Photo: YouTube/Wonder official trailer
Saturday I took my 11-year-old daughter and several of her friends to the movies to see Wonder for her birthday. The film stars Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson as the parents of fifth-grader Auggie, played by Jacob Tremblay. Auggie has a severe facial deformity and is beginning to start school for the first time after years of being homeschooled by his mother. Wonder was originally a book which I read with my two older children a couple of years ago. We all loved it, and I was so excited when I heard there was going to be a movie.
Because I love the book, I absolutely knew that the movie was going to make me cry. I mean, I am a crier. I cry at everything. I was expecting to be emotional.
What I was not expecting, however, was to see myself reflected in Julia Roberts’s performance as Auggie’s mom, Isabel Pullman.
I’m not saying Julia Roberts and I are twins or anything — we are clearly not. But when I got home from the movie I said to my husband, who has not read the book,
“Honey I need you to see this movie. I need you to see it because I am Julia Roberts.”
Naturally he looked at me like I was delusional. But then I explained. I told him how saw I myself in Julia Roberts’ portrayal of Isabel Pullman. I want him to see the movie because I feel like if he sees her performance he will understand a little more about his wife. Because Isabel is an extremely high-strung, loving, intentional, and intense mom who is worried about her special needs child. And so am I. With every facial expression and every line she delivers, the emotion and stress of parenting a child who is not quite typical oozes from Roberts.
And man, it got me.
None of my children has a facial or physical deformity like Auggie Pullman does in Wonder. And some would argue perhaps that they do not have special needs at all. But two of my three children have had significant developmental delays, and my first grader still struggles. Unlike Isabel who has to watch people recoil when they look upon her child’s face, I’ve watched people regard my kids with confused or irritated gazes when they realize that my child who looks “normal” on the outside isn’t, exactly.
It’s not the same thing. What I have dealt with is not even half as bad. My daughter, whose brain anatomy is not quite like yours and mine, has fully recovered from her delays and my son is well on his way. However, in this world where first grade is the new second-grade, where common core has taken over from common sense, I struggle with the way he is placed under a microscope at school for not being academically typical, even though he is very smart. I feel a great deal of stress over this, although I am sure it is probably more than I should feel. But MOMS. When it comes to our kids and emotions we typically go big or go home. And I will always go big, whether I want to or not.
When I watch the movie Wonder and I see Isabel struggle to maintain her composure as she waits for Auggie to tell her how his day was, as she waits and hopes to hear that everyone was nice to him, I see myself struggle as I look through every paper in my son’s Friday folder with trepidation when he comes home from school. I remember how I held my breath every time I took my daughter to the park and prayed that she wouldn’t scream and run away when another child tried to play with her. I remember how disappointed I would feel if a speech therapy session didn’t go well.
The stress. The intense emotions. The anxiety. Trying so very hard to not let your child see how you are feeling.
Julia Roberts nailed it.
Wonder is a movie that everyone should see in my opinion. Not only does it highlight disability and the beauty it can bring to our lives but it also paints a very real picture of the stress that parents who have a child with special needs feel. So I hope you’ll go see it. And I hope you’ll see that your friend with a special needs child is also Julia Roberts. I hope you’ll see that she needs a break. She needs love, she needs extra support, and most of all she needs you to tell her how wonderful her kid is.