On one of the many hot July days, Dave suggested we attempt a family trip to the movies to see Monsters University. We have been trying to push the kids to try new things, so we geared up for the adventure. We went to AMC Tyngsboro which is great. If you haven't been lately, they have re-done all of the seating. You can now relax in a huge, leather, reclining seat. Some are single recliners and some are two seaters (like a loveseat). It's awesome! So much space-- at one point during the movie, all three kids were in the two-seater with me. Mairead and Jack LOVED the popcorn and they all thought it was pretty cool to go to a real movie theater. I think this was Mairead's third time, but it was the boys' first trip.
There were about 20 previews before the feature actually started, and every time one started, Jack would yell, "Is this it, Mom?" He must have done it about eight times. It was pretty cute and I even heard laughter from other parents nearby. It was very cute.
For the most part, the trip was a success. The kids had fun, Dave and I liked the movie, and we all made it through the whole thing. When the movie starts, it gets VERY loud, and there were some pretty intense scary parts, so it took a lot of coaxing to keep Mairead in there. I did have to take her for a little walk to the bathroom during the most scary portion, and that is actually when we had the toughest time.
The new theater also has new bathrooms. Everything in the bathrooms is automatic- the toilet flushing, the hand dryer, the water, the soap, the paper towels, etc. These may seem like conveniences or even things most people don't give a second thought, but to kids with special needs, these bathrooms can be a nightmare. I try to avoid them as much as we can because they are terrifying to kids like Mairead. Even Ben, who is just sensitive to loud noises, has a hard time with them. The dryers and toilets are incredibly loud, and since the bathrooms are all metal and tile, everything is amplified. Those new 'turbo' dryers might be better for the environment, but they are a nightmare for a lot of kids. Probably a lot of adults, too.
So, Mairead has been trying to be more independent and went into a stall alone. She locked the door so it would stay closed, and that was ok since I know she knows how to unlock it. The problem was that after she was done, she realized that if she stood up, the toilet would flush, and she was suddenly frozen with fear. She was crying and begging me to come put my hand over the sensor. Now, she had locked the door, so I really couldn't do that. In the meantime, Ben wandered near the turbo dryer and set that off, so then both kids screamed and were then crying. Poor Mairead was just inconsolable and though I tried to explain that I couldn't come in until she stood up to lock the door, she was so afraid to stand up that she just couldn't bring herself to do it.
I was trying to coax her to stand up, cover her ears, and unlock the door. Ben was still upset about the dryer. A woman walked in, used the bathroom, and washed her hands in the midst of all of this, and with every action, loud noises made the situation worse. She gave me a strange look as she left because I was in a bathroom with two kids who were freaking out. The look did not make me feel any better.
Anyway, I realized that there was nothing I could do but to go in and get her. I made Ben promise to stand right where he was and then I had to get down on the ground, lie on my back, and slide under the door into the stall so I could cover the sensor and allow poor Mairead to stand up.
These, my friends, are the moments when being the parent of a kid with special needs is very lonely because every experience has added degrees of difficulty in ways that others may never even think of. Most people probably do not see a public bathroom as a place to fear. No one really likes or enjoys them, I'm sure, but they are probably not something you think much about. Mairead and I see them as minefields, and on this day, I had to physically rescue her. The toilet flushing, the dryer going off, the water surprising us, the paper towel dispenser making the whirring noise... it's all like nails on a chalkboard to kids like mine, and it's terrifying at times. We were just trying to have a fun day at the movies, but it's never that simple.
I'm sharing this so that if you happen to see a situation like this, you might understand that the kid isn't necessarily being a brat, whining, or being difficult. The mom is not losing her patience with her crying kid, she is losing her patience with situations that make things SO hard for that kid. She just needed to use the bathroom, and that simple task turned into a disaster. Strange looks are not helpful. 'Is there anything I can do to help?' is helpful. Even if there is nothing you can do, just offering would let the family know that you are not judging, but trying to be sympathetic. We can never really know what a family is dealing with at any particular moment, but we can all be aware that whatever they are dealing with might be very difficult and very upsetting. We've all dealt with stressful situations while in public with our kids when a kind word or sympathetic look might have gone a long way. So, when you see a mom struggling, remember that there could be more to the situation than meets the eye.