The Nutcracker

By: Owen

I know it has been weeks since I have written a post.  It seems the plague has hit our home, since the middle of December we haven’t all been healthy at the same time.  At least one of us has been sick for the past 6 weeks, more often than not 2-3 of us at a time.  When it is both Mommy and Daddy who are sick we are in big trouble because Owen does not have a very generous vacation package.  Translation, when you are a parent there are no days off, no matter how sick you are!

So today, though still sick I will try to type out a post that makes sense.

Last month we had the pleasure of attending the sensory friendly performance of “The Nutcracker” at the Pittsburgh Ballet.  We attended last year’s performance as well, which was the first ever sensory friendly performance of “The Nutcracker” in this country.  Both times it was a real treat to go with Owen.  Because of some of his special needs it is not yet possible to do things like go to plays or movies with him.  So to have this opportunity is a very special thing for families like ours.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “What on earth is a sensory friendly performance?”  I am going to tell you.  For kids like Owen with his chromosome disorder or lots of other kids with things like autism, downs syndrome, or many other diagnoses, the theater can be an overwhelming place.  Add to that lots of rules and expectations of how you are supposed to behave at the theater and many families like ours can’t even think of attending.  I understand, everyone pays lots of money for their seats and their time at the theater shouldn’t be ruined by my child’s needs.  At the same time doesn’t everyone deserve the right to experience things like the ballet if they want to?

Well, apparently someone at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater must have thought that everyone had the right to attend the ballet too.  And we are so happy they did.  In a nutshell, a sensory friendly performance means a few things.  First it means that the usual rules are “relaxed”.  Things like getting up and moving around the theater or talking during the show are usually not allowed (or at the very least frowned upon).  But during this performance kids are up moving around, walking, dancing, flapping their hands, talking, or making happy noises (like Owen).  Second, things like bright/flashing lights or loud startling noises are toned down or removed from the show.  Some kids might be sensitive to these things and might be upset by them.  Owen would certainly be afraid of a noise that was too loud and in fact is sometimes afraid when we are in situations when someone is yelling or talking too loudly.  Finally, and maybe most importantly for families like ours, you need to have special needs or be attending the performance with a friend or family member who qualifies for the performance.  This allows us to relax and know we are in an environment where everyone at the show can understand why your loved one with special needs might be acting a little differently.  It is a judgment free zone, in a way that most places we go to are not.  You guys, for me, this is the best part.  For a few hours we can go and do something that everyone else can do and not have anyone stare at us.

As I mentioned earlier we were lucky enough to attend last year.  We had a great time, but we did have a list of things we hoped would go differently this year.  We picked our top three things and decided if we accomplished them that our second performance would be a success.

Number one was that Owen would spend more than a few minutes watching the show.  Last year he didn’t last long before going to one of the sensory hang out spaces, leaving me and our friend Carolyn to watch the ballet while Justin and Owen missed almost the whole show.  It was nice to have that option but we hoped for Owen to experience more of the ballet this year.  And you know what…  he lasted the whole show in the theater.  He did walk all around but he stayed in the theater.

Number two was that Owen would not try to take off my tights and hug my leg during the show.  I know this sounds weird but he loves deep pressure (hugs, squeezes, laying on his belly).  Last year this time Owen’s favorite way to comfort himself was to hug my leg.  I am not joking, there were some days that I would have to call my husband and have him bring home dinner because I couldn’t cook with a little guy hanging onto my legs.  At the show last year he was so upset that I was wearing tights and he couldn’t hug my legs without the fabric in the way that his Daddy pulled up his pant leg and Owen hugged his legs instead.  Thankfully no one stared.

Number 3 was that Owen wouldn’t try to sit on a stranger’s lap.  Yep.  Last year he walked down to the front row of the balcony and scooted down the aisle, and…  attempted to sit in some lady’s lap.  She was very nice about it, and I think she was a mommy too so she took it very well but I was embarrassed and slightly insulted.  Thankfully he did not try to sit on anyone’s lap who was not in our group.  He did however almost take nice soft blanket out of another family’s bag, so I guess being a tiny adorable thief isn’t a step in the right direction.

So there you have it.  Our list was 3 for 3 and we called our trip a success.

I think my very favorite part of the day was the sweet little girl with down syndrome dancing and doing her ballet moves behind us.  She was very interested in Owen and very much wanted his attention.  It was adorable and I was so happy we got to experience a little bit of joy with her and her family.  Also my nephew and sister came with us this year.  It was so funny seeing the ballet through his 2 years old eyes.  He kept clapping and yelling Yay!!!!  Kids are great.  In some ways I think everyone that doesn’t get to see the ballet like this, well they are the ones who are missing out.  Getting to see kids so excited that they can’t help but dance and voice their approval is such a gift.

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