Sunday, August 22, 2010

The power of Thomas the Tank Engine...

Today, Billy and his friend went to a movie.

Perhaps, I could write that again... Today, Billy and his friend went to a movie.

I never thought I would write a sentence like that, unless I was in some delusional denial fantasy type situation where everyone knew someone was going to tap me on the shoulder and yell, 'Psych!' before running away giggling.

But seriously, I'm not making it up. We sat in a cinema this morning with another mother and son combo, and we saw a movie from beginning to end.

Now, don't get me wrong. There was a lot of unusualness going on (as so many of the cinema foyer dwelling glama-rama-mamas of perfect children called Olive and Hunter will attest), but I'm calling a win on this one. On so many levels.

Billy has a friend at school, whose name I won't mention as I may not respect my own child's privacy, but seriously, I get the concept. He is a beautiful child, inside and out. A child who has gone out of his way to shepherd Billy through many important experiences at school. He's a thinker, this kid. He understands things I'm still struggling with at 42 (and isn't that supposed to be the meaning of life...?) He  is a friend, and he has a 7 year old meta-awareness of the power of friendship that brings out quite stunning behaviour in him. It's part mother hen, part bemused bystander, part therapist.

Billy chose this boy to come to the movie with him, and despite the fact that most seven (or almost seven) year old boys have bid a wistful farewell to Thomas and Friends, the date was made. The desire to have his friend there was so strong, that Billy was motivated to write an invitation... writing is not a favourite pastime of Billy's - typing, yes. Handwriting, no. But he did it.

The past week has been full of, 'Oh I can't wait to go to the cinema!', which was freaking us both out a bit because he's never been before. What was he thinking the cinema would be? Given that his favourite way to watch Thomas is with a remote control in his hand, repeating the same 5 seconds over and over again... we were a little worried about his expectations.

Thankfully, an episode of Humf came along, where Uncle Hairy took his girlfriend Flora, Wallace, Lou and Humf to the cinema. It was a social story played out with cute, furry monsters. Hats off to the British who really know how to do creative kids television without forgoing the content.

This morning, despite a post-election hangover (me... what kind of a parent do you take me for?) and a short night's sleep (Billy, waiting for me to get back home from next-door's election night sorrow dampening party... hung parliament, long story), we set off across town for the movies.

We got there and were engulfed in a sea of toddlers (why do people think toddlers will like being forced to sit still in a dark room for an hour??) and the odd random older sibling. There was a balloon artist (lot of swords and flowers) and many, many mothers drinking very tall lattes. They may or may not have been attachment parenting their perfect children called Olive and Hunter. I tend to blank them out these days.

Billy met his friend with a huge hug. We waited for the majority of the audience to take their seats, and started to walk down the blue (cute...) carpet. Then... Billy spotted him. His nemesis. The Fat Controller. Who knew that Sir Topham Hatt was the source of all evil? Well, clearly, Billy knew. Because he proceeded to melt into the mother of all regressive, catatonic zombie states. He disappeared to far corners of the foyer (hard as it was oddly circular) and took up an attractive foetal position under a Despicable Me cardboard display.

Awe-some. Loving it, I sent his friend and his mother into the cinema in a cheery tone (you know that shaky hysterical 'everything's fine, minor glitch' kind of voice) and began telling Billy that big boys don't usually choose to hide under little yellow cardboard humanoids. Clever move, on my behalf. I would have been better off reciting election results at him.

Balloon artist (I love you, whoever you are, dude) came to my rescue. I backed off, suggesting I would look through the door of the movie theatre to check where the evil yellow waistcoated man had taken himself. When I returned, Billy and the balloon dude were playing tickle fencing with balloon swords, and making their way to the rapidly closing door of the theatre.

We managed to make it down the aisle, spotted our friends who had cleverly chosen seats that backed onto the end of the aisle, and perched like crazy people on the carpet behind them. Billy assumed foetal position number two right about then, as The Fat Controller began an inane speech about kids telling their parents to turn off their mobile phones lest they scare Thomas and Percy (the phones, not the kids... or their parents). I didn't care, because the nasty man was scaring Billy. Why? I don't know, but the stares from the mothers of Olive and Hunter were enough to let me know that they weren't about to offer any suggestions.

Then, miraculously, the Fat Controller stopped talking. The room went dark (not so good, but thankfully less tragic than I thought) and the movie began.

Billy slowly unravelled a limb at a time, tentatively unplugged his ears and climbed onto my lap. Billy saw Thomas and Percy, and his face broke into a smile. As the opening titles dissolved into beautiful CGI Island of Sodor establishing shots, Billy's friend looked over the back of his seat. He begged Billy to climb over the back of the seat he'd saved for him... and Billy did just that. For the next hour, they sat giggling together completely and utterly engaged in Misty Island Rescue. They laughed and got worried. They yelled at the screen and they looked to each other for reassurance. All in all, an awesome movie experience.

It got even better at the end of the movie when all the kids were given a really cool goodie bag full of actual toys - DVDs, trains, Thomas books, Thomas magazines, Thomas Apple 'juice' and a movie poster (the best bit, oddly, for both boys).

It was, all in all, a great experience - multiple assumptions of the foetal position aside. I know I say it a lot, but seriously... this kid amazes us every day. He tries so hard, without ever ignoring or suppressing his own needs. He's learning his boundaries in a truly organic way, and in times like these I wonder if it's even a little easier for him because his limitations jump out and bite him with such monotonous regularity. He gets a lot of practice at understanding himself.

We are so very lucky to have friends like Billy's buddy and his Mum. We are lucky to have opportunities like today, where we can sit in the foetal position on the carpet, and only have to deal with the stares of the untroubled parents (and not the shining torch of the cinema staff). We are lucky to have a boy like Billy.

It mightn't be easy to watch your child struggle with what should be a pleasurable experience. But, let's face it, whatever I might be feeling, it's ten times worse for Billy experiencing the struggle. I can recall maybe five or six moments in my life when I felt so bad I wanted to curl up in a foetal position and hide my face... my tiny man has five or six of those moments a week.

I don't want to minimise the tense moments in the lives of Olive and Hunter, or the worries of their perfectly presented parents. But I can't help feeling that I've got a better deal.

Billy's deal doesn't seem quite so sweet, but Thomas the Tank Engine does get him through the tougher moments.


Anonymous said...

Wow, what an awesome story! Billy overcame alot to be able to sit through and enjoy the whole movie, that is an incredible feat. I admire you for even trying and so happy that it worked out so well :)


Jenni said...

What an accomplishment! Way to go Billy!!!!!! I hear you on the looks of other parents.

fiona2107 said...

Thats quite an achievement!

Ro said...

That is fantastic, Valerie, more great foundations for him to build on :)

carriemumof2withasd said...

You make me laugh! I love that you don't sugar coat anything :)

So happy it turned out good in the end :)