It's not just about aching for him to enjoy something other kids do and finally having it happen, though it brings such sweet relief.
It's not just about the bliss of him sharing one of my greatest pleasures, or about another activity we'll be able to do as a family, though it is exciting.
This achievement is also about once again realizing that kids with special needs do stuff on their own timeline, and nobody else's, whether it's walking, talking or, yes, going to a movie.
Max has only ever seen movies at a drive-in because he's been terrified of indoor theaters. It's a sensory thing, a combination of loud sound, darkness and pure fear of the unknown. Dave once tried to take him to a movie a couple of years ago and Max ran out screaming. When we drive by a local multiplex, Max points to it and says "Nooooooo" to remind us that we cannot take him there. Bringing him to one of AMC's sensory-friendy screenings hasn't been an option because the sprawling theater is too overwhelming for him.
And then: We all saw Monsters University at the drive-in and loved it.
And then: Monsters University came to the theater in our town. It has several mini theaters inside, but it's all very contained and smallish.
And then, I realized: Maybe the way to get Max to see a movie in a theater was to take him to see something he'd already seen.
And so, Max and I started talking about it. I drove by the theater a bunch of times, showing him the Monsters University lettering on the marquis. Max asked if we could instead watch the DVD at home, but I explained it wasn't out yet.
He agreed he'd try to go, with headphones. I kept asking him to be sure, and he kept saying "Yes." I chose a Saturday matinee because I thought it might be quieter, and off we went, just me and Max. I'm definitely the more tough-ass parent, and I while I was fully ready to let Max leave if he wanted to bail, I figured I'd have a better chance than Mushball Daddy.
Max wanted to bring his original, beat-up 3M Peltor headphones, not the newer ones—a comfort thing. Heck, he could have worn a full-body coat of armor and I would have been fine with that. We got there 30 minutes early so Max could have time to explore. He gleefully ran up to the ticket window and told the girl inside "Onner ooh-ner-eee!" Sometimes, people speak Max. Sometimes, they just know any excited kid at their window is seeing Monsters University. Take your pick.
Inside, Max stood outside the theater where The Heat was playing, watching the commercials. Then he checked out the one where Monsters University was playing, and decided he looked the other theater better. I explained Monsters U. was only playing in one place, and he pretty much didn't believe me till the movie started.
Max stood in the back; the usher let us keep the door open a crack, which made Max more comfortable because he had an escape, if need be. Some kids stared at Max. Some moms smiled at him.
Max looked like he was losing his nerve.
I'd seen a mom and daughter walk in, and I could tell her daughter had special needs because of that radar you develop. They sat in the back. Just before the movie began, the mom turned around and smiled at me; she had radar, too. "He may not stay for the whole movie," she said, "and that's OK! It took a few times with her, but now she loves movies. She's 25!" They both smiled at me, and I felt reassured.
The movie started with a cute short about two umbrellas in love (only Pixar!) and Max smiled because he remembered it. When Monsters U. came on, Max beamed, and I literally breathed a sigh of relief. Finally. I felt like crying, only it's really hard to get weepy when you are watching Monsters University.
About a half hour in, Max gestured to the door and I walked out with him. He trotted over to see what was going on with The Heat, and when I said "That's not a movie for kids!" he let me take him back to Monsters U.
At some point, Max gestured outside and said he wanted to leave. But I knew he didn't, and I called his bluff. "OK, let's go!" I said, and took him out. He paused, shook his head no and walked back in. I think he needed to play that little game to reassure himself that leaving was still an option.
When the movie ended, Max watched the credits roll. That mom gave my shoulder a squeeze as she walked out. When everyone had left the theater, Max walked all the way to the front, credits still rolling. Then he turned around and looked way up at the square where the projector was. Then he turned back and stared at the screen. He was trying to figure it all out. I explained that the movie streamed from the projector, onto the screen. Then he pointed to the speakers and to the screen and to his ears—he was figuring that out, too. Loved that.
FYI, if you stay all the way till the end of Monsters University, you will see a super-cute little bonus clip. Thanks, Max!
As we left, I tried not to sound too excited, because Max does not appreciate it when I get all giddy about his achievements. I just gave him a hug, whispered "You did it, buddy!" and off we went to celebrate with chocolate ice-cream.
I've been a special needs parent for ten years now, and at times I still forget (or deny) that all my yearning and cajoling doesn't much matter because nothing's going to happen till Max is good and ready. As with everything, it took baby steps, a whole lot of patience and Max maturing. AND HEADPHONES!!!
He's telling me he wants to go see Planes at the theater. Sabrina says she'll come. For the first time, we'll see a movie as a family, even if a couple of us are standing in the back.
I can't wait.