I returned from Bogotá with a pesky scratchy throat. But more on that later.
At the end of every summer, my husband flies to Brazil to escort my stepdaughter back to the States. It is a law in Brazil that children may not leave the country with one parent without the legal permission of the other parent. So every year my husband flies all night to Brazil, collects my stepdaughter, and returns that same night to come back home.
He would be leaving Friday night and they would return together Sunday morning. I would be by myself with the kids for the weekend so I planned some fun things for us to do.
After the quasi-disastrous first experience at the movie theater a couple weeks ago, some people from an online support group for sensory processing disorder told me about “sensory friendly movies” at AMC. There was one scheduled for this weekend so I thought that would be a perfect distraction while daddy was out of town.
These special showings are infrequent and only a couple of theaters in our metro area offer them. This Saturday’s feature would be the new Disney Planes movie. My kids never saw any of the Cars movies nor the first Planes movie. I whet their appetite by showing them the trailer of the new movies on the computer at home before we left.
My daughter asked to take the headphones with us despite the fact that I explained to her ahead of time that this movie would not be too loud like the last one.
We arrived at the theater in plenty of time before the movie was to start. I found booster seats to put in the chairs. (I had never seen this before. I wish it had been available at the dollar theater we went to a couple weeks ago).
We stood in line to order a medium popcorn and some Bunch a Crunch. I had brought a couple of plastic containers to divvy out the popcorn for them. Passing around the popcorn bag doesn’t work with small children.
The sensory friendly movies had been advertised as something where kids could feel free to get up and move around, as they needed. The lights would be kept up during the movie. The volume would be kept down low.
I had some expectations for what this experience would be like. I expected to see lots of autistic kids in the theater. I expected it to be noisy and was prepared for potential meltdowns.
There was just one noisy kid in the theater that morning. Only one kid burst into tears and demanded to be taken home.
I ran into some of the theater staff as we made our way to the potty during the previews. My daughter still had the headphones on her ears and tears streamed down her cheeks.
The staff apologized and said that the trailers were always louder than the actual movie. They explained that they had turned down the volume as much as possible. I told them I was surprised at my daughter’s reaction. I really was.
My daughter has never had enough checkmarks in the right categories to be diagnosed with autism though she showed definite warning signs as a toddler. I am well aware that autism is always accompanied by SPD (though the opposite is not always the case).
I expected to see other kids acting out in the theater, not mine.
I could have taken the kids home at that moment, but I chose not to for two reasons:
1. I felt that my daughter should watch at least the first 15 minutes of the movie before giving up on it.
2. I felt it would be unfair to my son to deny him the experience.
I have witnessed my daughter exposed to much higher levels of sound without incident many times. I believe that she is at a place where the anticipation of noise is far worse for her than the actual noise. She is still highly sensitive to noise; however, I am familiar enough with her threshold to know about how much noise she can tolerate.
She eventually calmed down and settled in enough to watch the movie even without headphones.
I had expected there to be drama in the movie theater (in the seats, not on the movie screen) from the other kids. However, we were the ones providing the most in-seat entertainment. My kids talked the loudest, cried the most, and moved around the most. I started to think I was the “bad mom” in the crowd among the eight families there.
After finally making it to the end of the movie that didn’t really hold my kids attention, we headed to McDonald’s to get some food. It was already their naptime so I just went through the drive-thru. For my typical kid, I ordered a happy meal with all the usual fixin’s knowing he would eat every bit. For my SPD kid, I ordered just four chicken nuggets.
The movie theater was about a 25-minute drive from our house. My youngest fell asleep in the car. (You parents of young kids know what that means). By the time we arrived home with our food, this little kiddo was rested and energized.
I went to get our food out of the bag at home. There was only a happy meal. No separate order of chicken nuggets. I was already feeling tired and testy from the events of the day. I said “stupid McDonald’s” under my breath. OK, maybe I said it out loud.
I checked my receipt and it showed I had indeed paid for it. I grumbled because I always make the same order for my kids and on more than one occasion, they have forgotten the second order of nuggets.
I called the store and the woman I spoke with immediately apologized for the mishap. She gave me a credit for a 10-piece nuggets the next time we came in. I had to take a moment and tell God that I trusted Him to take care of us despite the food shortage. It was too late to drive all the way back there.
I divided the nuggets between the two kids. My youngest proceeded to eat everything but the nuggets. I was somewhat in shock. I was able to give the other two to my daughter.
As expected, my little boy never fell asleep again after his restorative catnap in the car.
Since they were both awake, it was time to do what I had been dreading all weekend. I hadn’t had time to grocery shop before my husband went out of town and we were totally out of food so now was the time.
I debated a lot over where to grocery shop. I have been going to Walmart in order to keep the grocery bill down for our family of five, however going by myself with two little kids makes things much more complicated.
Publix is the most expensive regular grocery store we have here. (I’m not counting specialty stores like Whole Foods). However, there are some real benefits to shopping there. It is a much more kid-friendly (read: parent-friendly) experience. They have plenty of shopping carts designed to hold more than one kid and they always take your groceries out to the car for you.
I decided in the end that I would brave Walmart. I had a talk with both the kids before we left, explaining to them that they would have to take turns sitting in the cart. By the time we got to the store, they were prepared for this. My little one stayed in the cart while the older one walked. I parked right next to the cart return so that would be easier.
I remembered at some point during our shopping trip that church was at 7pm that night. Oh boy. How was I going to manage that? I was exhausted and hadn’t had time to get anything ready for my stepdaughter’s return. There was lots of cleaning to do. I finally decided I would need to attend one of the Sunday services instead.
That evening as I was preparing dinner for them, I began the vigil to see if my husband and stepdaughter would get seats on their flight back to the U.S. They were flying standby. The flight was somewhat oversold in coach but still had seats in first class. I had been confident they would have no problems.
Anyone who is in the airline family knows how nerve-racking the vigil is, especially for travel overseas. The stakes are higher. I can make it by myself with the kids for a few days; however, my husband has a job waiting for him.
Fortunately, they have free Wi-Fi in their airports in Brazil so we were able to keep in touch.
They were bumping paying passengers for the flight. The two of them stayed there until the very end just in case a miracle happened. After failing to get on the flight, they returned to his aunt’s house to spend one more night. Things didn’t look any better for the next day’s flight.
I thought to myself that at least I would sleep better that night. I never sleep well when my family is on an airplane flying over the ocean.
Stay tuned for Part II tomorrow.
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