The Jimmy Stewart Movie That Made Me Appreciate My Son’s Differences a Bit More


Recently we had a free trial of one of the premium movie channels, and my husband decided to record “Harvey” figuring it would make a good movie for us to watch as a family. I was familiar with the story a little, but it wasn’t until we started watching it that I saw the parallels it had with our son, Griffin. It left an impression on me, one I wasn’t expecting.

Here’s a breakdown of the movie (Spoiler alert): Elwood is a grown man who has an imaginary friend named Harvey. Harvey is a pooka, a Celtic mythological creature that looks like a big bunny. Elwood walks with his arm around Harvey, introducing him to everyone he meets. Here’s where I start to think, Hey, this sounds familiar. Griffin had, well still has (although it’s quite deflated), a balloon he decorated and named Pooka. Although he named the balloon after a character from the video game “Dig Dug,” Pooka is not a name you hear every day or even every other day. Also, Griffin, like a lot of kids, had imaginary friends when he was younger. Well I should say he had imaginary siblings, whose names were Leo and Rusty. And then there’s Griffin’s name. Just like pookas, griffins are also mythological creatures.

Anyway, Elwood’s family doesn’t understand him and tries to get him to go into a sanatarium. They’re not sure what’s causing him to see Harvey. Could it be that he drinks too much? Or is it mental illness? Elwood is kind and harmless, inviting strangers to be his friend any chance he gets. Despite his gentle ways, his behavior embarrasses his sister, who feels she has to watch every move Elwood makes.

I’ve struggled with wanting to know what causes Griffin’s behaviors and how to help him, even after he was given the Asperger syndrome diagnosis. I hate to admit it, but in the beginning I thought there was something wrong with him. I would always be close by in case he said or did something someone might not understand (which frankly happened quite often). His behaviors embarrassed me because I believed they were a reflection of my parenting. All I wanted to do was help him, and it seemed like no matter what we did, nothing worked.  I know I also cared way too much what others thought. To be honest, even now I sometimes still do. I do know now there’s nothing wrong with Griffin. He just needs time, things explained in a way he understands, patience and acceptance. He’s a complex, fascinating person. He views the world differently than most, and it’s pretty extraordinary. I see Griffin connecting with others in his unique way, and I can’t help but fill with pride. He’ll be your friend, and you’ll be better off for knowing him.

Now back to our film…

In the end, Elwood is given the chance to receive a shot that will help him not see Harvey. He tells his sister, Veta, he’ll take it if that’s what she wants him to do.

While in the waiting room, the taxi cab driver, who will be taking them all home afterwords, arrives. He starts telling Veta about the patients he brings to the sanatarium. “I’ve been driving this route for 15 years. I’ve brought ’em out here to get that stuff, and I’ve drove ’em home after they had it. It changes them… On the way out here, they sit back and enjoy the ride. They talk to me. Sometimes we stop and watch the sunsets and look at the birds flyin’. Sometimes we stop and watch the birds when there ain’t no birds, and look at the sunsets when it’s raining. We have a swell time. And I always get a big tip. But afterwards, oh oh…  They crab, crab, crab. They yell at me: Watch the lights! Watch the brakes! Watch the intersections! They scream at me to hurry. They got no faith in me or my buggy. Yet, it’s the same cab, the same driver, and we’re going back over the very same road. It’s no fun. And no tips… After this he’ll be a perfectly normal human being. And you know what stinkers they are!”

After hearing the cab driver’s take on what happens to those who get the shot, Veta is filled with regret and rushes to stop the doctor from giving Elwood the shot. Veta realizes the beauty in who Elwood is, and she doesn’t want him to change. Elwood is accepted for who he is, and others start to live in his world. They even begin to see Harvey too.

This scene captures so much of the way I feel about Griffin. Every part of him is important. His differences make him the amazing, dynamic, complex, sensitive, observant, loving soul that he is. He gets so excited about things that many wouldn’t even notice. Yes, it can be hard as hell being his mom sometimes, but the rest of the time it’s absolutely magical. I would never give him a shot that would change him. I love that he’s so unique. I love living in his world. The tough times are tough, but I’ve learned that’s part of our journey.

In some of those tough moments I do wish there was a shot I could be given. One that could equip me with the ability to communicate and help Griffin. One that could help me help him understand and express his feelings in appropriate ways. One that could make me not care so much about what others think. Maybe I’ve already found the magic shot, the magic potion. Maybe it’s a combination of unconditional love, patience, never giving up, thinking outside the box, knowing that Griffin doesn’t need to be fixed — and faith!

If I changed any part of Griffin, he would be different, I would be different. He wouldn’t be who he is, and I wouldn’t be who I am. And thanks to Griffin, I can say I like who I am and who I’ve become since being his mom. I admit it can be hard being different. But I like that we’re not perfectly normal human beings, because… you know what stinkers they are!

Follow this journey on What Will This Day Bring?

Want to end the stigma around disability? Like us on Facebook.

And sign up for what we hope will be your favorite thing to read at night.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Related to Autism Spectrum Disorder

A 2-Year-Old in the Hospital Cafeteria Helped Me Realize Everything Would Be OK

A week after we received a pre-natal diagnosis that our unborn son had Down syndrome, we were told he also had an AVSD heart defect that would require heart surgery when he was between 4 and 6 months old. I was devastated — I could handle the Down syndrome, but the heart defect scared me. Would he [...]

To the Anonymous Restaurant Patron Who Didn’t Look At Us With Pity

My daughter, Annie, was born blind due to a congenital retinal disease called Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis (LCA). She’s an adventurous, fun-loving kid who loves exploring new things outside. In early November 2014, we were in Boston for a special event for kids with vision impairments at the New England Aquarium (sponsored by the Massachusetts Association of Parents [...]

To the Woman Who Saw Me Crying in Church and Said Something

Recently, I was sitting in church, and the pastor was talking about the impact of losing a loved one. Instantly, the tears began to fall. I was taken back to the previous spring of 2014 when my infant son, Dylan, unexpectedly passed away. The pain of that day cannot be measured or expressed adequately. His [...]

3 Moments That Sum Up How Kids, Teens and Adults View My Son’s Disability

My son, Elias, wheels joy into the angst and insecurity of shopping malls and school hallways. People turn at the sound of metal and rubber stalking them. They’re surprised by a small blond boy with a walker. And their faces change. They brighten. Sometimes their smiles are more nervous than joyous, but even these nervous smiles offer [...]