Sunday, August 24, 2014

Two Boys

We cracked open the door to the small, blessedly air-conditioned auditorium and found seats. The kids crunched on popcorn and sipped cool drinks as we gazed expectantly at the stage, where a "show" complete with animatronic farm creatures (and apparently farm fruits and vegetables as well), was about to begin.

I am not usually a big fan of these shows. We were at Storyland in New Hampshire. Picture Disney Land with no budget. It's a sweet place for kids say, 10 and under. There's the Fairy Tale section where you can visit the Three Little Bears' house or the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. There are kiddie rides and water rides and a cool new roller coaster to attract the older ones. The weather was fabulous and we were having fun; just hot and needing a break. So we ducked in to watch singing vegetables. I inwardly rolled my eyes wondering how long this was going to last.

Then I saw them, in the front row, off to the side and sitting angled so I could see them a bit better than everyone else in the front. I saw him first; the man in the wheelchair. He must have been close to fifty years old; perhaps with cerebral palsy or something that kept him in the chair and able to move his hands in a typical way; unable to speak the way most middle-aged adults would. What had to be his parents, both in their seventies, sat on either side of him, protectively. The mom gave him a small cloth so that he'd have something to hold and pull with his hands.

The show started, and it was every bit as corny as I knew it would be...singing tomatoes; a feisty blackbird; a cow telling bad jokes; some kind of slightly creepy scarecrow leading the whole thing.

The show excited the man in the chair. Only, the way he knew how to show his excitement was by rocking back and forth. His mother looked over at him, pleased, as if she'd brought him to a hundred shows like this. She had that knowing smile, that this is my son and I know my son and I know exactly what makes him happy.

I wondered, then. I wondered how many times they'd come here. How many times had they pushed their son-turned-man through this park, past the Cinderella Castle and the swan paddle boats, past the spinning Tea Cups he could not ride and the lemonade stands and kids dancing in the splash pad and the Three Little Pigs? I didn't know. They could have been on vacation and just visiting the area. But something told me more likely not.

In the middle of the show, the side door opened and in came another family. A grandfatherly type was pushing a boy in a wheelchair who had to be maybe eight. They walked in just past the other family and sat down, right in the front row. Before they'd turned him to face the stage, I'd caught a glimpse of the boy's face; eyes happy, eager to see the show. He was the kind of boy Anna would have thought (although she'd be embarrassed to admit to her parents) was cute. He had a backpack slung over the handles of the chair. I stared at it, completely forgetting the farm show and its messages about needing sun and rain for fruits and veggies to grow.

The older man had gotten agitated for a moment. He began to rise out of his chair in an uneven manner, seeming uncomfortable. His dad tried to gently calm him as he looked around anxiously, with that glance that unmistakably said Is he disrupting people and How can I get him to calm down? He talked soothingly, quietly to his son, and the son sat back down. Relief filled the father's tired eyes.

I saw then the fatigue. The subtle hunch of both parents' shoulders. The weariness. The lines in their faces worn not just by age but by the work, day in and day out, of caring for their son, and yes, perhaps the wondering: We can't do this forever. What then for him?

The mother glanced for a moment over at the little boy in the wheelchair on the other side of her. She gave him a quick smile that he didn't notice. He was too busy watching the show.

The father gave the son the cloth again, to calm his busy hands. His eyes looked all around. I wondered how and what he was seeing; what he was thinking.

I knew when his parents looked at him, they saw not only the graying of his temples, but also someone like the boy just a few feet away. To a parent, in an instant years melt away and they see every stage of us; see us right to our core; remember our big eyes and innocence. They see what the rest of the world can't quite make out anymore.

I wished that elderly mother and father knew that they had been seen. I wished they knew they were being watched not with pity but with awe. I wished they knew they were sweet, precious reminders of the unending flow of unconditional love.

The curtain went down; the animatronics fell silent. Someone pushed the young boy ahead to meet the zany scarecrow. Behind, the mother, father, and son pushed in the chair held back; waited for others to go ahead. I wondered where they'd go next, in this park full of preschoolers chasing fairy tale dreams.

Outside, the sky was low in the sky, low near the mountains all around. And for a moment, everything was absolutely beautiful.


Deenie said...

This put a sweet and slightly sad tear in my eye.

Kim said...

Beautifully written.