I've never had an experience where I felt both humbled with newfound compassion and an overwhelming sense of righteous indignation. Until yesterday.
My Aunt and her son were supposed to meet my mom in Chicago to see Mary Poppins on Saturday. But since my cousin is in the hospital (out of ICU, surgery scheduled for Tuesday), she mailed the tickets to my mom and we decided to meet my sister Emily there with Punkin. I have to stop here and ask if any of you know how many semis are on Interstate 80. Punkin does. And he told us EVERY TIME he saw one. "Da ya yis!" (There it is!)
Anyway, we met at Cumberland and took the El into the city. Punkin loved the El and even made a new ... friend?.... during the trip. She was quite possibly homeless, but she gave him four quarters and recited some kind of chant . Very well-intentioned, I'm sure, but we decided to re-gift the quarters nonetheless.
We were a bit confused about where the theater was, so we ended up walking around a bit and then finding a McDonalds to eat lunch. After lunch. we high-tailed it to the theater and made it to our seats just in time.
Punkin was completely enthralled. He sat as still as a statue on my lap and just soaked it all in. BUT, being a four year old with Fragile X, he became excited and agitated at some points in anticipation of what was going to happen next. See, when you've watched Mary Poppins on dvd, oh, 200 times, you start to become familiar with the plot. He started saying, "Coming? Coming?" at the end of the scenes and "Yeah!" when the audience cheered. And being a theater, sound travels fairly well. The family in front of us, including a ten year old boy, was not impressed. He would twist around and loudly "SHHH!!" us every time. Then he would lean over to his mom or sister and TALK to her. OUT LOUD. SHHH yourself, snotty boy.
Anyway, Aunt Emily figured out later that he must have been waiting for the carousel horses to come because the more the show went on, the more he asked, "Coming? Coming!" It was really cute, and he was being really good. He wasn't crying or hitting or even being wiggly. He just wanted those stinkin' horses and they never came.
By the time the kids jumped into the painting, the usher was standing at our row giving me a death glare. A few minutes later, she was back and the man from the family in front of us turned around and was about to say something to me. Before they started their accusations, I just stood up and walked out.
I went in the lobby and feebly tried to tell Punkin that he needed to keep a bubble in his mouth, that he had to be quiet, before we could go back. "Bubble. Ssshh. Quiet. Okay." We tried going back in, but he was so excited to see it again that we never made it past the first row of seats by the door before he yelled out again. The usher, in a rather stern and judgemental voice, informed me that there was a television screen in the lobby.
I started crying. It hit me; we weren't going to be able to go back in until intermission, if at all. And even if we did, there was no guarantee that Punkin would be able to understand that he couldn't talk.
As we approached the tv, I saw that the image was actually just a bunch of colorful blobs singing and dancing -- the camera was zoomed so far out that we couldn't even see what was going on. And every time that Punkin heard a familiar word or song, he looked towards the doors and asked to go back in. He cried, he smacked me, he begged, "Door! Door! Door!" The frustration in his voice just sunk my heart even further in my chest. "We can't, honey. You have to be quiet."
Finally, my ears ringing from his repeated smacks to my face and my eyes blurred with tears, I returned the look of one of the ushers in a group staring at me, "I need somewhere quiet where I can go with him."
'There's a restroom right down the stairs, mam." I don't know how to punctuate this dialouge so that you, the reader, understand that this usher's voice was much like the voice of the woman who walked us out of the theater originally. Think snotty teenager mixed with judgemental overtones and a general, 'Duh, what are you an idiot?' intonation.
Still trying to keep it together, and obviously failing, "I need somewhere where I can sit with him." (Read: I need somewhere where I can go hold him and cry in peace.)
"There's benches by the restroom, MAM."
We made it to the bench by the restroom and an employee gave up her seat on the bench outside the door for me. This was the first and only nice thing any of the employees did for us. Punkin laid upside-down on my lap and I cried.
I was just plain sad. My son was sad.
The music and dialouge were being pumped in throughout the lobby and lower level. So every time he heard them say, "Supercalifragilisticexpealidocious" he sat up, looked around, and asked to go back. "No honey, we can't."
At intermission, I went up and stood by the door to wait for Em and Oma. I saw my sister and lost it -- just bawling. Then she started crying. Then my mom saw us and SHE started crying. We were a royal mess. Meanwhile, Punkin was still politely asking that he be allowed to return to the magical lights, singing, and dancing.
Emily was brave and went and asked a manager if there was any way Punkin could still watch the show. Nope. He's too loud--even in the lobby-- and the actors can hear him on stage. There's nowhere else to sit and there's no sympathy in her voice. To her and her employees, he was a nuisance and naughty child.
But I deal with strangers thinking he's a nuisance and he's naughty all the time, and I know he's not. I hold my head high and ignore them. So why did it hurt so badly yesterday? There are plenty of times when we've had to leave events early or skip them altogether because Punkin can't handle the stimulation or the life skills the event requires. I either adapt or we stay home. So why did I feel so alienated in that lobby?
I really think it's because he wasn't being naughty. He wasn't overstimulated or overtired or oppositional. He DID understand the play and he was clearly enjoying watching it. I have rarely felt so helpless; I couldn't do anything to make it better. He was being punished for being excited!
It's not that I didn't understand the point of view of the theater staff. Honestly, I did understand and I wasn't surprised at all the first time the usher came to stare us into silence. What I didn't understand -- what I was surprised by -- was their rudeness. There was no polite, "I'm sorry, but your son is distracting our actors" or "Some of the other patrons have complained" or even an offer of "How can I help? Can I fetch your purse? Would you like to sit downstairs? You can listen to the play down there while you wait for intermission" as I stood, sobbing in the lobby. It might have been fake, it might have been half-hearted and I probably still would have cried, but I wouldn't have felt as if we had done something wrong.
I have to say that two men (audience members) came up to my mom at different times during intermission and offered their help and well-wishes. One of them must have been sitting near us because he referenced the SSSHHH Family. Complete strangers from the AUDIENCE of the FAMILY PROGRAM taking place at TWO IN THE AFTERNOON on a Saturday were more helpful and friendly than the people GETTING PAID TO BE THERE TO DEAL WITH THE PUBLIC.
As we drowned our sorrows in some Baskin Robbins sundaes (which were seriously lacking in hot fudge), I commented to my sister that people who don't like the public shouldn't work with the public. For example, I despise ranch dressing; therefore, I won't be looking for employment with Hidden Valley. I'm claustrophobic and bad at math; NASA is out of the question. It's like the WIC ladies -- if you don't like poor women and their kids, don't work for a public assistance program!!!!!
But, I digress. The day went fairly smoothly after leaving the show and having comfort food. Punkin doesn't do ice cream, but there was a Dunkin' Donuts in the same place and the lady gave him a six donut holes for free. This helped our moods immensly, and he ate all of them as we walked around the Loop.
Later, we chased pigeons ("Get 'em! Get 'em") by one of the many water fountains, rode a dozen escalators ("WEEE!!!) and ate pizza at Pizanos before our exhausted journey home. It was during the ride home that it occurred to me that perhaps I've been living in a bubble. I've never been barred from participating. I guess I got a small lesson in what it must feel like when people are faced with buildings that aren't accessible to wheelchairs or are otherwise discriminated against. A very brief, mostly painless lesson, but a lesson nonetheless. Newfound compassion.
The indignation? Well, nobody likes it when a stranger makes their kid CRY. Jerks.