Saturday, December 23, 2017

Coco... and the most beautiful things.

I wanted to write this as soon as we returned home from the movie… a couple of weeks ago, but life – it tends to have other things it wants to consume my time with. The upside to the delay is I’ve thought of these moments every single day since each time warming my heart a bit more and reminding me of the truly important things in life. I hope it will you too.

Parker had been begging to see the movie Coco, so we took our first opportunity we had to take him. Rarely is our life ever as simple as “here is the plan” and it happens exactly accordingly despite our best efforts.

The kids and I drove over to the comedy club to pick up Dan, we were early as we wanted to catch the Bears game and Joe the drum guy was coming to pick up his drum set that Greg Hahn had used during his shows that weekend. Not to mention football is way more fun with more people around!
After the game, we said our goodbyes to Joe and were off to the theater. It was a bit later in the day than we planned (because *someone* *cough* *mom* miscalculated the time the game might end) and the Bears had lost so to say we were “edgy” is an understatement.

When we arrived at Willow Knolls, Dan bought tickets while the kids and I went to the concessions stand. As I scoured the menu I didn’t see the one thing Parker wanted… a pretzel. I was sure they had them but through the flashing menu of items (seriously annoying), I never saw it. So we ordered Nachos (no cheese, he is MY son) as our back up. As I paid for the food and passed it out, it hit. Anger. Frustration. Verge of a nasty meltdown. He “didn’t want the damn nachos”. 

I quickly passed things to Allison with the instructions to move down to the end of the counter, protecting anything from getting thrown. I held strong my space in line as I walked through every other option with him despite the cashier (understandably) wanting to help who was next when Dan made his way to us.

Each time I’d step closer to Parker, he’d get more upset. As I glanced around at the number of people (about 15) I mentally prepared myself for the ugly and likely physical meltdown that was about to go down when Dan stepped in between us and reached for Parker. I held my breath anticipating the worst and prepared to offer the option of going home when Dan reached his arms around Parker and they embraced in a super squeezy hug. Sniffles ensued from Parker as Dan quietly and calmly talked him through it.

The manager approached me, asking if he was autistic. I said, “He has Fragile X Syndrome which is very similar” while he was talking I kept scanning the menu board rotating with options when I noticed a couple of screens down “pretzels”. Annoyed that not every option is on one screen, I excused myself and stepped over to the counter and ordered a pretzel. When it arrived, I walked over to Dan and Parker and said, “Look what they have!” And just like that, our world was right again.

The manager, whose name I am disappointed I did not get, had offered to turn the sound down on the movie for us and keep the lights up even though we were not the only ones attending the movie to make it more comfortable for Parker. I thanked him so very much for the offer but explained this is why Parker had his headphones and we would be ok. I thanked him, again, for his help and patience and we hurried to the movie. While I thanked him at the moment, I would have loved to have gotten his name and thanked him more formally for noticing and not being put off by our challenge but offering to go out of his way to make it better. To thank him, for understanding and accepting us, challenges and all. I am so thankful and grateful. That is not always the response we get, it was a very refreshing change. 

As I watched Dan and Parker walking down the hall in front of Allison and me, I fought back a couple of tears. I knew if Dan had not been with us, this would have ended completely differently, and we would not have made it to the movies. As I’ve done many times in our relationship, my heart filled with extreme thanks for him and his bond with both of my children. I also knew that we had not yet made it into the theater so going home without a movie was still a possibility. The lights would be down as we walked in and we would need to find our seats in the dark. It was an “I underestimated the power of Dan” moment as Parker followed Dan’s instructions to walk quietly in and find their seats with an outstretched hand to hold and offer comfort.

With one preview left, we made it to our seats without missing a thing!

I honestly did not know anything about the movie as we walked in other than Parker really wanted to see it. I knew it involved dead people and spirits and it was animated but that was the extent of my knowledge. Oh and that Allison was annoyed it didn’t come out closer to the day being celebrated in the movie 😉

I don’t want to give much away about the movie because I think you should go see it yourself, as it is one we highly recommend, but I need to give a tiny bit of details on what it was that made this movie experience like no other for us. (Even though I want to tell you in detail everything about it – we enjoyed it that much!)

The overall point of the movie is about remembering loved ones who have passed and what happens when no one is left to remember them. It’s about family and memories and keeping “alive” those who have passed. (among other things that are more upbeat and fun).

As we sat watching… Allison, Dan, Me, Parker (in that order) … there was a part of the movie where the little boy was trying to get his great-grandma to remember her father. She was very old with not much time left herself. She had not spoken that I could remember during the movie to this point.
As the little boy kneeled by his great grandma’s side begging her to remember someone, knowing what would happen if she did not despite his family telling him to stop, I noticed out of the corner of my eye Parker raise his hand. As I looked over I noticed he was wiping away tears. With tears in my eyes I nudged Dan and with that, the 3 of us were wiping away tears.

I have never seen this from Parker. He gets very into movies we see in the theaters and shows his excitement and even concern, often asking questions if he wants to know what will happen but this time… this was different. There was no talking. There were no questions. Just tears. Tears of understanding the importance of the great-grandma remembering her father. Tears of understanding they would never be reunited if she forgot him.

I kept saying to Dan “He’s never done this. He’s never cried at a movie. He’s never been touched like this.” Dan already knew. Together we cherished this incredible moment. A moment I knew would have been missed without Dan by our side and a moment, as a mom, I needed to see.

Tears. Understanding. Emotion. From my 18-year-old son with Fragile X Syndrome.  Very intently watching, waiting and encouraging her to remember. It was one of those moments impossible to put the feelings of into words but something you felt with every ounce of your being.

I won’t tell you what happens next, but I will tell you that as soon as this movie is out on DVD, we will be buying it. The message is incredible, the story very well told and the memory of the impact it made on my son… tremendous.

I will say the overall point of this movie, which taught me something significant about another culture, was the importance of not just remembering those we’ve lost but always telling their stories, keeping them alive not just our memory but in the memory of other generations – even if they did not know of them. I was not familiar with the Mexican tradition of the Day of the Dead but find it incredibly beautiful, meaningful and am a little confused as why we don’t all do this. I know we all remember, daily, in our own ways but a special day to focus on those we love in a big way… that’s truly beautiful.

My reminder to you, keep sharing those stories. Keep the passing down the stories, the pictures, the memories from generation to generation. While no one knows what comes after life has ended, we know our love never ends. It doesn’t have to stop with us, keep your loved ones who have passed alive for generations to come, not just because they deserve to be remembered but because we are all better for knowing and celebrating those who were here before us.

And my reminder to me, my daughter is an absolute rock star who can understand our needs with very few words from me. While I hurt that this is her “normal” to see the possibility of our plans change on a whim, her understanding, empathy and ability to handle things – including disappointment – is well beyond her 15 years. She is my rock star. My son is always full of surprises, his ability to adapt and regroup has grown by leaps and bounds. And what’s going on inside of that mind of his that we don’t always understand or anticipate is never to be underestimated. And of course, that our life with Dan is something that was meant to be. To have someone who is unfazed by a public meltdown and even better able to prevent it from going full meltdown with the ability tell me to step away and let him handle it is something dreams are made of and more truly what unconditional love looks like. And to myself, the hardest thing of all, it’s ok to trust someone enough to help Parker through his challenges and step away until they are ready for me. (Thanks, Tim – “line 2”).

Because of all of this… leads to amazing and unpredictable moments that forever touch your heart. 

This holiday season and always – take the time to remember share those stories. Keep the memories of our loved ones alive. Without them, we would not be who we are.

And really…. Go see Coco!

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