I will admit I was not prepared.
A good friend of mine, a man of steel himself (a fireman), assured me the new Superman movie was absolutely action packed from start to finish. Good to hear, I thought when I read his text, because my spectrum kiddo likes romantic movies just about as much as my fireman friend and neither of them go for that girly-emotional stuff. My spectrum kiddo is a superhero uber-fan and superheroes are his thing but girls and romance are not. He takes the comic books and superheroes seriously. I mean…s-e-r-i-o-u-s-l-y. He knows who they are, knows the back story, he even knows which superhero offended or is in epic battle with another. The boy knows it all but, at thirteen, he still wants to know nothing about girls and romance because both are still entirely gross.
So, truly, sitting in the theater during those first fifteen minutes, the movie that was supposed to be an action-packed-boy’s-paradise hit me like a ton of bricks. I was expecting pecs, abs and biceps, I was expecting good vs. evil, and I was expecting action packed sequences. I was expecting to be wowed but, I’ll be honest, I was not expecting to be emotionally overwhelmed and reduced to a tearful puddle right in my theater seat. Yes, it was sad to watch Laura and Jor-El send their son Kal-El (Clark Kent) into space to find Earth. That scene, though heart wrenching from a momma’s perspective. produced not one tear. I was as cool as a cucumber. And, as a young Superman sat in his classroom, I was thrilled and warmed to the point of smiling as I saw how he seemed to be just one of the kids in a classroom.
And that is the moment I got emotionally whacked and the bottom fell completely out of my composure. I blame it on Clark and his mom really. As a young and sweet pre-Superman boy sat in his lined up desk, in a compulsive row, in a classroom of conformity, his teacher asked him an unexpected question.
He was not focused.
He was not ready.
He was not paying attention because he was overwhelmed by the stimulus around him as his super powers began to surge in a way he was unprepared for. The sounds, the feelings, the sights kicked in and he was frozen by the excess stimulus and he could not answer the teacher who was singling him out with a question. The young actor sliced deep into my memory and the emotional pain I watched take over his face struck me personally because the panic that gripped him was the same expression I used to find on my own boy’s face when he was overwhelmed, gripped by life and his own inability to process what life was throwing at him. And even though my spectrum kiddo was sitting calmly and contentedly beside me, it felt like I was watching my own boy unravel up on the screen.
Autism parents get it and they understand how your heart can rise up like it’s going to break in two when your child is in crisis. In that moment I wished all the Wonder Souls were with me. I knew if The Village was having a movie night and I was with my Wonder Souls, the people who get it, they would have shared that gasp-out-loud moment with me because they would have felt the same deep emotional reflection that I did in their autism parent-soul.
I was frozen as an autism mom because the panic and the fear in the boy’s face was all too familiar to me. And just as familiar to this momma was the confusion on the face of the classmates and teacher as they frowned and asked one other, “What’s wrong with him?” And I screamed inside when the other children and the teacher made no real effort to understand what they were seeing or offer simple comfort to the young and melting down Clark. It was much too real. And just like my boy did during his last sixth grade melt down, sweet and innocent like young Clark, he fled the classroom for anything he could find that was more soothing than the stimulus that was crushing him.
Clark found the comfort and quiet he needed in a closet a few doors down. Lucky for Clark he also has x-ray/ fire vision that he is able to use to cook up the door knob when the teacher tries to open the door and coax him out (my boy would have enjoyed very much having that skill). Clark remained locked in that quieter and more soothing closet until his mother came running breathlessly down the hallway, like all autism mommas and poppas have done at one time or another after receiving that dreaded school phone call. Clark’s mom, like moms everywhere, stopped at nothing to reach her boy and help him like she knew only she could in those desperate crisis moments. And that is exactly what Diane Lane, as Clark’s momma, portrayed so beautifully in the movie. She knew her boy. She pushed past the alienation from the other students and she looked beyond how they saw her boy and, instead, looked into the greatness of what she knew lay within him. She saw the whole child, the brilliant child…no matter what anyone else saw.
She pleads with him to open the door and come out like the teacher has done before her and, at first he refuses. “The world is too big,” he tells her.
And without being silenced by his very honest admission, she absorbs his words and gives back to him the peace he is searching for in a way that only a seasoned momma can.
“Then make it smaller,” she quietly instructs him.
It is the give and take, the negotiating skills, we forge from an early age with our spectrum kiddos that I notice between the two characters. Roll with the punches, hear their words, find a path, and then bring them back down to the calm. His wiring is utterly fried before his mother arrives and he hasn’t yet found his path back to calm. She understands the behavioral complexities that are familiar to the autism parents who navigate through these intricate dances every day…even multiple times a day. When he can’t find his focus, she quietly paves a path for him to step upon and remains calmly committed to his comfort until he can toe the path back to her and take hold of the calm he is seeking.
Somewhere in that exchange of heart and words is where I was blinded by the intimate reflection up on the screen that I know too well. This is precisely the moment when I misplaced my own composure and the tears began to fall among the theater audience. A theater audience that was not filled with my Wonder Souls. The Wonder Souls would have understood the familiarity of the intimacy in this moment because they have stepped into the same dance themselves. They would have heard Diane Lane’s heart lift up into her voice and fill her words with the kind of love that offered her son safety and comfort in his moment of chaos and crisis. The moment when a mother forms a bridge with her words that extends from her heart and into her child’s deepest needs.
That is what Clark’s mother did so beautifully and that is what I felt lightly gasping inside of me as I witnessed on a sterile movie screen how two actors, she and he, had captured a fleeting emotional interchange that so few outside of the Wonder Souls and the autism parents ever see. And I wonder, who helped her capture that? I don’t know that answer but I know somehow they nailed it…perhaps even more than they understand. It’s right about that time when I have this smiling tearful moment as I realize what a close knit alumni group all of us autism parents are. We understand the gasp and how bridges made up of words can touch hearts and we get that the faster we run toward our kiddos after that heart stopping phone call from the school, the quicker we can make the world smaller when they need for their world to shrink down into a conquerable size.
In one of the final moments of this heart reflecting scene, as the boy finally opens the closet door and falls into the safety of his mother’s embrace, he utters his confusion at why he has to be different. I can’t remember the exact words of either character because, by this time, I am a mushy mess. For the most part he makes his comment and his mother, with this ray of utter joy on her face, shows him his own perfection and his brilliance. She confidently assures him of his importance. THAT is when I knew it in my heart… Superman is autistic. How else could they reflect what is in the deepest creases of my soul if he wasn’t? They could not feel these depths unless he was. He is different, he is quirky, he is brilliant and he is not less. He is much, much more. It was perfectly clear to me and I don’t care what anyone else says. Autism grows, it moves and it changes and so did Superman.
Superman is autistic and his mother is a Wonder Soul and no one can convince me otherwise. And thankfully, for my boy who thinks girls and romance are gross, the movie did not disappoint and my man of steel friend was right. My boy saw nothing in the mom and son scene that stirred up his emotions or memories and, true to Superhero standards, Superman carried himself with man-brain decorum that kept the action revved up to super high and the kissing to a severe minimum.
Sparkle On, my friends….you fabulous Wonder Soul alumni that understand all of this like no one else probably will. I also suddenly realize this is why The Village works so well…because we all travel the same paths through our different stories. The same but different. At different paces, different cultures, different time zones, different cities, different philosophies, different names of our children and yet roads that are essentially the same.
And before the fact finders pounce upon me, YES, I get that it’s a movie, he’s not actually diagnosed, she’s not his mother and they are both actors paid to act and get it right and yet, at the same time, knowingly or unknowingly, they nailed it. The two have captured an intimate moment that reflects so deeply into many of us. Do they know it yet? I don’t know. Did they intend to do what they did? Not sure. What I do know is what I saw reflected on that screen rippled so deeply within me that they might as well have ripped their script right out of the corner of my heart. So much so that it made me smile through my tears because just like Clark Kent grew and changed and went on to greatness in the world as Superman, so will my boy. Despite the challenges our spectrum kiddos face as children and adolescents, they too can go on to greatness because if that single letter “S” on Superman’s chest can mean hope, imagine what six letters, starting with “A” and ending with “M” can mean in the lives of our kiddos. Our very own superheroes and, in my heart, I believe those letters stand for brilliance. Absolute brilliance.