Monday, 23 March 2015

The authority song

When something like this hurtles out of left field and clobbers me, I go back time and time again, trying to remember if there were any warning signs.

It's probably a futile exercise. You can't plan for everything, although heaven knows I try. I tried this time, but the awful thing is, the planning may have been a factor.

During March Break, I've adopted the practice of making a list of possible outings. The idea is to a) get younger daughter out and about once a day; and b) give her some choice in the matter. This year's selection included Kenneth Branagh's Disney directorial debut: Cinderella. I had checked ahead for showtimes and discovered that the IMAX version had pre-booked seating. Well, I thought, that's probably a good idea. The city is full of parents - and gawd help us, day camps - searching for things to do with their kids.

So, on the morning younger daughter had chosen to attend, I got up early, booked our favourite seats online (narrowly missing choosing seats smack in the front row), and carefully plotted the buses that would get us there on time to get to the washroom, purchase popcorn and drinks, and find our seats. (Trickier than you'd think; OC Transpo cuts back on bus service during March Break.) Then I gave younger daughter timely warnings and got her out to the bus stop.

It worked beautifully. Washroom first, and no line-up at concession.

That's where things began to fall apart. When I asked younger daughter if she could take her bag of popcorn, she scooped it up impatiently and snapped, "I'm not a kid anymore!!" Quite a bit of the popcorn went flying. She stomped over to get a straw for her pop, leaving me a little startled.

We made our way to our seats in the centre of the topmost row. The aisle is well-lit, but the middle seats aren't and I realized that I couldn't read the seat numbers. Normally, this isn't an issue, but this was a reserved-seating show, so I asked younger daughter, who was juggling her food and coat, to tell me the number of the seat next to her. She spent some time working out where to put her coat, then sat down. I asked again. She grumbled at me and stared ahead stubbornly. That's when I made the fatal error. I should know better, but it's been a while, and I thoughtlessly muttered: "Oh, please don't act like a bitch." Younger daughter may have deficits in certain categories of memory and comprehension, but her hearing is superb.

It happened so fast that it seemed she had disappeared and reappeared in the distant aisle, leaving me in a shower of popcorn. She was screaming at me at the top of her lungs: "I HATE YOU I HATE YOU YOU IDIOT!!!" Then she stomped down the stairs, and left the theatre.

The family sitting in the row ahead of us moved down several rows.

A few minutes later, she reappeared, grabbed her coat, and exited as I called after her, keep my voice level, "You don't have a ticket with you." She was watching me from the corner of her eye, holding her coat in front of her body when she vanished from my view.

I sat, fighting down the embarrassment and panic, knowing pursuing her would only start another scene. What if she left the building? What if they didn't let her back in? She had her bus pass with her; would she try to go home?

Finally I made my way down, apologizing to a mum and her little girl at the end of the aisle as I squeezed by. They had just arrived and had missed the drama; most people had, the theatre was nearly empty when we first came in. The family who had moved had returned to their seats.

I looked in the washroom. I asked the woman who had taken our tickets, the one who takes hundreds of tickets for the eight large cinemas -- of course she didn't remember seeing younger daughter. I went to the entrance and gazed out at the grey and icy parking lot, out beyond the box stores towards the Transitway station. I decided to return to the cinema. As I was standing in the ramp between the risers and the doorway, scanning the seats, the trailers started and I saw her come in as an usher closed the door behind her. I walked quickly to the far aisle, up the stairs, and had to climb over another family to return to my seat.

As I sat down, I saw she hadn't followed me.

It was a morning show, and the seats were half-filled. I prayed she had taken another seat, and I sat alone in my row - thank God - with her untouched popcorn and drink wedged in her empty seat.

When the movie was over, I picked up her food and my containers and spilling a bit, waddled down the stairs to the garbage containers as the credits rolled. As I pulled on my coat, I scanned the seats again, still not finding her, but a minute later, the lights came on and there she was, in the front row of the upper level, gazing at the screen and listening to the closing song. I waited for her to finish in the washroom, texting her dad with the briefest of details. (Of course, my phone had refused to transmit in the middle of the crisis.) I told the Resident Fan Boy that I was bringing her to his office.

We didn't say a word on the long walk back to the station. We sat separately on the bus. We walked silently through the Rideau Centre. When the Resident Fan Boy appeared at his building's entrance, I handed him the music for her voice lesson, turned and left.

On the bus home, I realized I hadn't handed over my iPod which the voice teacher has been using for recording the week's lesson. I shuffled through my music, each title just a little too appropriate to be a comfort: "The Shelter of Storms"; no. "The Mountains Win Again"- oh God, no.

Finally I settled on a good old rocker. It's kind of appropriate, but not enough to put more salt in my wounds.

When I got home, there was a message from the RFB saying that younger daughter had thrown up. It was a timely reminder for me that this whole business had been every bit as traumatic for her as for me. I made the slow turn into beginning to let go of my hurt, although I felt chilled and depressed for another couple of days. I am, after all, a grown-up, and for all younger daughter's indignation, her road to adulthood still stretches out a long way ahead. The late Madeleine L'Engle quoted someone in one of her books: To love someone is to have hope in them always.

I'll have to look it up.

In the week that has followed, we have slowly returned to what is normal for us, anyway. I give thanks that these meltdowns happen so infrequently. Otherwise, I'd be tempted to run away myself.

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