Over the weekend we took the kids to see Captain America: Civil War in 3D IMAX. They were so, so excited — we are big Avengers fans over here.
I actually was not that thrilled — I really wanted to see this movie, but I just don’t love 3D. I have a hard time focusing my eyes on the screen when there’s so much going on. But Matt loves it and the kids wanted to see it, so I was fine with it.
About ten minutes into the movie, Gabe, who was sitting next to me, leaned over almost in tears and whispered that his stomach hurt. I looked at him and he was curled in a ball in his seat, making himself as small as he could. I offered to take him to the restroom.
Actually, he said, his eyes hurt too. And his head.
I had spent the first ten minutes of the movie alternately opening and closing my eyes, struggling to adjust my focus so I could take in what was happening on the screen. I periodically closed both eyes for thirty seconds or so, just trying to get some relief from the overwhelming visuals. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I could make it through 2+ hours of 3D. I wondered if Gabe was maybe having the same issues.
I asked Gabe if he thought the movie was bothering him. Yes, he practically sobbed.
Gabe has always had a different physical interpretation of the world. He is very tactile and he feels things more than his siblings — he’s just a little more sensitive to sensory stimuli. Always has been, probably always will be. I could only imagine how difficult a time he was having processing the immense amount of visual and audio stimulation coming from the enormous IMAX-sized 3D screen and the surround sound that was literally vibrating our chairs.
Leaning back, I looked at him and he looked like he was trying to protect himself from being hit; his entire posture looked battered and under assault. He was absolutely not enjoying the movie.
I told him I would take him out. Right then if he wanted; he just had to tell me what he would like to do.
He said no at first; he told me he didn’t want me to miss the movie. I told him I didn’t care at all about that. He said he wanted to try to stick it out a bit longer.
It was a smart move in a way, because he’s been in these situations before where an onslaught of stimuli freaked him out, but then he was able to adjust and adapt and settle down and ended up enjoying himself. When Matt was in the hospital last week and we went in to see him, Gabe was shaking like a leaf and white as a ghost, completely upset by the whole hospital atmosphere and the fact that Matt was hooked up to IVs. The other three kids were more interested in what Matt had on his lunch tray and seemed completely oblivious to the rest of it. When we were in Italy we took a boat trip to Capri one day and Gabe spent the first thirty minutes hunched over crying and refusing to look at anything but the floor in front of him, but then he relaxed, overcame his anxiety, and spent the rest of the time happy and moving around the boat. I thought maybe Gabe just needed a bit longer to get comfortable.
A few minutes later he had his sweatshirt hood pulled up over his head, his fingers in his ears, and his face buried in my shoulder. To be honest, I was still having trouble with the images on the screen, too — every scene change, particularly from from dark to light, had me cringing back into my seat, trying to press myself away from the screen. If I was still overwhelmed, I knew he was too.
I told Matt what was going on, asked the other kids if they wanted to stay or go, and out Gabe and I went.
Stepping out of the dark, loud theater into the quiet, dimly lit movie foyer was such an immense relief, I felt it in my bones. Gabe did too; everything about his body language changed and relaxed.
He was worried though, that there was something wrong with his reaction. Why did it make him so uncomfortable when his sister and younger brothers seemed fine? We talked about how different brains and different bodies interpret the world around them in different ways and how there was not one “right way” and one “wrong way”. I pointed out that I had had a lot of trouble with it too, so it wasn’t just his brain that didn’t like what was going on. We talked about how being sensitive might come in handy — it may help you make less dangerous choices because you think a little more carefully about what’s going on around you. And we talked about how he could handle it in the future if he was invited to see another movie like that.
It is always interesting to see how different children react to the same event, and it was a huge learning moment for both Matt and I and for Gabe. Although it was really uncomfortable and not enjoyable while he was in the theater, Gabe learned something important about himself and he’ll be able to use that information in the future. As parents, Matt and I also added important information to our parenting playbook. The experience wasn’t all bad.
And Gabe and I have a date next week to go see the movie in a normal theater. 3D movies are not for everyone.
Have you ever had an experience like that where one child just reacted to something in a completely unexpected and different way? How did you handle it?
Also, here are the things I love most about Gabe.