I had a very rare experience today. Not anything having to do with my writing. That’s usually what I blog about. No. THAT particular endeavor is going just the way it always has. The answer from Shadow Mountain is no.
But that’s not what I’m upset about.
I got to see a movie today. Captain America: The Winter Soldier. My wife and I are avid fans of The Agents of SHIELD, and after the end of the Uprising storyline, we knew that we HAD to go and see the movie, because it is integral to what is going on. So we decided, since our boys love Cap so much, we would do what we rarely do. We would all go to the theater together.
Marcus and Xander were ecstatic. Marcus hadn’t been to a movie theater since Toy Story 3. Xander had gone, very well, with me to see Man of Steel. We thought, “Hey, this would be the perfect time to have a family outing.”
We got to the theater, and the usual Spencer business ensued, but he seemed like he was going to be okay. We walked into the theater and I felt immediately a sense of dread. It was looking like a packed house.
Well, we took a seat off to the side, hoping to stay out of everyone’s way. Spencer was not pleased. We believe he might be borderline claustrophobic. But the minute, the second that Spencer asked, not too loudly, to leave, some blurted out, “Yeah, take him out.”
You see, Spencer and Marcus are both on the spectrum for Autism. Ellen and I are very protective of them in social situations, but most of the time, people are pretty forgiving. This was the first time someone had verbalized their annoyance without trying to be any shade of kind. We take the boys to restaurants and theme parks and other things and we don’t get anything more than compassionate looks or rolled eyes.
This was different. This was uncompassionate, uncontrolled, unbridled spite. The promos started, and people were shushing him. I was annoyed, but I know my son. Given a few minutes, he can become quiet and even reasonable. Spencer is able to calm down. And after the awful promo for Godzilla, he did start to calm.
One of the movie theater employees approached me in my seat. She told me that if she got many more complaints, we would be asked to leave. I explained to her that Spencer was Autistic and would calm down as the movie continued. I made sure that my face was serious and that she knew I would take care of things. I know my son and I know what to do.
She backed down.
The movie started. Spencer needed to be consoled, so I took him to the back of the theater, where he could be near the lights. He calmed immediately, and for about forty minutes, all was cool. Spencer was sitting on my lap, looking at my wife’s iPod. Not a phone. (That’ll be important later.) Spencer decided he wanted to sit with his mom, so we headed back to our seats. He was quiet and only made noises every little while. Still, I saw people get up to complain.
Now, growing up, I have been annoyed by people and I have been annoying. I was taught patience in those times. I remember being a very small boy in a theater in San Bernardino, watching Rocky IV with my father and cheering loudly for my hero. People may have been annoyed then. If they were, they didn’t show it. I was at a showing of The Phantom Menace were several parents were allowing their kids to sit and even stand on the railings near the seats. I was annoyed, but I kept my peace. I was not there to give people a hard time. I was there to see a movie.
Spencer need a little more attention, so my wife took a turn. I wished her luck as she went past me and continued with the movie. After a few minutes, I heard some commotion in the back of the theater. I looked back and things seemed fine, at first.
I felt the door open more than I heard it. I told my other two boys to stay put and went back to see what was happening. I the entryway to the theater, my wife was having a heated argument with a suited security guard. He was standing with a dispassionate look on his face, while my wife was stricken. And I quickly found out what was going on.
The security guard was telling us that we needed to leave. He wasn’t asking and he wasn’t trying to help us. My wife was on the verge of tears as this little scrap of a man stood there with no expression and no compassion, telling us to leave. We tried to explain that Spencer has special needs. He didn’t seem to care. He didn’t care for our plight, or our right to see a movie that we paid to see.
I have a tendency to grow quieter as I grow angry. This man, in all his pretended power, was telling us, telling me that Captain America and other’s enjoyment of his exploits, was more important than my son, my wife, my entire family. People’s annoyance was throwing me and my family out of a theater for the first time in my whole life.
Now, I’ve walked out of movies. I’ve never been tossed. I wanted to hit him. I wanted to grab the man and make him understand. “My son has special needs. And now you’re telling me that we have to leave. He’s not making that much noise,” my wife says.
“It’s the phone. He can’t have the phone in the theater,” he says in return.
“It’s an iPod. It’s not a phone!” But he wasn’t budging. After a bit of flustered argument and a lot of male puffery from the security guard, we decided it was best to take this up with the theater manager. I grabbed the boys and we walked out of the theater. We got about twenty feet before Marcus and Xander realized something was wrong. Xander started to cry. My wife and I were both at the edge of our tempers. The Theater Manager was the one thing that no one else had been the entire time.
He comped us and promised that he would help us. I was still angry, but I saw in this man what I was taught to show. He showed more kindness in one act than an entire crowd of people who waned quiet in a loud movie.
I’m not one who generally calls for people to change. People are allowed to make their own decisions, no matter where they may lead. But this is the first time someone’s decisions lead to a passive bullying of my family. And that’s what it became. I have been bullied before. I know it when I see it.
We see kids acting out all the time. It’s a part of life. It’s a part of family and a part of society. It’s a part of growing up and being a parent. Many was the time that I would see a kid acting up and think, “Man, what lousy parents.” That was until I had kids. Special needs children, no less. No parent wants their child belittled or picked on, be it by other kids or adults. When I learned that my eldest was on the spectrum, I refused to ever even think that again.
I would demand, were it my place, that people change. All I can do is ask, beg and even plead. Do not do this to kids. Do not judge them by yourself. Do not bully and belittle. You don’t know the story. You don’t know the difficulty and the heartache of another parent or another child. We struggle. We fight. We cry and pray and scream, like any other person in the world. Don’t let your annoyance turn you into a bully.
No movie is more important than another person’s feelings.