Tag Archives: Carlos

Jumping Monkeys

In a parenting group, a very funny mother posted this commentary about the ridiculous nature of parenting groups (yes, IRONY. But we’re totally different, super cool and laid back):

Ten little monkeys jumping on the bed,
One fell off and bumped his head.
Mama asked the mom group and the mom group said:
Have you tried essential oils? I hear hyperactivity is a vaccine injury. I’m calling CPS.

RIGHT?

After I had my laugh, I rubbed some Vitamin-E on that scar Carlos has on his cheek from the time he slid in his own pee dribbles while getting off the toilet and cut his face on the rim of the trashcan. I felt like the World’s Horriblest Mother after that accident. Yet somehow, the cut gave him a dimple. Who else could turn a pee slip into a beauty mark? That boy is MAGIC.

Trauma induced dimple. (Yes, I know that is not the proper way to secure a helmet. It was corrected before he started juggling machetes.)

Trauma induced dimple. (Yes, I know that is not the proper way to secure a helmet. It was corrected before he started juggling machetes.)

Anywho, now that you’ve been blessed with a photo of The Cutest Little Boy In the ENTIRE WORLD, let me get back to nutjobs who think their kids are the specialist snowflakes of all the special snowflakes.

When I was still pregnant with Vivi, my stepdaughter Victoria sorted through her books and picked a few to pass along to the baby. One of the books was a bright yellow copy of “Ten Little Monkeys” with fingerpuppets for the monkey heads. “I loved that song!” I cried. She and I started reading it together.

Ten little monkeys jumping on the bed, one fell off and bumped his head.

Called up the doctor and the doctor said,

“No more monkeys jumping on the bed!”

 

I blurted, “That’s not how it goes.” Victoria showed me the page. I even flipped a few pages ahead–they were all like that. I figured it was some knock-off Montessori book or something G had picked up in an airport in a foreign land, because every kid born in my generation knows how that rhyme REALLY goes:

Ten little monkeys jumping on the bed, one fell over and broke his head.

Mama called the doctor and the doctor said,

“THAT’S WHAT YOU GET FOR JUMPING ON THE BED.”

Walk it off, monkey. Gravity always wins. Here, bite this stick while we flush it out with Bactine then you can get back to carousing.

Trampoline with no safety cage, no padding. And the ground is littered with dirt.

Trampoline with no safety cage, no padding. And the ground is littered with dirt.

Now that I’ve been parenting actual children for almost a decade, I think the shift in the nursery rhyme reflects the shift in how we parent our kids. The current trend is to shield them from harm–by order of the Department of Health, no more monkeys will be allowed to jump on the bed.

Back in MY day, we were raised with less bubble wrap and more natural consequences–that’s what you get for…fill in the blank. Even the doctor knew it was your own damn fault if you broke your head falling off the bed after your mama had told you 100 times not to be doing that in the first place.

I had every intention of being the kind of mother who can lord it over the others in on-line mothering groups. While I was still percolating my first baby I was already reading hand-me-down copies of Mothering magazine about the proper way to grow, preserve, pulverize and compost my own organic food for my child. I tied myself up in a ring sling and smeared medical grade lanolin on my nipples and it wasn’t even Valentines Day. My kids would be raised with every bit of Mother Henning I could muster. They would suffer no trauma, not even a mild inconvenience.

Then some actual parenting hit and I find myself letting my kids teach themselves more and more of those lessons that only make it into our brains the hard way.

So what about you? Were you taught no more monkeys jumping on the bed or that’s what you get for jumping on the bed? Or did your mom rub some essential oils on your head and file a lawsuit against the mattress manufacturer?

Hang on tight buddy. That ground is hard.

Hang on tight buddy. That ground is hard.

Making Pie From Pumpkin Guts

I made my first homemade pumpkin pie today. It seemed like the most effcient way to put away Halloween decorations, since I didn’t feel like climbing the ladder into the attic. I took a couple of the small pumpkins off the front steps and roasted them.

Scooping out the seeds and stringy guts of the pumpkins reminded me of a story my friend Edna told 20 years ago. The first time she decided to make a pumpkin pie from scratch, she cut open the pumpkin and all she found inside was that stringy mess…so she picked all the seeds out and used that stuff my kids call the “pumpkin guts” to make her pie. I wish y’all could hear Edna tell this story in her Glenville, Georgia accent. She said, “Welllll, I just kept adding more seasoning and blending it and blending it. It turned out OK, I guess, not too bad.” I think it was one of her sisters who explained to her how you have to cook the pumpkin to get to the part that actually makes the pie. She was trying to make pie out of the part you’re supposed to throw away.

Edna’s story made me smile today, but it also taught me a little lesson. Sometimes we get in a rut and just assume that life is supposed to be THIS hard. That we’re supposed to be making the most out of the stringy guts. That this really is as good as it gets. At the beginning of this year, when I was having so much trouble getting Carlos into an after school program, it turned out that the root of the problem was one person had said one thing to me that was incorrect. When I asked the nice lady behind the desk if after school could make accommodations for my son’s IEP (special ed plan), she said, “Oh, we don’t take kids with special needs. We just don’t have the staff.” Instead of saying, “That can’t be right,” and taking things up a level to her manager, I just assumed that life is supposed to be this difficult when it comes to my boy. And that’s wrong-headed. That’s trying to make pie out of pumpkin guts.

We put so much effort into turning that piddly stuff into a sweet and savory dessert, when the real stuff is so close, right there waiting to be used. Then a friend comes along and says, “Oh, honey! Let me show you a trick.” And you finally learn how pumpkin pie out of pumpkin instead of pumpkin guts. In my case, that whole problem got sorted out because I happened to bump into the principal at the school where Carlos was supposed to be and when she asked me in passing, “How are you today?” I told her the truth–not too good and a little pissed off. She stopped in her tracks and asked if there was any way she could help. I explained that one of her employees had told me that the after school program didn’t take kids with IEPs. She immediately apologized and figured out the employee’s mistake–that student worker had misunderstood. The after school program can’t make accommodations for kids with IEPs, like no student aides or special equipment, but they certainly TAKE kids with IEPs. We got it sorted out in a few minutes and Carlos loves his after school time.

I learned how to make pumpkin pie with PUMPKIN instead of pumpkin guts. I needed a little help with figuring it out, just like Edna. And just like Edna, I was doing my best to make something out of the stringy parts, something that looked like my goal.

Anywho. Vivi decided we should make pumpkin tarts instead of one big pie. I told her to put pecans on top of a few of them. She made faces. I hooted when we pulled them from the oven because they really look like how I feel sometimes:

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Never Mind

This post has been sitting in my Drafts folder since October 26 of last year. The note said, “I keep thinking I will open the teacher’s report and it will say, ‘Never Mind! He’s fine!'” For the last two years, I’ve been waiting for someone to study my son and his behavior and pronounce: “You have just been imagining this! Never mind!” or “Wellll…we thought we saw something, but turns out…Never mind!”

“Never mind” wipes out the whole problem. It never existed. But I couldn’t bring myself to write about my dream of hearing “never mind” because I kept hearing “Can you come get Carlos from daycare? He’s throwing chairs and hitting the teacher.” For months, I flinched every time my phone rang at work. I saw how he kept to himself in his classroom, while clusters of kids playing nicely together swirled around him. I cringed every time he had a full-on screaming meltdown because the toilet flushed automatically at McDonald’s or the brakes on the school bus hissed and squealed.

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His pediatrician, the one who first said we should get him evaluated for autism, told me “I don’t thing he has it…but get him evaluated.” The first psychologist said, “Well, if he has it, it’s not too bad?” And another one said, “Can’t rule it out but can’t quite put my finger on it.” When I took Carlos back to the pediatrician and confessed that I was feeling overwhelmed with it, he said, “We don’t run from this.” I knew what he meant, but all I could think was, “What exactly am I running towards?”

I gave up on hearing “Never mind” and started assuming we would hear a “Yep, that’s what we’re looking at.” I wanted to know exactly his coordinates on the spectrum and what we could do based on those coordinates.

He started Pre-K and those behaviors disappeared or diminished. He sits quietly on the rug and listens to story time. He wears headphones around loud noises and they don’t bother him. He even has a friend at school. His special ed teacher stopped me a few weeks after school had begun and said, “I’m not seeing the behaviors that are mentioned in his IEP.” I braced myself to finally hear it, for her to wave her hands and say, “Never mind! He’s fine!” Then she said, “Welllll…actually, yeah, let’s keep these goals. I’ve been seeing a little more now that he’s settling in.”

ARGH. We had gotten THIS CLOSE to “Never mind!” and it slipped away.

A label shouldn’t matter–he’s still my kid. I know him better than any other person in the world knows him. Still, I wanted something to Google, something to put a check box next to all these worries so that I could tell myself, “This is The Answer. Now you can rest a little.”

So almost 2 years after this journey started, we finally got The Big Evaluation at the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta. We submitted pages and pages of answers to every question about every distant cousin who had so much as a snaggle tooth. We sent in school forms, audiologist reports, IEP evaluations.

For two hours, the chipper autism expert talked to us about Carlos and watched him as he played. Then she spent time interacting with him–blowing bubbles, taking turns, quizzing him about letters, asking him to draw, telling jokes, giving him bottles to open, tapping his knee with a hammer, looking in his ears, giving him a rubber snake to play with, cajoling him into sitting back in the little red chair for  few more minutes–and all the while scoring his responses on her sheets of paper. After a while, he got so used to the routine that when she asked him a question and he answered it, he pointed to her sheet and said, “Put a check mark!”

We all laughed at that. He got a lot of check marks.

Finally, she tallied up a few columns and typed a little into the computer. She turned to us and said, “We’re not looking at anything on the autism spectrum here.”

Wait…whut?

“Any difference that he has is really not that significant. He’s 56 months old and on these verbal inventories, he’s scoring at about 51 months, so he’s making great progress since his last evaluation.”

G and I just sat there staring at her. Carlos pressed the button on the yellow school bus toy over and over.

She talked more about pragmatic speech (the meaning of what’s being said) and he seemed to be absolutely fine in that aspect. Fluency, the ease with which we produce speech, appeared to be the root of Carlos’ speech delay. And he’s catching up on fluency.

G asked if we should get more speech therapy than what he’s already getting and school and she shook her head. “If he regresses in any way, come back to see us, but short of that…I don’t think you need to worry about it.”

You mean, “Never mind?”

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Let Me Be the Baby For a Little While Longer

I told a little lie to my baby Sunday morning as I got ready to leave for the day.

“Where you goin’ Mama?” I didn’t want to tell him that I was going to see Papa and Nana. To him, “Nana and Papa’s house” means cousins in the swimming pool, four doggies, popsicles, searching for eggs in the chicken coop, and that drawer full of Jackson’s old Transformers and race cars. But this summer hasn’t been like that.

“I’m going to get gas…” then under my breath I mumbled, “first.” I’m going to get gas first then I’m going to see Papa in the Rehab hospital.

After a long drive and a little bit of crying after listening to Dan Savage tell a story on “This American Life” about when his mom died, I got there. But I sat in the parking lot and checked my phone. I finished my glass of tea. I cleaned a couple of receipts out of my purse. I checked my phone again. Played a game of Scrabble. The parking lot was busier than I’d seen before. Lots of people still in church clothes headed for the entrance doors. I sat there as the minutes ticked by.

I’m 46 years old, but I wanted to be the baby for a little while longer. I just couldn’t summon enough adult to walk through the doors and see how my dad is doing. I don’t want to deal with this.

Image courtesy Pixabay

Image courtesy Pixabay

Last time I visited, my sister was in town, so I got to walk beside her like I’ve done for so much of my life. I feel safer when I’m with her–she takes care of things. She’s got no qualms about the smell of Purell or the inelegant details of illness. She’s used to being in charge and I am used to letting her be in charge. But she’s in Bolivia on a surgical mission. And I’m sitting in the parking lot acting like a baby.

Twenty one years ago, my Grandmama Eunice was in this same building. We called it “the nursing home” then. I had gone over to visit Daddy and Big Gay one Sunday in February and Daddy said, “Come on and ride over with me. Mama would love to see you.” So we went, and I walked through the entrance doors next to him and let him handle things. I remember that day so vividly, because it was the last time I saw her. She lay in bed wearing that surprised look she had in her last few months. I knew she had given up on living that day because it was the first time in my life I ever saw her without lipstick and with some gray roots showing in her hair. I remember picking up a photo of one of my Florida cousins that was propped in her window sill. “What’s Jeff’s baby’s name?” I asked her. She couldn’t recall.

Just as Daddy and I were getting ready to leave that day, Grandmama Eunice reached out her thin hand and held on to Daddy’s arm. “I haven’t had a letter from your father and I’m starting to worry.” Daddy’s face got that surprised look on it that we all seemed to be wearing as we figured out this part of life.

“Mama, Daddy died back in 1965. Remember, he was in a car wreck with Mr….” Her hand fluttered up to the side of her face before he finished and she shook her head like she was being silly. She even smiled a little with embarrassment.

I kissed her on the cheek. We said our goodbyes. As we were walking down the hall, I told Daddy, “I didn’t know she was losing her memory.” He said, “Yeah, it comes and goes more lately. A couple of days ago, she told me that when she gets out of here, we need to find a house closer to town because Evelyn can’t be walking that far to school.” Grandmama Eunice was the oldest, and Evelyn was her baby sister. Even though Evelyn was in her 80s at the time, something fluid in Grandmama’s mind had her talking to her grown-up baby boy about her baby sister.

On the drive back to the house that day, Daddy and I were riding along in silence down a long straight stretch of piney highway. It was the middle of the afternoon on a sunny cold day. Before I even noticed anything moving, Daddy pointed at the windshield and barked, “DEER!” A good-sized doe bounded out of the pine woods and slammed into the truck in front of us.

She limped across the highway and collapsed into the ditch on the other side of the road, still trying to run. The black truck pulled over and we pulled over in front of him. Daddy reached under the seat for his pistol. I sat there stunned at how quickly this man who had spent most of his life tending to animals knew that there was no fixing this. He stepped out of the truck and called to the driver who had hit the deer. “You need any help?” He held up the gun so the man could see it.

“Naw, I got it. Thank you.” The man lifted a deer rifle from the rack in the back of his pickup as a teenage boy climbed out the passenger side. This was rural Georgia after all. Most of the venison we ate when I was a kid was killed with my dad’s truck on the back roads he traveled to make veterinary calls. He once got two in one season without ever firing a bullet.

Daddy got back in his truck and we went on our way. “It’s not normal for deer to be running this time of day. Something must have been chasing her.” I couldn’t think of a thing to say.

That story was going through my mind today as I sat in the parking lot. I needed to summon up the courage to be an adult, to know what needs doing and do it. But I sat there wishing I could be that baby for a little while longer. My daddy’s baby. He was Grandmama Eunice’s baby, I’m his baby, Carlos is my baby.

I went inside and we had a great visit. Told stories and made jokes. When his nurse came in for vitals, he introduced me and said, “She’s gonna be an author. I’m really proud of her.”

It was a long day, but a good one. When I got home after dark, G had the Littles in the tub with suds piled up on their heads.

As I put on my pajamas, Carlos, wrapped in a red striped towel, climbed up on the big bed. “Let’s have a pillow fight, Mama.” So we did. “Tickle me firty times, Mama.” And I did. “What’s dis spell, Mama?” He pointed to the cover of Jenny Lawson’s new book. “H-A-P-P-Y…that spells Happy.”

In that moment my little baby, I accepted that this is the way it has to work. Babies have to grow up but they always stay the baby. She loved him, he loves me, I love mine. And that will never change.

Dharwadia India

Image courtesy Pixabay

Learning to Breathe Air

Saturday morning, Carlos and I checked on the science project we’ve got going on the deck.

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I eased the brown plastic cover all the way off of his sandbox and propped it against the railing. Twenty little tadpoles flitted across the surface of the rainwater that has collected in there during the last part of summer. The water is nice and clear, but nice and brown too. Every few days, we throw some vegetable matter in there for them to nibble on. They like grapes. There’s shade and sun and room to practice swimming. The cats and the birds haven’t bothered them. Yet.

“Oh, look how much they’ve grown, Carlos!”

He leaned over towards the surface. “They gwowin, Mama!” He parrots what I say often. He’s learning so many new words.

“This one’s got legs!” I named that tadpole Lieutenant Dan–because he’s got new legs. I didn’t try to explain it to Carlos. He’s never made it through Forrest Gump.

"Lieutenant Dan! You got new legs!"

“Lieutenant Dan! You got new legs!”

If our shadows crossed the water, the tadpoles darted away to the safe end of the sandbox. I took a piece of pinestraw and stirred the water gently.

“Look how the big ones are hanging out right at the top of the water.”

“What they doin’ Mama?”

“They’re learning to breathe. Well, they’re learning to breathe air for when they live on land instead of in the water.”

“They breevin’ air.”

Lieutenant Dan flicked his tail and skittered a few inches away from my pinestraw. His tiny legs just hung there while his tail did all the work.

It got me to thinking about how the tadpole doesn’t know that these changes are happening. It doesn’t wake up one day and think, “Alright, today’s THE DAY. I’m gonna get me some LEGS today! Better start practicing breathing the air because I’ve got big plans for these LEGS!” That tadpole spends every day just being a tadpole. Then one day he’ll be a frog. “Gradually, then all at once,” as Hemingway said.

I spend so much of my life trying to anticipate what comes next, trying to make sure that I am ready. I try to ensure that nothing will take me by surprise, while all the while I have no idea what is coming. All this anxiety that stems from prepping for…something.

Going from breathing water to breathing air. What is it in the tadpole that pushes him up towards the top of the water, to that other world? Is it air pressure or the angle of the sun or the buoyancy in his changing body? The tadpole has to change. It has to grow and adapt to a radically different world. But it does that simply by living each minute. The change happens to the tadpole, not because of the tadpole. (This is where my therapist would clear her throat and raise one eyebrow in my general direction.)

Every one of us made the same transition. In the womb, our tiny lungs are filled with amniotic fluid. Then we leave that quiet ocean and the pressure of the atmosphere forces itself into our lungs. We answer the surprise of that invisible weight and the rush of our own blood flowing with our first great wail. The first time we comment on this world is the first time we breathe air.

Even if we never knew it was time to practice.

The Apple and The Tree

There was zero chance that this week would go smoothly for Carlos. Too much change happening at once. He’s moving up and moving on from the school he has attended since he was 3 months old. He started off cranky today and it went downhill from there.

And if I’m being honest, I’m having some trouble with my feelings, too. Neither of us handles change very easily. Each time he has moved rooms–from babies to crawlers to walkers to twos to big kids–my heart has clenched up in fear that he’s going to hit a bad spot and fail to thrive.

He’s reached the end of the hallway–his time at this school is ending. It really hit me yesterday. The teachers are switching out the door decorations and the displays in the hall. Time for a “back to school” theme with a tree and a basket of apples under the tree, with each kid’s name done in glitter on the construction paper apple. Carlos’ apple was tucked in his cubby, brand new and never to be hung on the wall.

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He’s switching all the way to pre-K. We both are. I’m going to miss these kids so much. There’s Addy, who has been my friend since the day I saw her through her tears. There’s Sid, the Christmas Kid. Maggie who gives me hugs every day. Patrick and William and Magnus and Jonathan and Crawford–a pack of little blond boys who are hard to tell apart. Bailey and Emmie and Arly and Alya, who all want to be Elsa. Charlie, who reports to me every day whether Carlos has behaved himself.

Carlos and I were both out of sorts today when we arrived. I think it showed, because when Addy turned to wave at me, she said, “Hi! Your hair looks pretty today! Hi! You look pretty! Hi!”

The kids were coloring starfish and shells, ready to make a sandy scene on some ocean blue paper. Except for Carlos. He yelled and curled into a ball. The noise startled him and I think he was mad that it wasn’t outside time. I tried to cajole him, convince him, persuade him to sit in his seat at the lady bug table and participate. He wasn’t having it. I rubbed his back while he flopped on the circle rug. I followed him to the trucks center and told him to join the group. Nope. Not happening. No way.

So I detached from the struggle and sat my own butt down in his tiny blue chair at the lady bug table. I handed out crayons and marveled over the lovely coloring that each child had done. Tiny, dark-eyed Alya showed me her careful purple starfish. I told her that purple is one of my favorite colors. Carlos came over to see what we were doing, but yelled when I spoke to him. I sighed and shook my head.

Alya caught my eye and said, “Carlos is being…very Carlosy today.”

Yes, yes he is. This class of kids is used to seeing my kid pitch a fit, throw a tantrum, melt it down. I’m sure some of them will be relieved that his noise will be somewhere else.

But he’s doing his best. He’s just…Carlosy. Thank you, tiny girl, for reminding me to see my son for himself. He’s being Carlosy and I was being too Ashleyish to remember that. Poor kid has A LOT going on. End of summer, linguistic leaps, new school, friends leaving. He’s still learning how to navigate the world of groups and sometimes coloring is just too much to ask.

We’ll get used to a new classroom and a new routine. I’ll make some friends among the new kids in pre-K and Carlos will too. We’ll both probably kick and fuss a bit and express our anxiety in different ways, but we’ll figure it out. After all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

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He’s Not Going to Fall

Carlos went to the movies for the first time tonight. Well, it was the first time he’s made it into the theater and watched an entire movie. I tried once before when he really wanted to see “Planes,” but the overwhelming noise from the previews scared the life out of him. Fifteen bucks for us to sit in the parking lot and eat popcorn that was still warm. Tonight, I brought along his magic headphones but braced myself for a meltdown nonetheless.

movie2I scored an invite through work to a sneak preview of the new Carmike Ovation theater in Athens (they remodeled the old theater on Lexington Hwy). We planned to go as a family, but G ended up taking Vivi to OTHER theater on the far side of town…so yeah. It was just Carlos and me on the red carpet. If the reporters ask, he’s wearing a shirt by Superman, shorts from the Target $5 mix and match counter, and a pair of shark sandals that light up. Oh, and he’s got on Marvel Avengers underwear, the ones with Hulk on the butt.

Ovation features in-theater dining and nothing keeps my boy happily in his seat like a big ole plate of french fries and a tall glass of lemonade, delivered right to our seats during the movie. I got myself an $8 glass of wine (served in a lovely mini-carafe and stemless glass) and a plate of Greek feta fries. I’d tell you what was on them but we were eating in the dark. There was something lemony, something feta-ish, something aiolish, and a thinly sliced herb that was probably basil. Way better than popcorn. Each wide leather seat has a table, a light, and a cupholder. I sat on the edge of my seat, waiting for Carlos to lose it.

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I leaned in close to whisper, “Do you need to go potty?” He shook his head, clamped in the grip of pink headphones. “Hold your drink with two hands, please.” He bent the straw down and nodded. His eyes never left the screen as a little bear who loved orange marmalade left the jungle of “darkest Peru” and made his way to London.

I first met Paddington Bear almost forty years ago, when my childhood friend Mollie got one straight from London when her dad flew there. Mollie had the most glamorous collection of toys–her dad was a Delta pilot so she had dolls from every country he visited. I remember her bringing Paddington to my house for sleepovers. In his blue coat with the wooden toggle buttons, and his slouchy red felt hat, Paddington was a toy from out in The Big Wide World that I had never seen.

Carlos finished his fries and let out a giant burp, then announced in that “I’m wearing headphones so I can’t tell that I’m speaking really loudly” way: “MOMMY! I BURPED!” We need to work on the whole whispering thing.

movie5I quit worrying after that and sank into this new thing that I can enjoy with my son. He’s growing up. He’s getting used to the world. For so much of his short life, we’ve kept him sheltered from crowds and noises and craziness, because they made him so miserable. But hiding from the world isn’t any way to live. It turns out, this kid loves an adventure. Instead of sheltering him from the noiser parts of life, I’m learning ways to help him cope.

He wasn’t afraid of the wild chase scene or the explosion in the kitchen. He didn’t get concerned when Paddington ran away into the rainy wilderness of London (Vivi would have been in my lap sobbing by then). He didn’t flinch at the site of the taxidermy knives or get worried when Mr. Brown climbed out on a ledge during the rescue. (Should I have said Spoiler Alert? This movie is 6 months old.)

My son was so chill about his first movie that I actually got to relax and enjoy the story, too. In the climactic scene, Paddington tries to escape the evil lady by climbing up an incinerator chute. As he nears the top and his climbing mechanism fails, I squeaked and yipped along with the kids.

That’s when a little girl in the row behind us shouted in a comforting way, “HE’S NOT GOING TO FALL!” The entire theater giggled with relief.

She was right–Paddington didn’t fall. He found a family. And the family found their joy again. When the evil lady got her just desserts, Carlos turned to me with a smile and said, “She’s the bad guy!”

He’s not going to fall. My boy is going to fly. He’ll find his way in The Big Wide World.

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