Rigid and Right

Photo by Rebecca Faye Smith Galli

Photo by Rebecca Faye Smith Galli

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

It was Tuesday. Finally, we were back on our lunch-with-Mommy schedule and were ordering our usual McDonald’s lunch, to be accented by Madison’s favorite snacks brought from home—peanut butter and graham crackers, Cheetos, and Fig Newtons.

“Hey Pat,” I said to our longtime caregiver as she waited in line. “Let’s try something new for Madison. How about the strawberry milkshake?”

“Sounds good,” she said.

“But get an extra carton of milk, too, just in case.”


And she brought the food to the table and unloaded it.

“Let’s treat the milkshake as a dessert,” I said. So we pushed it away from Madison’s nuggets and fries.

“Madison, what color?” I asked.

“Pink!” she said, lightly poking the milkshake’s clear plastic cup.

“First nuggets, then milkshake for dessert,” I told her.

After she finished her nuggets and snacks, we carefully opened the milkshake’s lid and removed some of the overflowing whipped cream. We’d given Madison a spoon, thinking the milkshake would be thick.

She dug in.

We knew the first bite would tell us if she liked it or not. She’s quite particular about her food and quick to judge, often spitting it right back out the minute it touches her tongue. She plopped a big spoonful of milkshake in her mouth and paused for a moment.

We watched her eyes.

She looked up with a surprised stare, swallowed, and then smiled, her sneaky smile—chin down, grinning to herself as if she’d discovered a hidden treasure. She dug the spoon in once more and plunged it back into her mouth.

“She likes it! Good job, Madison,” we cheered. “High fives!”

And she “fived” us and dug in again.

Then we realized that while waiting to be dessert, the thick shake had melted. The shallow spoon didn’t hold much and Madison’s exuberance to eat quickly didn’t help. Soon the liquid was dripping from the spoon all over her shirt and her lap and the table.

“Too bad she never learned to use a straw,” I said to Pat. We’d tried to teach her at home since the day she graduated from the sippy cup. It’d even been an IEP goal for years. But, Madison just couldn’t master keeping her lips tight around the straw.

“Let’s see if she’ll drink it from the cup,” I suggested. I took the spoon away and handed her back the cup. “Take a drink, Madison.”

“Nope,” she said instantly, pushing the cup away and then reaching for the spoon.

“She knows she’s supposed to eat ice cream with a spoon,” I said to Pat. “I don’t think we’re going to change her mind.”

Then I had a thought. Maybe she would drink it if it were in her milk carton. She’d just finished drinking every drop from one carton.

Madison studied me as I poured some of her milkshake into the carton. I handed it to her to drink.

“Nope,” she said flatly, and pushed it away.

This time I studied my daughter. How funny (and yet typical) that she would not make that simple adjustment.

Perhaps since she’d been told it was a dessert, she knew it should be eaten with a spoon—not slurped out of some container not worthy of its role.

How mannerly. How proper.

It reminded me of an episode of “Downton Abbey.” Carson, the butler, was giving the new footman a lesson in the proper use of spoons. A teaspoon, egg spoon, melon spoon, grapefruit spoon, jam spoon and bouillon spoon were laid out, to be identified. The poor footman missed the bouillon spoon and Carson promptly corrected him, noting it was to be used only with soup served in bouillon bowls. Carson was quite sure about that.

In fact, Carson is quite sure about most things, when it comes to being proper at Downton Abbey. His rigidness almost anchors the show, steeped in traditions and expectations that provide a strong sense of place. A sense of comfort.

We gave Madison the spoon—the ice cream spoon—and put napkins all around. She smiled as she took another soupy bite.

Rigid and right. And comfortable.

And happy.