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

It’s the phone call you don’t want to receive.

“Ms. Galli,” she began. “This is Ashley from Camp Greentop.”

My heart sank, wondering what Madison had done to merit a phone call midway through the seven-day camp. I had taken my first solo trip to the beach to visit a friend and was at least six hours away from the camp.

“Oh, hi,” I replied, wheeling away from my friends so I could talk more privately. We were sitting out on the deck, watching the sun slip into the sea when my cell blared, interrupting our pre-dinner banter.

“Is everything ok?”

“Yes, Madison is fine,” she said. “But I wanted your advice on a couple of issues.”

Wow, I thought. Not one but two issues. What had my precious Madison done now?

The counselor began to describe the first issue. Madison was apparently using her cabin bed as a toilet. Her clothes were dry but the bed was wet.

“No fluids after 7 p.m., right?” I asked.

“Yes, we have that in your notes, but I will double-check,” she offered.

Then we reviewed the bathroom location and set up. I suggested that they go through one toileting with Madison using that bathroom. She agreed.

“So what else is my Madison doing,” I asked.

“Well, she’s been hitting a fellow camper who uses a wheelchair,” Ashley explained, “for no apparent reason.”

As I looked down at my own set of wheels, I wondered if Madison could be expressing some deep-seeded aggression. She was only four years old when I was paralyzed. I quickly dismissed that thought, letting go of that history—and the guilt.

Did it really matter? I had to deal with the issue at hand, I reminded myself, and needed to keep my analysis of the situation behavior-based and current. I could navel-gaze later.

“Okay, so is she angry, or does she laugh?” I asked.

She was not angry, Ashley reported, but she did think that Madison may have found amusement in it. It happened only at dinnertime, she noted.

I flashed back to our own dinner hour routines. My 18-year-old son still flinches when Madison gets that mischievous look in her eyes. To this day, my son ducks when Madison starts jumping.

After my paralysis in 1997, I made it a point to be at the dinner table every night with my kids. Brittany, then nine and a born mothering type, sat on my right. Peter, age three, sat on my left with Madison to his left. I was in my wheelchair, Pete in his booster seat, and Madison was buckled into her chair.

Sixteen months younger, Peter was often the target for Madison’s outbursts that began soon after my paralysis. Unprovoked, she would randomly whack him on the back of his head, and then laugh hysterically.

Often she attacked at dinner.

Madison would whack Pete. Brittany would scold, “Madison!” Pete would holler, “Mom!” And then Madison would laugh uncontrollably. Sometimes she would even hit him again, saying one of her few words, “No!” in that playful staccato tone of hers, and laugh even louder as the cycle began again.

At that point in my life, it was so rare to experience a normal cause and effect situation that I, too, had to stifle my laughter. It felt like my own private three stooges show.

Slapstick redefined.

Yet, I had to find my straight-face and parent. So I did then —as I had to do now, 10 years later, with this counselor.

When all else fails, I’ve learned, state the rules as simply as possible.

“If she does it again,” I instructed, “state the rule. Say, ‘There is no hitting,’ and make sure she doesn’t smile or jump up and down with pleasure. Repeat it until she does not smile at all.”

“Hold her hands, if necessary,” I added, “and get her to look at you in the eyes. Then she will know you are serious.”

“Got it,” Ashley said.

“And then,” I said, “make her apologize. Say, ‘Madison, say sorry,’ and use the camper’s name. Restate the rule. There is no hitting.”

“Okay, sounds good, Ms. Galli,” she said. “Thanks for the tips. We also plan to have counselors sit between the two of them at dinner.”

“Excellent! Love that plan.”

We finished the phone call and I hung up.

I dropped my head into my hands and exhaled. She was ok. Madison was ok! And, I had an advisory role—not a solo performance.

How refreshing to have a knowledgeable team ready for input to include in their plan instead of having the parent be the plan.

Madison finished the camp without further incident. We both enjoyed our vacations thanks to the help of good staff who embraced creative problem-solving.