Balancing Act

balance_act-madisonThis column was originally published as part of my “Tuesdays with Madison” series at

We’d prepared a Madison feast.

Seven of us had gathered to celebrate a “floating holiday” together. I’d set the large dining table for all of us, including Jamie, a family friend who was Madison’s caregiver years ago, and Gloria, an out-of-town relative whom Madison had never met.

We had Madison favorites, including cheese pizza, but also added a new lets-see-if-she’ll-like-this item, sure to be a surprise—for her and for us.

Sugar cookies.

I prayed Madison would respond positively to the mixture of old and new—of both food and friends.

As usual, we never really know.

When Madison arrived, she was happy, singing a bit of a new song she’d must have learned at the respite camp she’d just attended.

“Madison,” I said touching my hand to her shoulder to get her eyes to connect with mine. “This is Gloria,” I said, and took my hand to point, leading Madison’s eyes to Gloria.

“Say, ‘Hi Gloria.'”

And she did, briefly looking at Gloria before spotting the pizza and heading toward it.

“Oh, guess it’s time to eat!” I said, directing everyone to the dining table.

But Madison went to the adjoining smaller table, pulled out a chair, and plopped down. “Pizza, please,” she said, in her polite but demanding voice.

“Why did she sit there, Aunt Becky?” asked my 10-year-old buddy, Alexander.

“Hang on, Zan,” I said. “Let me get her settled.”

And I scurried around to grab her plate to fill it with a slice of pizza.

“This is where she usually sits when she’s home for a visit,” I explained to Zan and the others. “I’ll sit here with her if you don’t mind.”

So we had our tandem pizza party while everyone reviewed together camp report and crafts.

“Now let’s see how she’ll like her surprise treat,” I said, pushing her plate away to show her the cookie.

“Madison, try a cookie.”

And she took one small bit, and then two larger ones.

“She likes it!” I said, so excited to find one more addition for her future feasts.

Madison gobbled down another and then shot up from the table and headed downstairs.

“Where’s she going?” asked Zan.

“Probably to get her “Barney” tapes,” I explained. “She likes to gather a few of them to take back to school.”

Sure enough she came back from the basement with three “Barney” tapes, opened a cabinet drawer to get a shopping bag, and put them in it.

“Why does she do that?”

“Well, she loves Barney. He has been a special friend for her since she was very young. She still likes to get the tapes, so we let her get the tapes and put them in the bag.”

“Will she watch them at school?” he asked.

“No, not anymore,” I said quietly, so Madison wouldn’t hear. “She likes to watch them, but then she sometimes gets upset watching them and will pull out the tape, ruining the video.”

“But if she likes them, why does she do that?”

I paused and looked at Zander’s deep brown eyes, so filled with curiosity—and compassion. I sat for a moment, trying to figure out how to explain it simple terms.

“Well, Zan, you know how we like things with sugar in them—sugar cookies, M&M’s, chocolate cake?”

He nodded.

“But, sometimes it’s not good if we have too much, right?” and Zan smiled at that suggestion.

“We get hyper, right? And some of us become prone to mischief?” I whispered with a smile.

“That’s kind of how it is with Madison. She loves Barney, but too much of it is not good for her.”

“Oh, I see.”

And we were off to the next topic.

Later that evening, I started thinking about all the other things that Madison has “liked” that weren’t good for her. Hand flapping. Spinning objects—from empty liter soda bottles to lampshades. Rewinding tapes until they (or the VCR) broke. Looking into the mirror and “eeee-ing” at her reflection for long periods of time.

To let her do or not do was often a difficult question answered differently by specialists and professionals.

To prevent her from doing them often caused tantrums. To allow her to do them also could cause tantrums.

“How much was too much” was an ever-present thought, constantly re-worked by age, circumstance, tolerance—and a healthy supply of mindful moderation.

As I look toward the upcoming coming holiday season, I wish for us all celebrations filled with “just right” moments—of old and new, curiosity and compassion, and the joy and excitement of well-received surprises.