We bolted into the store so quickly that I thought Max might pull the handle right off the door. He was on a mission, but I had one too. My job was to size up the clerk. I looked across the store and saw a rather serious looking older man wearing a black suit and standing behind the counter. This is not going to go well, I thought. We would do much better in a store like this with a clerk who was…say…on a three hour break in the back room. This called for fast action. I quickly approached the clerk, stretched out my hand and introduced myself as if I were on a job interview. “I’m the one who called you,” I said. “My son Max is interested in the Oreck XL 2000 R-1 vacuum.” (Yes, I speak Oreck.)
I pretended not to notice that Max had already darted toward the line up of vacuums and was flying around the store like a helium balloon caught in a wind tunnel. I flashed my biggest smile trying to maintain eye contact with the clerk. But as I locked eyes with this gentleman I could see, with my highly trained peripheral vision, that Max had now turned one of the vacuums on and was pushing it across the carpet with the level of exertion typically required to push an eighteen-wheeler off a cliff. Gripping the man’s hand tightly, which would make it much more difficult for him to point us to the door, I reminded him, “My son is here to BUY a vacuum…with HIS money.”
Max has always loved working. He loves knowing that he can serve, contribute, and be productive, even if he is only working a few hours a week. Working gives Max a sense of purpose, which is essential to every human being. But only now, as he stood in an Oreck vacuum store, did he understand something else. He could buy stuff.
It’s all thanks to Max’s amazing teacher, Kacey. Before this, Max didn’t understand the value of money. His paychecks were always crumpled up at the bottom of his backpack. So Kacey made a chart to help Max understand how many paychecks he would need in order to purchase his life-long dream – an Oreck vacuum. All he needed was 11 paychecks! Each week Max dutifully collected his paycheck and marked his chart. And each week as he worked at his jobs, the excitement grew – even his employers were cheering for him. All these weeks of working and saving made this moment in the Oreck store a very sweet victory.
I finally let go of the store clerk’s hand realizing that my distraction strategy was going to become obvious. The clerk turned to get a good look at my son, who was now as electrified as the vacuums. Max’s 190 pounds mocked gravity as his feet hovered above the ground. We both watched as Max set the first Oreck back in line, and grabbed another in his arms. He twirled across the floor as if the store were a 1940’s dance hall, and he were the only man in a room of waiting wallflowers.
I didn’t try to stop him; actually, short of divine intervention or the tiniest of sudden tornados, nothing could stop him. I held my breath as the clerk finally began to speak. “I’ve been selling vacuums for forty years,” he said. I gasped in awe, knowing that this man and my son probably had more in common than one might expect. I looked at him and smiled. “Forty years?” I asked. “Have you ever seen anyone as excited about vacuums as Max?” He laughed, and the sharp lines in his face softened.
We spent an hour in the store living out Max’s motto, which in military terms would be, “No dirt left behind.” Customers came in and out, and Max offered them vacuums, and handed out vacuum bags. You would have thought my son had a share in the company.
As the clerk wrote up the purchase, he looked kindly into my eyes and said, “I have a nephew with autism. And there’s another boy who comes in here every few weeks. He has autism too.” I felt the dust-bunnies in my heart clear out a bit. And then he turned to Max and said, “You can come back here any time you want.”
Max clutched his brand new vacuum to his chest and we walked out the door. As we stepped into the bright sunlight, I could see that his hair and shirt were completely soaked with sweat. His faced was glistening and flushed. But it was from more than just the exertion of vacuuming for an hour.
This moment was truly his.
I put my arms around his warm shoulders and squeezed him close. His smile was bigger than the whole outdoors. Max stood on the sidewalk and held his new vacuum up against the brilliant blue sky, and yelled,
“I did it Mom!”
By Emily Colson