A Trail of French Fries Leads the Way

A trail of fries

A trail of fries

I took this photo in the parking lot of the Lurie Center in Lexington, Massachusetts, a branch of Massachusetts General Hospital that serves children and adults on the Autism Spectrum. These are iconic fries, a not-so-secret symbol of what it often takes to get an ASD kid to and through a doctor’s appointment; I can only imagine the tears spilled when they hit the pavement. The clinicians at the Lurie Center are among the best in the world and yet even the skilled and gentle support they offer can’t always extend out into the parking lot where worried parents and anxious kids struggle – sometimes mightily – to fit yet another specialist appointment into their lives.

But with this photo I see and offer up hope that persistence pays off. Not always, not when we want it to, but it is hard for me to adequately convey my joy at seeing these fries and knowing that they were not going to cause me the meltdown we once might have had just seeing them ice cold on the ground. My boy looked at them and remarked, “Someone’s been to McDonald’s!” and then danced – literally, with iPod – toward the entrance. Next to the door there is a wisely placed trash can, which he glanced into and noted, a little somber now, “There’s the box.” Some part of him knew and felt the pain of the child whose fries had met the wrong fate.

It was a lively day in the waiting room, with several families with antsy children waiting to be greeted by doctors and therapists. We recognized one clinician as she came out to greet a child. We knew her from work we did as part of a research group a few years ago, and she delighted at seeing our boy. He spoke politely with her and then began to tease me about what he wanted from me in exchange for being brave about having his blood drawn (more research – that’s another post – and the covet du jour was yet another Scooby Doo movie) that day. I saw her look at him, and at me and as she listened to us negotiate I saw on her face a measure of disbelief that this could be the same boy she knew in 2009. She looked at me and lowered her voice and said, “Do you know how lucky you are?” And even though I said yes, later I had to stop and take stock of how far we have come from our french fries in the parking lot days.  Our challenging times are by no means gone but they are different, and it is best not to dwell on what they are like now – they will return soon enough.

“I can still smell the look of it.”

This was our boy’s observation as we pulled into the drive thru at McDonald’s yesterday. The fast food Mecca is the bane and savior of many an autism parent’s existence. I wish I could say that I took him there only because after 7 weeks of camp he deserved the french fries, but the fact is that after 7 weeks of him at camp plus a college drop-off I craved the Big Mac even more than he did the fries. I knew we would both be sorry in a few hours but we had both been on our best behavior for so long it seemed a minor transgression.

And the phrasing of his remark may not be grammatically correct, but it sums up perfectly the mixed feelings those of us who still go the McDonald’s (oh, come on, you know who you are) have about it – that smell and the very act of pulling up to the window are a sensory memory none of us ever forget. If you have not heard Jim Gaffigan‘s riff on McDonald’s, you owe it yourself to go here.

So, contraband procured, our boy clutched the bag and said, “Shall we wait until we get home?” and then immediately began to eat them – longest ones first. My favorite part (other than the Big Mac) was, as I watched him munch out of the corner of my eye, I asked him to share a fry with me – and, as usual, he gave me the shortest one he could find.