Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dancing with Mal

I just finished Emily Colson's book, Dancing with Max. It is a terrific read disclosing her journey getting to know both her dad and her son all at once. Her faith and immense love--themselves gifts from God--are central themes enabling her to appreciate that her son with autism is a gift. Her masterful writing and disarming humor refresh the familiar story line of diagnosis to acceptance. I could particularly relate (as in, laugh outloud) to this excerpt:

Max had an appointment with a doctor who specialized in integrative medicine. He wasn't one of those crystal-worshiping, incense-burning practitioners, but a rather sophisticated doctor utilizing both alternative and conventional practices... He needed Max's treatment history, and of course, in the process, he would realize I was not neglectful crackhead parent, but a serious overachiever-type mom. The cross hanging around my neck would speak of my faith, my commitment, my clean lifestyle. I even found a way to tell him that I'd spoken at several area conferences, just in case he might need such a service. All those years as a graphic designer creating corporate identities taught me the power of communicating the right image. I pictured this doctor eventually inviting us into his home, telling me secret cures for autism, while he stood at his kitchen counter mixing Chinese mushroom powder into wheat grass. And he would realize that helping Max, the innocent child of a loving Christian and by-no-possible-fault-of-her-own single mother, was his life's mission.

"Does he have any language?" the doctor asked as Max sat silently outside the door.

"Oh, yes. It doesn't come easily, but he uses full sentences now," I answered.
He fired off a list of questions about sleep habits, diet, digestion, but kept coming back to the issue of language. "You said he does speak, is that correct? He's right outside my office door, and . . . I don't think I've heard him say anything."

"Yes, he's just very anxious here," I explained as if we were colleagues.

Our appointment was nearing an end, and I was pleased at the doctor's willingness to order numerous laboratory tests. "Could your son come in so that I could talk with him a bit? Would
he do that?" he asked.

"Maybe," I answered. "Max," I called as I looked into the hall. "Can you come sit with Mommy for a minute? Then we'll be all done and do something fun." Max stood up as if he always followed my requests and entered the examination room. The doctor greeted him, but Max brushed past his desk and stood silently at the window gazing out over the Cambridge neighborhood. "Good job Max," I proudly commended. "We're going to do something fun next."

And then it happened. My son must have a locator device implanted in his brain, because it only took him two seconds to see into a storefront window on the street below that obviously had commercial refrigerators. And with that motivation, my son spoke his first, and what would be his only, words for the doctor to hear.

"Mom, after this we can go to the liquor store."

Delighted at the prospect, Max walked out and sat beside my mother, who looks as much like an alcoholic as Mary Poppins.

The doctor's eyes shone on me like headlights. I was so busy being perfect that I forgot to laugh. The more I tried to explain, the worse it looked; he wasn't buying the whole refrigerator-obsession thing.

She has been there! I have been there. She has been where I have been! Thank you Lord that you do whatever it takes to free us from a spirit of pride.

It happens bit by bit--like becoming real. Reid, like Max, has taught his mom many things, not the least of which is to recognize embarrassment as the indicator light of pride. Having a son with absolutely no social inhibition continues to set me free from a fear of man.

Allie too. Just last week, she recalled sitting in a theater dying a thousand deaths because her brother was "so embarrassing." "What was he doing?" I'd forgotten. "Being overly happy," was her description. Is that such a crime? It's exactly what he does though. He expresses uncontainable joy so much so that it's socially unacceptable.

Even when he was a toddler, I found it hard to correct him for being too gleeful during library storytime, too excited to meet Mary Poppins at Disneyland, or euphoric when Souplantation had Barney bean salad (our term, not theirs) in the buffet smorgasbord. Gradually (unable to control or contain it), I've come to realize that it is more my problem than his. He embodies joy. That is a gift to those who receive it. And if it bothers someone on the way, that is their problem.

Now only a vestige of my pride remains. I recognize it in this clip of Reid cutting loose at a recent Banding Together coffeehouse concert. He's the one--the only one--on the dance floor doing aerial 360's. I am one feigning nonchalance in the black and white raincoat. Who's the woman dancing with him unabashedly? That is Malvina. Thank you Lord for friends who have more love than pride . . . who dole it out liberally all over everybody . . . who don't squelch his exuberance. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. Isaiah 35:9-10

The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him. Psalm 28:6-8

Above all, love
each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:7-9


  1. reid's joy is contagious! i would have been dancing with him, too. =)
    thanks for the book review. it was on my list - i just moved it to the top.

  2. Love this
    so much joy & fun
    I love Reed
    and Malvina too