A Cracker Barrel waitress dished out more than just dinner…

*This story appeared on Love What Matters

Any parent knows that dining out with kids can be like Forest Gump’s famous box of chocolates: “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

It’s a real-world game of chance, with the winner getting to actually sit down and enjoy a delicious, hot meal prepared and served by someone else. Ah, bliss.

Sometimes, however, the odds are not in your favor. Despite your best efforts, your child just isn’t having it. And they have zero qualms about letting the entire restaurant know.

And in these moments, what parents need more than anything else isn’t judgment. It’s grace, understanding, and a whole lot of kindness. Thankfully, that’s just what this mama found.

The Reality of Raising a Child With Autism

Jamie Heustess and her husband Chris just wanted a nice family dinner out. It had been a long day with their six-year-old autistic son, Ian. So, after an awards ceremony, karate lesson, and a trip to Walmart, the family headed to their local Cracker Barrel.

Raising a child with autism presents its own unique set of challenges. Situations that other children may find overwhelming can be doubly so for kids who struggle with social and sensory issues.

While Ian is usually able to make it through at least part of a meal in a restaurant, on this particular day, he was done before it even got started. The breaking point came when Chris gave his son a couple of Finding Dory mystery figure boxes to open while they were waiting to order. After opening up both boxes and discovering that neither of them actually contained Dory OR Nemo, Ian lost it.

Unable to calm him down, Chris took him home while Jamie stayed behind to order takeout.

In a Facebook post shared on her personal page, Jamie wrote about the incident and the “realities of autism” many people don’t understand.

“Cue meltdown… he does not understand it is the luck of the draw,” Jamie said. “His cries escalate….making it impossible to think straight. So…..i am sitting waiting on a to go order while Daddy takes him home…….Autism is not easy…..some days it totally sucks…. 😭😭

A Cracker Barrel Waitress Gives Dinner To-Go With a Heaping Side Order of Compassion

As Jamie tearfully explained the situation to their waitress, Kailyn, she couldn’t help but have her own meltdown.

But not because she was embarrassed by her son. No, she was worried about what the other diners thought of him. Being judged by others stings but when that judgment is directed at your own child it feels like death by a thousand daggers.

In a subsequent Facebook post, Jamie wrote:

“By this time I was crying and having a moment, not because I was embarrassed that my son is autistic, but because he is a good kid and I didn’t want anyone to think he was just a spoiled kid being a brat.”

Jamie Heustess

Kailyn was “gracious and sweet” and promised that she would get Jamie’s order in quickly. Fifteen minutes later she reappeared with Jamie’s take-out — free of charge. In a sweet act of kindness, the waitress decided to pay for the meal herself out of her tips.

(After hearing about what she did, her manager, James, reimbursed her the money.)

“I started crying all over again. I asked if she was sure and she reassured me it was taken care of, not to worry. I cried walking out, sure the other customers and employees thought I was crazy.”

An Act of Kindness Turns Into an Unforgettable Message of Encouragement

Out in the parking lot, Jamie noticed a piece of paper attached to the bag. She assumed it was the receipt but on second glance realized it was a handwritten note. Not only had Kailyn paid for her meal, but she also took the time to make sure Jamie knew exactly what she thought of her.

“Your child is amazing Mommy, be strong. Keep your head up. You are doing a great job. Have a great night. Your server, Kailyn.”

While the gift of a free dinner was certainly nice, the words of encouragement were priceless. At a time when she needed it most, a stranger told her exactly what she needed to hear. Jamie was so moved by the note that she hung it on her fridge.

Parenthood has a lot of amazing moments but it has a lot of difficult ones too. Having someone validate us and support us in the midst of the muck goes a long way. The reality is that we are living in an age where judgment, hatred, and division are rampant. And it doesn’t just apply to parents.

But we can each do our part to change it. Rather than tearing each other down, we can build each other up. One kind word, dinner, or note at a time.