"So...do you guys want to go see a movie today?"
For the first time since summer vacation started, I found myself out of ideas. The weather has been wetter and chillier than summers before, and there are only so many hours one can force kids to play video games. (Yes, insert thick sarcasm). The boys were more than happy to spend an afternoon in a movie theater, and I was happy to save a dollar a ticket because it was a Discount Tuesday (love when that happens).
We all had wanted to see the latest Pixar film, Inside Out, so I roped my sister-in-law in along with my niece and nephew, and we settled in with popcorn.
I cried. Hard.
It wasn't just that the story revolved around a young girl dealing with change who happened to be the same age as Ethan (can we say pre-teen?). It wasn't just that the characterization of the emotions working inside the little girl's head gave me perspective as to how Isaac processes moments--sometimes, at a much slower rate and with more of the emotions "arguing" over who gets to call the next response.
It was Joy and Sadness.
The journey of Joy and Sadness was the best part of the movie, and here's why.
As an adult, especially with a child on the spectrum...a child who dislikes crying and change...this journey was a valuable teaching tool. A brilliant one.
If you haven't seen the movie, you'll want to skip this next part...but even if you haven't seen it, and read on, you won't be sorry. See the movie anyway. And take tissues.
Close to the end of the movie, when Joy and Sadness have managed to find their way back to the main control center of the little girl's mind, I watched Isaac out of the corner of my eye. He had been on the edge of his seat the entire movie, even repeating phrases out loud during the film (remember the sensory processing I brought up earlier--he needs to repeat sometimes to "get it.") I watched as he stared, fixed to the giant screen, the light of the movie flickering on his slightly sunburned face from the water park the day before.
This is where Sadness became the hero, and Joy had to take a backseat to running the show.
As a melancholy and an introvert, I'm okay with sadness. I have learned through life's experiences that "...weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning." (Psalm 30:5) There is something so cleansing and refreshing when I can have a good cry. But as a child, one who dislikes tears and sadness in himself and in others, this was a lesson that allowed him to see sadness as a partner with joy, rather than an enemy.
Isaac watched as the little girl succumbed to the sadness of her situation; her memories, her parents, her not-so-great choices. I watched as Isaac took his zipper hoodie and put it over his head. I gently nudged him and whispered, trying not to let him hear the crack in my voice from tears, "Do you want to sit on my lap?" He nodded, looking like a blob under his sweatshirt.
I carefully peeled the sweatshirt from his face, and he turned to me. I couldn't hide the tears in my own eyes, and he looked at me, startled. He didn't speak, but turned to watch the rest of the scene.
The little girl was hugged close by her parents. She nestled into her daddy's chest, and let the tears fall. She stopped pretending everything was okay. And then, inside her head, the emotion of Sadness actually looked happy; relieved, almost...and called Joy over to her side at the control panel. "It's your turn now," she said, and graciously gave over control to Joy. Then, as Joy, surprised and bewildered, took control, we watched the little girl, still in her father's arms, smile with tears on her cheeks.
Isaac looked at me. I smiled with tears on my cheeks.
After the movie, we talked about memories and marbles (each memory the little girl has are portrayed as "marbles" that are filed away in a large library of sorts...each a different color for different emotions experienced at that time--sadness is blue, joy is yellow, etc.). We talked about emotions. Isaac told me has all of those emotions in his head, but "at least a couple more too." And "lots, lots, LOTS, more marbles."
Most importantly, we talked about how sadness is essential to knowing the true value of joy. We will never completely understand joy (contentment, happiness, fulfillment in any circumstance) if we don't realize that we are hurt and broken and in need of hope. Sadness can lead to joy. They can ebb and flow into one another. Our choices determine our emotions, and we alone can put Joy in charge of our thoughts and our actions.
I watch Isaac from across the room now. He catches me looking at him. He smiles a goofy smile and I say to him, "Did you just make a marble?" He laughs. "Yep. A yellow one."
Keep making marbles, and even if they're blue, they'll someday, with hope...lead to joy.