This is really more parenting than autism, but I thought I would share my experience and the thoughts that have come from that moment.
It is 2:30 AM and I find myself lying in bed and watching Ghostbusters… it is funny how our memory works. Every time I see this movie, I remember a really happy moment in my childhood. One that helped to shape me into the father I am today.
In 1979 my family had decided to move to Guatemala to open up a small business and shortly after we moved there from Chicago the country spiraled into the chaos of a revolution. There were tanks rolling through the streets and machine-gun fire would pierce the silence of the night. The violence and danger led to the decision by my parents to move back to the US and when we did we came back with nothing. We were dirt poor. We stayed with some cousins for a while before moving into a subsidized apartment complex.
My parents did a great job of either making the best out of a bad situation or shielding me from the gravity of the situation because I was a happy kid. We didn’t have a lot, but we had each other and that was constantly stressed throughout my childhood.
The one thing they could not shield me from was when mom got ovarian cancer. I can’t say I remember when I was told. Maybe I have repressed that memory. I can remember her being very ill however. I remember the sounds of her being nauseous from chemotherapy and her hair falling out. I remember my already frail mother looking as though a strong breeze could break her. I also remember our attitude though… tackle it with humor.
Mom is still creating memories for me.
Here with Bianca at our first Autism Walk Despite her being so ill, we made light of the situation. I would make it my mission to make my mom laugh so hard that her weakened bladder control would result in her literally peeing her pants in laughter. I would run past her and do a “drive-by wig jacking” sometimes ripping the wig off while giving her noogies. We told jokes and celebrated each other as opposed to wallowing around in our own sorrow.
At the beginning of the ordeal however it was difficult. It was stressful. Mom was in the hospital and dad was the sole care giver because my mother had bigger fish to fry. Sensing that I needed an escape, he decided that we would go see a movie. I REALLY wanted to see Ghostbusters. I was a huge SNL fan even at the age of 12. My folks never really forced a bed time on me, so I grew up on SNL and Letterman. I was already a huge fan of The Blues Brothers and Stripes, so the idea of Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd in the same movie blew my mind.
When we got to the theater, Dad wanted to see Conan the Destroyer for some odd reason. I think that he had the preconceived notion that Ghostbusters was a kid’s movie. I had my heart set on Ghostbusters, so Dad suggested that we watch separate movies and meet up afterwards. I was really disappointed because I just wanted to spend some one on one time doing something fun with my Dad. There wasn’t a lot of “fun” going on at home. Not through any fault of my parents, they did all they could to keep things light, but that was challenging due to the seriousness of my mother’s condition. I think the look on my face gave that away because without much fuss he changed his mind and we saw Ghostbusters together.
Dad plants a smooch on baby Bianca.
We laughed ourselves silly and had a ridiculously good time. I remember my dad having to get his handkerchief out several times to wipe his eyes. After the movie was over, the audience applauded and cheered with my dad leading the charge.
We talked about that movie for weeks. Dad said afterwards that he was really happy he didn’t go see Conan. Little did he know at the time that I was the happiest. Probably more than he could ever imagine. I got to watch a movie with my Dad… just the two of us. For those 105 minutes there was no worry, no sick mother, no poverty… it was just joy.
It is a memory that will last me a lifetime. Isn’t that what parenting is supposed to be about? Creating moments? It was such a small decision on my dad’s part to go see Ghostbusters with me. It is amazing how the little sacrifices we make can have the biggest impact.
That impact lives on today. It is the lessons that were taught to me by my parents that have allowed me to become the father I am today. The dedication I have to my family, my approach to fatherhood and my passion to do what is right for Bianca all stems from moments like going to see Ghostbusters.
When my kids look back at their childhood, I want them to have an endless sea of memories like I do about good times, and how their father was there for them. I want my kids to never doubt that not only I loved them greatly, but I showed them on a daily basis that they were my pride and joy. I want Bianca in particular, to know that her parents did everything in their power to provide her with every opportunity and enjoyed every moment we have with her and that she was never loved or appreciated any less because of autism.
So do yourself a favor, do your kids a favor. Over the next week or so, try to find one moment that you can turn into a lasting memory. It can be something so simple. These times are tough economically, so it doesn’t have to cost money. It is usually the things that cost the least that have the greatest value. You never know what is going to stick with a child. Maybe it is camping out in tents made of sheets in the living room; maybe it is watching a good movie together. Our kids are worth every penny we spend, but it is the memories that are priceless.
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