The Movie at the Library
“Here we are” I say to Vaughn from the driver’s seat. “I love how close we are to the library”.
The drive from our house to our local town’s library is only 3 ½ minutes. It’s truly wonderful. On Saturday afternoons, the library offers children’s movies in the basement of the building. The set-up is perfect – typically, there are only about 5-8 kids per movie. My attempts to bring Vaughn to a true cinema have not worked out well. As a child on the spectrum, he isn’t interested in the standard films kids his age enjoy: Frozen, The Lion King, Finding Dory, etc. His attention span for these types of cartoons is limited – the film simply fails to draw him in. Typically, around the 30 minute mark, my son will grab my arm and say “can we leave?”. This doesn’t come as a surprise – as I’ve been watching him while he watches the film. He is as fixated on the red neon Exit sign as the screen. I oblige him and we head out, realizing that the $9 spent on tickets wasn’t the best idea.
Earlier that morning, Jen had suggested the movie at the library.
“They let the kids walk around if they want, so if Vaughn gets restless, you can let him. They don’t mind, you know.”
“I’ve taken him before, remember? We saw the Puppy Buddies movie”
“Oh yeah, sorry”.
As Vaughn and I pull into the parking lot, I begin my mini-coaching session.
“Now, Vaughn, when we enter the library, the librarians will say hi to you. I want you to say hi back.”
“Also, when you say hi to them, I want you to try to look up at them. Don’t look at the ground”
“We’ll go downstairs and you can have a snack before the movie. I’m sure Miss Donna will have some popcorn. Let’s try to see if we can get through it, okay?
We enter through the double doors of the library and the librarians at the front desk immediately greet us. Vaughn is met with a chorus of “Hi Vaughn. How are you?” by three chirpy librarians. I wait……..anxiously.
‘Vaughn, what do you say?”
“What?” Vaughn says looking down.
“What did I just tell you outside?”
“Oh, hiiiiiiiiiii” Vaughn says musically, ending his greeting with an upwards inflection. His eyes are looking at this shoelaces.
“Vaughn, look up at them when you say that”.
“Hiiiiiiiiiii” he says, lifting his chin.
“Vaughn, it’s so good to see you. Miss Donna has a great movie this afternoon. Wreck-it-Ralph – have you heard of it? It’s really good”. I love Miss Rebecca’s enthusiasm. She and the other librarians have known Vaughn his whole life.
“Yes” Vaughn responds lying.
“You can go right downstairs, Vaughn. I think Miss Donna is already setting up for the snacks”.
The basement is a wonderful area designated for children. I’ve taken Vaughn here ever since I can remember and love how self-contained it is. It’s the first place I’ve even taken him where he can wander around on his own and suspend my helicopter instincts to follow him everywhere. When we was younger, we would come here for craft time and Vaughn would wander around the aisles of bookshelves, not necessarily looking for a book, but surveying the space. No matter where he was, I knew where he was – a great first trial area for me to “let go”.
We cross through the children’s area to enter the theater room, lined with mis-matched chairs and two love seats. I see our neighbor, Sue, from down the street. She has brought her twins who are Vaughn’s age.
“Hey Sue! Good to see you. Vaughn – look, Madison and Jackson are here. They’re going to watch the film with us”
“Hiiiiiiiiiiiiii…” Vaughn responds, again with his musical trill.
Miss Donna is setting up the snack table before starting the film. There is a folding table on the side of the room. It’s lined with two dozen dixie cups with popcorn.
“Hi Vaughn!” Miss Donna exclaims, “so good to see you. Are you excited for our movie today?”
“Nooooooo……really I only come here for the snacks” Vaughn says, scooping up two Dixie cups.
“Well, that’s okay. I always bring enough snacks for everyone”.
As Vaughn and I make our way to our seats, I can’t help thinking how lucky he is. We’ve come to this library ever since I can remember. Everyone here knows him, gets him, understands him. He blissfully walks through every area assuming that everyone just happens to know his name and that he can freely do and say anything. I love how insulated this world must be for him.
As the movie starts, I count the number of kids in the room – six. With Madison and Jackson, that means only three other kids have joined us. I see one Mom who has dropped off her daughter, who only looks about 5. I can’t imagine being able to do that. Another boy who is about eight is already running around the room, his mother staring absently at her phone.
As we begin “Wreck-it Ralph”, I hold my son’s hand. I resist the temptation to watch him during the move, instead occasionally offering casual side glances to see if he is in fact watching. Success. He’s drawn in. Maybe it’s because the theme of the film is pulling him in – characters from a video game. I sit back further in my chair.
“Okay Daddy, I’m going to get some more snacks” he says in his characteristically loud voice.
“Oh, okay, well……..yeah……just be quiet”.
Vaughn makes his way to the back of the room to Miss Donna’s snack stand. I try to resist the temptation to watch him, but cave. What if he scoops up every Dixie cup? He grabs one cup of popcorn and makes his way back, seeming to struggle to find me in the room, which is surprising since it’s not very dark.
“Daddy! Where are you?”
“Vaughn, I’m right here” I say in a hushed tone, raising my hand.
He rejoins me and plops into his seat. I know the popcorn will maintain his attention but for how long? The other kids seem enraptured in the film and laugh loudly at the appropriate times. Vaughn is off looking past the screen. I can tell his thoughts are elsewhere.
As the character “Wreck-it Ralph” atones for his bad behavior, it comes.
“Okay Daddy, all done……..”
“All done. Let’s go home”
“Can I get a snack on the way out?”
On our way out, we walk past Miss Donna who smiles at us. She gets it.
“It was so nice to see you Vaughn. Come back next month. Our movie will be Kung Fu Panda”.
Vaughn walks right past her silently, and leans all of his weight on the push door.
As we drive home, I reflect on our trip, another attempt at doing what “normal” kids like to do. We pull into the driveway. Vaughn bounds up our basement stairs and into the house. He tosses off his jacket and throws it on a chair, which then slides off.
“How’d it go?” Jen says from the kitchen.
“Good. Good. We made it to about 40 minutes, actually 42 minutes”
“Oh good, thanks for taking him” she says with genuine authenticity.
I recognize that every attempt will yield incremental progress. Maybe next month, we’ll make it 45 minutes. And the month after that, maybe even an hour.
“Vaughn, did you like that movie?” I shout at him from the kitchen.
“Yessssssssss” he responds, not looking up from his tablet.
I debate asking him questions about the movie, knowing full well he probably won’t get any of them right. I’d rather just enjoy this moment. I sit down next to Vaughn on the couch and grab the remote. Next month, next month…..