Face Time

TuesdaysWithMadison-Mar2013This column was originally published as part of my “Tuesdays with Madison” series at AutismAfter16.com.

It was a Tuesday, a regularly scheduled Madison visit-and-lunch day. But it was also my birthday, and, well, I’m going to say it, the “birthday from hell.”

I woke up to the sound of my dog retching. I sat up in bed just in time to see him spill his last supper onto my hardwood floor. I quickly grabbed my transfer board to bridge the distance from my bed to my wheelchair and plunked my body over it and into the wheelchair in record time.

I leashed the ailing dog, carefully negotiating the hardwood mess and got him outside where he finished his episode and additional business. After some vet-prescribed tummy-settling medication and a small bland meal, he settled into his dog bed, when I suddenly noticed the leak.

I thought I had it fixed with the last four-digit repair bill, but apparently I didn’t. A slow steady drip came down through the room’s recessed light, pooling on my oak table. At least it was under the five-year guarantee, although we were only five days into it. I wheeled out to the garage to get a beach towel and placed it on the table with a bucket.

When I went into the kitchen to phone the contractor, I noticed the dishwasher had water underneath it. I knew the disposal had been acting funny—no grinding, but draining water and then grinding, but not draining—but the neighboring dishwasher seemed fine.

Until my birthday morning.

“Happy Birthday, Becky!” Pat, our longtime family caregiver said upon her arrival. “How’s it going?”

“Not good,” I said pointing to the dishwasher puddle, and then brought her up to speed. “We’ll have to go to our Plan B for Madison today. I think I have the beginning of one of those terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-days.”

She smiled at the reference to one of my favorite story books I used to read to the kids, a Judith Viorst classic of the same name that features Alexander and his mounting troubles.

“It’s just too crazy here. My house is not behaving, nor is my sweet dog. Maybe I can try Skype or FaceTime.”

We had been working on it for a while. Madison had received an iPad for her birthday from a generous family member. We had practiced FaceTime at one lunch meeting, but Madison kept stimming on her own image, and wouldn’t engage with mine.

“What can I say? She loves the mirror and always has,” I explained to staff. But with practice, and some familiar scripted conversation, we got her to engage.

“Hi Madison! How are you? I would ask.

“I’m fine,” she was supposed to say.

“What’s up?” I say.

“Not much?” she’s to reply.

And my favorite:

“How’s life?” I say.

“Not bad?” is her scripted response.

She was taught this “conversation” over 15 years ago by an ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) instructor, who changed our life. In a matter of weeks, my five-year-old went from being nonverbal to using words.

Granted, Madison was not able to progress to more interactive conversation. But we always had our trusty Q & A’s. And somehow that always comforts me.

We connected via FaceTime and after two successful responses, I set her up for the grand finale:

“So Madison, How’s life?”

“Not BADDDD!” she boomed back, bolting up out of her chair, almost out of the screen’s range.

And by the end of that crazy day, it wasn’t.

The dog rallied, roofer and plumber promised next day service, and flowers, family, and a good friend’s visit melted away the day’s initial bad start. A red velvet cupcake and 110 Facebook well wishes didn’t hurt either.

And I smile now at my daughter’s enthusiasm and how her response made me rethink mine.

Was one errant day, even my birthday, going to let me change my view on life?

“And remember,” I prompted her in our scripted farewell.

“I love you,” she replied.

“Always and,” I said.


Not bad, indeed.