Flat Tires and Better Days

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

It had been three weeks. The wedding, illness, and a recurring car issue had prevented our weekly visit but finally, Pat, our longtime caregiver and family friend, and I were back on schedule to take Madison to lunch.

We loaded the van with Madison’s favorite snacks—graham crackers with peanut butter, Fig Newtons, and Cheetos—and called the school to give them our estimated arrival time. We’d learned over the years not to give too much notice in case we had a change of plans.

Madison does not do well with sudden changes of plans. Schedules keep her focused and on task. In fact, “Schedule please,” one of her few appropriately-used phrases, is her “go to” request when she is anxious or unsure about what’s next.

A good answer can prevent an upset.

Ten minutes before our arrival at school, Pat noticed a light on the dashboard.

“It’s back,” she said. “The low tire pressure light is on.”

“Again?” I said, incredulous. The van had already been in the shop twice for that issue, a faulty tire pressure sensor that prompted false readings.

“Let’s keep going. We’ll take it right back to the shop after our visit,” I said, sighing at the annoying light and its disrupting role in my life.

“What are the numbers this time?”

“Right rear is 30. Others are 42,” she said.

“Okay. Let’s press on and get Madison.”

And we did.

“Schedule please,” Madison said as soon as she got into the van.

Pat and I looked at each other, surprised at Madison’s request since it was such a routine outing. Then we realized she was confused. Usually Madison’s one-on-one comes with us for our weekly lunch. But this week, the assistant was unavailable so Pat and I were her only escorts.

“Oh no,” we both whispered at the same time. “She thinks she’s coming home for a visit.”

“Schedule please,” she said again.

“First Mommy’s van. Then lunch at McDonald’s. Then back to school,” I told her. The familiar routine seemed to calm her despite the absence of her aide.

“That tire pressure number is lower,” Pat reported as we approached McDonald’s. We decided to stop to put some air in the low tire.

This time I decided a preemptive strike was in order.

“New schedule, Madison. First Mommy’s van. Then stop for air in Mommy’s van tire. Then McDonald’s,” I told her as Pat filled the tire.

She seemed content, but just as soon as we drove across the street to the McDonald’s the tire pressure went down even lower.

“Let’s do a drive through today, Madison,” I said as we breezed through and picked up our order. When we parked to organize our food, Pat checked the tire once more.

It was flat.

“Schedule please,” Madison said as if she could sense another change coming.

“First Mommy makes phone call. Then lunch in the van. It’s a picnic, Madison!” I said and handed her a bag of fries.

Picnic—I hoped she remembered that term from her beloved Barney-the-Purple-Dinosaur escapades. Barney and Baby Bop have picnics. So does Madison when Mommy’s van has a flat tire.

She sat buckled in the back seat as we waited for help. I called the roadside repair company and they promised someone would be there within 45 minutes.

This time I didn’t like the schedule.

“Any chance they could come a bit sooner?”

“I’m afraid that’s the best we can do,” the kind but firm voice replied.

“Okay,” I said, giving in to her non-negotiable tone.

“And,” she said brightly, “I hope you have a better day.”

“Me, too,” I replied, cringing at the thought of what the next 45 minutes could hold.

“I bet she says that after every one of her phone calls,” I mumbled to myself.

I hoped she was right.

“Okay, Madison. Time for picnic.” And the wait began. First she munched on the meal and then her snack favorites. Thankfully, the repair man came within 20 minutes and in another 10 he’d changed the tire.

“You’ve got a large screw lodged in that tire,” he reported. “The spare should get you home safely if you keep the speed at 50 or less.”

Meanwhile, we had notified the school and their van arrived to take Madison back to school.

“Madison, our picnic is finished. Time for school,” I said. “Give Mommy kiss.”

She did and quickly got in the van.

“And,” I said to all as they prepared to leave, “I hope you have a better day!”

Thank goodness, we did.