Make-believe is a special place we all should visit

Austin American-Statesman, December 24, 2009

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Image courtesy of Caroline Poe Photography

A few weeks ago, the American-Statesman ran my column on the widespread, irrational fear of vaccinations among parents. Soon afterward, I heard from my friend Martha Williams. “Bravo, Toni,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Vaccines did not cause my son’s autism!”

Martha, one of the most delightful people I know, has three children. She began with us in neonatal intensive care as the departmental assistant a few years before her last child, Ace, was born.

As Ace grew older, Martha began to notice things weren’t right. We were there for Martha then and when she got the devastating diagnosis of autism. Through the years, we heard many wonderful Ace stories, both humorous and poignant. We witnessed a very special and precious bond blossom between them.

Ace is 21 now, and Martha left neonatal a couple of years ago for school to become a surgical technician. Martha e-mailed me again a few days ago.

“Three years ago, late at night on Christmas Eve, Ace told me that ‘Santa was going around the world.’ I knew then that he must still believe in Santa,” she wrote.

“Thursday, I picked him up from his school/work program. His teacher took me aside while he was out of the room and said, ‘Do you know that Ace still believes in Santa?’ I told her yeah, I thought so. She said, ‘No, I mean Santa was here today, and Ace believes he actually talked to the real Santa!’

“Ace at 21, went up to Santa, initiated the conversation and told him, ‘I am Ace and have been very good all year.’ Santa asked him what he wanted, and he replied a book — ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’ A kid’s book! God love that boy.

“He had his picture taken with Santa — not on his lap, but next to him. After all, Ace now stands 6 foot 4 inches tall. I’m going to buy that book for him — and the picture.

“He never did understand ‘make-believe.’ I love him so.”

Toni Inglis, MSN, RN, CNS, FAAN, is a lifelong Austin resident and retired editor and neonatal intensive care nurse. She writes a monthly opinion column for the Austin American-Statesman editorial page.