Georgia and Jurassic Park

Georgia and I went on an adventure this weekend. We went to see Jurassic Park — the new version, in IMAX 3D.

Jurassic Park - image via Universal Pictures

I thought about this for a while. She really wanted to go to a movie, but the only ones for kids were The Croodsand Wreck-it Ralph, both of which she’s seen, and wasn’t keen on seeing more than once. Unlike, say, High School Musical which I’m sad to say we’ve see more times that anyone ever should. Jurassic Park was our next choice.

Jurassic Park was first released when I was in my early twenties. I remembered only two things about it: First, the cow in the sling, which was lowered into the velociraptor’s cage (shudder) and, second – okay, remember I was young – Jeff Goldblum’s shirtless, Adonis-like pose in the lab.

An image which, when presented in IMAX 3D twenty years later elicited more guffaws and giggles than awe. This was a surprise to me.

Jurassic Park - image via Universal Pictures

In fairness, if you google  “Jeff Goldblum” and “Jurassic Park,” the second, third, tenth and every tenth picture thereafter is a version of this still shot. I am just saying.

Despite the fact I remembered worryingly few child-friendly scenes, Georgia and I watched the preview at home Friday night, and she agreed to go see the dinosaur movie.

As long as it was a) in 3D b) watched through glasses and c) accompanied by popcorn. And butter, though she’ll settle for the petroleum-based not-occurring-in-nature yellow liquid product. As will her mother.

Off we went!

The first few moments of the movie were incredibly loud. Ear-piercingly scary loud. We had just barely settled into our seats and clearly established a midpoint-resting place for the popcorn. I leaned over to ask Georgia if she was okay. She lifted her 3D glasses and whispered urgently, “Bathroom!”

I was worried that this was a sign of angst or fear but nope, she was anxious to go do her thing and return to the theatre. The most upset she ever got the entire time was after I told her she couldn’t wear her 3D glasses to the bathroom.

Inconveniently, I had also forgotten that the movie was loud – and it was scary! Dinosaurs jump out at you, try to eat little children and spend most of their screen time terrorizing each and every human character. They spit poisonous green mucousy venom on people and then slice them open with their claws. During that scene, I was anxiously looking beside me, in a motherly attempt to discern impending trauma.

Jurassic Park

Instead there was simply giggling. Cue Georgia:

Ewwww that’s green and so dis-gusting!!”

A goat leg, torn from its originating goat by a T-rex, slams onto the windshield of a car. My heart literally skipped a few beats. I made a gasping noise and inadvertently squeezed the cup I was holding and squirted Barq’s root beer down my sweater. I checked out the child and animal-lover beside me, fearing the worst.

She was casually crunching popcorn and adjusting her glasses. She asked for some juice. 

A lawyer gets eaten while sitting on a toilet. I jumped out of my seat with a little scream, but Georgia found this hilarious. She guffawed beside me. Why? “He was on a toilet! In the middle of the forest! So grrrroossss!!” That’s what she noticed. Phew.

The car that the kids are trapped in gets played with like a dinky car by the T-Rex. It’s on the edge of a crevasse, and will likely go over. That is, if T-Rex doesn’t step on it again and squish everyone – who is screaming for their lives – inside. I’m on the edge of my seat. I’m so distracted, I miss my mouth with my popcorn hand.

Jurassic Park - image via Universal Pictures

Georgia? With her glasses on her head, sunglasses-style, she turned, legs crossed, and gazed behind her casually at the other patrons. Letting me know, quietly, “There’s the audience, mommy!”

As is her way, Georgia wanted to know the name of every dinosaur. To appease her, I quietly named them all.

“That’s Bill. There’s Howard. Macy is the T-Rex.” She spent some quiet time processing this, I realize now, but at the moment I saw no harm in naming each dinosaur as they wrecked stuff — and ate people.

Towards the end comes the ultimate moment, when it’s down to the wire: kids vs. velociraptors. The kids suddenly realize that they are not alone and they freeze, silently waiting. Ice cream spoons dangling from their hands, they lock eyes in silent horror. You see the beginning of a hungry dinosaurish shadow on the wall. It grows, as does the silent tension. In the theatre, you could have heard a pin drop on the thick carpet, it was so quiet. I’m frozen in my seat, heart pounding.

Cue Georgia:

Hey kids! Look!!! It’s Howard! HOWARD’S BEHIND YOU.”

She yells this adamantly at the screen and then flashes her devil-may-care “hey, it’s all cool, Mom” smile. Stifling laughter, I sink into my seat and avoid eye contact.

On the way home I ask her, “Soooo, was that scary or exciting?”

Her rather blasé response?

Oh mommy, that was exciting. Those kids, they were scared.”

Remind me to take Georgia to more scary movies.

True Friend

NANCY'S MOM AND HER BEST FRIEND, MARVENE

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Having a child with autism changes your world in many ways, but one way I’ve seen my life change a great deal is in my sense of “community”. We all have a community of support: our friends, colleagues, our families. We build community and it is a dynamic and organic thing — our community — that changes as our lives and situations change.

We build relationships and sometimes they fail. Sometimes people move away or simply drift away. We lose touch with people despite our best efforts. At the best of times, people stick with us through thick and thin and we do our best. We connect, disconnect then get back again as if nothing ever happened.

I remember my mom telling me about her relationship with her best friend, Marvene. They’ve been best friends since they were young, and have remained so to this day — both of them are now nearly 80.

NANCY'S MOM AND HER BEST FRIEND, MARVENE

My mom used to tell me that no matter what happened and no matter how long it had been since they’d been in touch, they could always start up again where they “left off” — as if nothing had happened. Marvene had five kids, and my mom had three. They had jobs, busy lives, husbands, vacations. They dealt with life and death events and kept the fabric of their families and friendships intact.

I have good friends. I have supportive and loving friends who understand things about my life that I’ve never had to explain to them. But I also have what I’d call unexpected and amazing friends, who have provided me with unsolicited and unscripted support of a kind so meaningful, it’s almost too difficult to write about.

But I’m going to. And I’m going to start with one person who had a significant impact on my and Georgia’s life. Who provided me with more than she’ll ever know.

Barb.

Before Georgia was even diagnosed with autism, when we thought her problems were due only to being developmentally delayed and challenged in mobility and walking, we were referred to the Sick Kids outpatient unit for physical and occupational therapy.

autism - Life With Georgia

Barb was an occupational therapist who, I realized, was one of those people you actually could call a “Guru.” Over the four years we worked directly with her (and I do mean both Georgia and I) she taught Georgia to walk, opened her up to the world and provided a source of friendship and support for me.

It not only helped me figure out how to interact with Georgia, it simply and calmly demanded my presence “on the floor” with her.

We started working with Barb at Sick Kids in a small therapy room covered in mats with a mirror on one wall. Georgia was still a toddler and loved the mirror (of course) but didn’t love having to try moving towards it. She objected, cried, yelled and agonized but Barb persevered, always smiling calmly and reassuring us, with a firm grip around both of Georgia’s ankles as she swayed and toddled and almost took a step.

The fascinating thing for me was that Georgia appeared to be in pain and to dislike the therapy, but she loved Barb. She loved seeing Barb, and she trusted Barb – or so I imagined in the way we imagine our kids connect with the world around us as we do.

As is the way with funding for kids with disabilities, we were only allocated a small “chunk” of services which quickly ran out. I asked Barb about the possibility of private therapy, scared of what would happen if we lost all access to therapy (which was inevitable) and anxious not to lose a connection with this lovely woman. And so we started therapy at Barb’s house, two mornings a week.

I remember those few years of going to Barb’s house the way one remembers a lovely respite, or vacation. I remember her lovely living room full of sun and books and therapy toys for kids. I remember Barb’s little silver rings catching the light as she gently moved Georgia through exercises to stretch and activate weak muscles. I went there on good and bad days, on days when I was frazzled, or calm.

Sometimes I simply sat back in a comfortable chair and watched, and sometimes I drifted off to sleep, to be woken up with a kind hand and a warm laugh. Some days I talked and I cried and Barb listened and smiled. She made me tea and we talked. All the while her beautiful hands constantly moved up and down on Georgia’s legs and arms, telling her how to move without speaking to her. It was warm and safe in her living room, and being there changed our lives.

During those years, while Georgia learned to walk and engage in the world – the most important and foundational therapy she ever had – we became friends. We talked. About our children (Barb had lovely young teenage boys who would say hi to Georgia, to her extreme pleasure) and our dreams for them. About our lives, our jobs, the wine we liked to drink and the tea we preferred. About our summer trips, our anger at the funding systems, and our shared a love of silver jewelry, especially rings. She talked to me about canoeing and skiing with her boys and her husband, and about her love of the outdoors. Every session ended with a caring hand on my shoulder or a hug. A small but meaningful gesture of warmth and support.

I called Barb a few years ago to catch up and see if there was a possibility of working with her again, as Georgia, now older, had a new set of physical challenges that I recognized could be helped by Barb’s approach.

Physio

She answered the phone with that warm, welcoming voice, and we reconnected as if we had just talked the day before. But she sounded weak and tired. No, she was sad to say, she couldn’t take on any clients. She was sick. Cancer. A rare, angry kind of cancer. She told me it wasn’t good, that the cancer had spread quickly. We talked about a visit when she felt stronger, after her round of chemo. She asked about Georgia, and laughed when I told her some recent stories. I felt that same generosity of spirit coming through the phone, even on a call such as this. It was like we were in her living room again.

A few months later, Barb died. Her memorial service was on a hot summer day and I couldn’t find parking for blocks and blocks. We ended up parked just down the street from her house. Walking by her house, I saw the basketball net out front as always and the sun shining through her front window into her living room. I could almost picture her sitting there on the floor, smiling up at me and working her magic. But she wasn’t.

The reason I couldn’t find parking is because of the hundreds and hundreds of people who were attending Barb’s memorial service. Her family. Those boys, now grown into handsome young men, standing with their father looking lost, but with Barb’s strength and calm. The many, many younger therapists she had influenced. The physicians who turned to her with the most difficult cases. And so, so many parents and children whose lives she had touched and changed for the better.

A community of people brought together because of one amazing, special, once-in-a-lifetime person. Everyone seemed to want to tell their Barb story. The church, overfilled, was too hot but no one left, no one wavered, no one stayed seated. It was a remarkable testimonial for a remarkable person who never stopped wanting to change the lives of kids with special needs. Not just those kids, but their families.

I can hardly think or talk about Barb without crying, still today. I never told her just how much she means to me or how influential she was on my feelings about my own daughter and her abilities. I am sad that I never told her how she changed my life in ways that no one saw or knew, while she so deftly and confidently and quietly moved Georgia into her own way of being in the world, and helped move her forward to be the young woman she is becoming. I wish Barb were here to see it. She’d smile, laugh, and flutter those pretty little silver rings on those beautiful, magical hands.

To glimpse just a little of the impact Barb had upon the world of kid with special needs, read this story about how Barb created a ballet school for little girls with special needs who want to be ballerinas.