Monday, January 30, 2012

Film Review: A Smile as Big as the Moon

Last night, we watched the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, "A Smile as Big as the Moon" as a family.

Now, I'm a regular watcher of Hallmark Hall of Fame specials, but usually I'm on my own for them.  But as soon as Dylan saw that it was a movie about kids going to space camp, he was all in.

Although it was a school night, and therefore a "no TV" night, I felt that I had to let him watch it.  I'm glad I did.

The movie is about a special ed class that goes to the Space Camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsvill, Ala.  

I was a little worried at the very beginning of the movie, when they introduced the cast of characters.  The class included kids with autism, Down's syndrome, and Oppositional Defiant Disorder...and several with various aspects of ADHD.  I worried how Dylan would feel with ADHD kids being separated from the rest of the school population in the story.

I needn't have worried.  To the contrary, he was so thrilled and excited that there were kids represented in the movie who were like him.  I think he actually identified with all the kids.

The film takes place in the late '80s, when special ed was the class at the back of the hall, the kids you rarely saw and certainly didn't relate with or to.  It was before (just before) ADA was enacted, before No Child Left Behind, before inclusion became commonplace.

Based on a real story, this particular class of kids was blessed to have a teacher who saw beyond their disabilities.  Instead of seeing what he couldn't do, he saw a classroom of individuals who CAN do.  And despite a less than stellar experience at the local planetarium, he gets it into his head that "his" kids could go to space camp.

No one is initially in favor it, including Space Camp, but he never gives up on the idea and eventually brings everyone around to it with him.

Several months pass between the time he convinces Space Camp and the kids actually go to camp.  In the interim, the kids have to work on projects, memorize codes, build models, and learn to work together.  As you might expect, the group of kids includes definite "types."  The angry, ODD kid; the gentle giant; the girl who is picked on; the rebel; etc.  By the time they go to Space Camp, you can see that there will be a crisis, but they will overcome it.

Knowing what would happen and the formula for the film don't take away from the story.  You want these kids to succeed and, especially, to show the "normal" kids that they can excel.  John Corbett as the lead character, Michael Kersjes, delivers a great speech about how these kids have imagination and strengths and are way more than the sum of their parts.

Hallmark Hall of Fame movies almost always have some sort of a happy ending and this one was no different.  The kids are confronted with challenges at Space Camp, they have early success, then they hit a wall.  The rebel stands and lives up to his potential, and leads the group to a strong finish.  

It is an expected and satisfying conclusion.

Dylan was swept along with the story from beginning to end.  He cheered when the teacher talked about the kids' imagination.  He stuck up for them when they were bullied.  He pumped his fists in the air when they won awards at the final night of space camp.  It was thoroughly life affirming for him and just what he - maybe we all - needed:  Belief that even amidst all the struggles with his ADHD, he CAN do.  He CAN live his dreams.  Even if he is different, he is not alone.

A lot has changed since the original story began.  Space Camp now has a regular program for kids with disabilities.  For better or worse, most kids with disabilities are mainstreamed into regular classrooms.  And while bullying most certainly continues, it's not condoned or overlooked...usually, at least.

The actors in the film are all believable and likeable, including the kids.  I don't know how many really have the disabilities portrayed in the film, if any besides the kid with Down syndrome, but all do a good job presenting the disorders they represent.

It's so positive to see kids who are different represented in a positive light on TV.  So often ADD is used as short hand on TV, short hand for the spacey, flighty character.  It's a slam, never a complement.  It's never presented as a positive.  It's validating for a young child like Dylan to see these kids presented in a positive light, with, yes, downsides to their disorders, but big pluses as well.  The gentle giant, with autism, puts a huge model together overnight.  The kid with Down syndrome can swim like a fish.  What a great message not just for kids with these differences, but for all kids, all parents.

Our kids, these kids, need to dream.  For every negative to their disorders, there is a positive that they can build on.  The world needs to see that, teachers need to see that, and we parents need to see it, too.  We need to help our kids believe just like Mike Kersjes helped his kids believe. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Ref

I need to start wearing stripes.  Something like this:

I am the Ref.  The Referee.  She who must intervene.

It's always been that way.  Even though, Lord knows, I have my bad days with Dylan, it's always been a battle between him and RockStar. 

Considering that even RockStar suspects he has undiagnosed ADHD, it's almost funny that they are like oil and vinegar.

But they have always been like that - two elements that want to be together, but spontaneously combust when they are.

From the time he was just a little guy, Dylan preferred for me to read to him. He'd whine, asking why I had to go to work, to Jazzercise, to anywhere.   

"Daddy will be here.  He'll play with you."

"I don't want to play with Daddy."

I don't even consider myself the especially fun parent. It's not like I'm always willing to put Legos together or play whatever make-believe scenario Dylan is acting out today. RockStar is the one who will get into a good light saber fight.  Or tickle Dylan. While I cringe, because I know.

This will not end well.

It never does. At some point, Dylan has had enough and he'll get back.  And start to cry. And it will go from so fun to so bad faster than you can say Darth Vader. 

It's almost as if they are both too much for each other. 

It's been a bad week to be a ref.  Dylan's been out of orbit, even back on the Metadate. Doing adequately well at school, but the picture of hyperactivity at home, which is all the more amazing since his original diagnosis was inattentive type only.  (More on that one day.)

It's hard to rope a tornado and get him to sit and do homework after he's been sitting and doing schoolwork all day. It's hard for me, but I make it happen by being a cross between a cheerleader and a prison guard. A mind meld of Katie Couric and Jack Bauer.  And on the whole it works.  Some homework gets done and no blood is drawn...usually.

But RockStar is all Jack Bauer. "Do it now." 

At least he hasn't resorted to cutting off fingers.


I don't know if it's worse when I'm here or when I walk into it. 

In theory, we split morning shifts of getting Dylan up, going, and out the door. But I'm still physically here, in the same house, getting my own self ready. And more often than not, I get roped into the drama du jour. 

"Daddy didn't say please!" 

"Yes, he did, Dylan.  The first time he asked."

"Daddy just expects me to be able to teleport." 

"No, he just wants you to get dressed." 

"Daddy's being so mean to me.  He won't even listen."

I can't entirely disagree with that last part. RockStar really doesn't want to listen. He just wants Dylan to do what he wants him to, end of story.  Not that I don't, but I think I have a bit more...finesse in getting him to do it.  

For starters, I almost always use a timer.  The Time Timer, in fact, which is an ap on my iPhone.  RockStar doesn't have an iPhone and he's not too technical to begin with. Beyond that, he just doesn't like all the games and contrivances. He just wants Dylan to get dressed. Or eat. Or go to bed. Whatever it is.  

Of course, when I want the front deck painted, or chicken wire put up around our shed to keep our dog from going under it, or an oil change, "Do it now" becomes "Do it whenever." They really are so much alike.  

At night, when I come home later from Jazzercise, there's usually so much tension in the room, I could slice it up and cook it for dinner.  (That would be a really tough piece of meat.) And when I do, it's the same patter from Dylan about how RockStar is so mean. Next thing you know, he wants me to read to him, nevermind that I've read to him for the past three nights. 

"But I like how you read better." 

Not so long ago, he would have loudly said, "But I love you more."

Gee, thanks, Dylan. I'm sure Daddy loved hearing that.

I've tried to coach RockStar, to gently guide him to be a little softer, a little more flexible. I've tried to teach him that he doesn't need to argue every little thing; that keeping your mouth shut can lead Dylan to a better conclusion on his own. That you have to present options that are a win for everybody. That you have to pick your battles.

Still, the battles wage on. 

I'd better hope I look good in stripes. And that they are the vertical kind, and not the horizontal kind:


On second thought, maybe it does feel more like that.