motto everyday. If you’re ever in Wallsend and need a good coffee served with friendship and a smile, definitely head in their direction.

We started going there last year when we began attending weekly social skills sessions nearby. To fill in the time between school and the session I thought going to a cafe would be an enjoyable and productive way to spend our time. To me, it makes sense to have a social experience before heading into a social skills session, to help open yourself to the topic and reinforce the learnings.

Initially it was a challenge as Gilbert does not enjoy being out in public. He doesn’t like strangers and feels threatened and uneasy at times when he’s out and about. I vividly remember our first visit to the cafe. I was frazzled (as usual!) trying to get them all out of the car and safely to the doors of the cafe. Gilbert did not want to go to the cafe and clearly made his position known to everyone within a 10 metre radius…

As we entered he was unhappy and I was trying to calm him enough so we could order something. He exploded when there was nothing there that he wanted although the girls found some treats for themselves. I had to ignore his very public display of dissatisfaction while I ordered. It was a Friday, I was tired after a long working week and I was not in the most positive frame of mind.

I think Rhys and Julie recognised the place I was in. Gilbert’s meltdown didn’t really phase them – they were so kind and empathetic and understanding. They offered a few things to Gilbert until he said yes to one of the options and made sure we had everything we needed. I remember apologising as we left as I felt we had completely overtaken their shop. They just looked at me kindly and said that they hoped I could relax a little next time as I looked like I needed it.

It was so nice to be met with understanding and kindness instead of judgement. Feelings of relief started flooding in, replacing the customary feelings of embarrassment and self-consciousness that I usually experience in the aftermath of a public meltdown. I’m not sure they ever realised just how much their simple act of understanding meant to me – it really did mean the world to me.

Anyway, we continued to go back and gradually Gilbert became more and more at ease with every visit. He started chatting to them and had a standing order that was always ready to go when he came in. Matilda and Delilah were not forgotten either and loved their weekly treat. Even my coeliac diagnosis did not trouble them – they always have something gluten free to munch on.

By the end of last year Julie commented on how far Gilbert had come. She was astounded by his transformation and I must say I was proud of his progress too. For someone who didn’t even want to step through the front door on our first visit, Gilbert’s eagerness to go every week, to independently head to the counter to give his own order and his ease with other customers in the cafe was a real sight to behold.

We had a break from our cafe visits over Christmas, embarking on our holiday and taking it easy. When speech resumed at the beginning of February (on a different day) we decided to continue our visits on Fridays so we had more time to savour our treat.

However, the first day we went back, the cafe was closed.

Gilbert was distraught. There was another very public meltdown which ended up with tears from everyone (including me!) and somehow I got everyone home safely (despite Gilbert trying to run away from me on the street…)

Long story short, the cafe had pared back its hours over January while business was slow. Despite explaining this to Gilbert, every time we went down the street he would ask if it was open and whether it would be open for Friday and why did they have to have shorter hours and why didn’t they open up for us and whether it would be a crime to break in and make our own afternoon tea. You can tell having this hard-won experience suddenly end was hard on him.

Thankfully, last week after our psychology appointment, Rhys saw us across the road and ran out of the cafe to let us know they were open later on a Friday afternoon.

So last Friday we returned for our regular visit. A very happy Gilbert walked through the door and remarked that he had missed the smell, made his usual order and assumed his position in his normal stool by the window. Matilda declared she could die happy when she received her afternoon tea and Delilah celebrated our return by practicing her cutlery skills on her GF banana bread and keeping it all to herself.

Meanwhile I enjoyed my hot chocolate and watched my very hyper, but happy, kids take over the cafe while we waited for Nathan to arrive to join us.

Finally order was restored in our world.