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“Finding Dory” made me nauseous, and not just because I’m prone to seasickness.

The sequel to “Finding Nemo” was widely anticipated, particularly in the special needs community. All week my friends were sharing reviews that heralded the movie for celebrating people with disabilities, beginning with Dory, the blue tang with short term memory loss. I was excited, too, and got out to see it as soon as I could.

Nemo is a favorite in my house; my younger daughter Sophie, who is 13 and has Down syndrome, literally grew up with it. “Finding Nemo” was her very first charade; I still crack up at the thought of a teeny tiny Sophie, barely able to walk, holding her hand up over her brow, pretending to search, then putting her palms together and pantomiming a fish swimming.

I was on the edge of my seat during the entire showing of “Finding Dory,” and not in a good way.

I won’t be spoiling anything by telling you that this is a movie about a kid who gets lost, separated from her parents, unable to find them again because she is disabled. I won’t ruin the ending, but I will say that Dory meets several helpful sea creatures along the way, including, of course, Nemo and his father, Marlin, the clown fish who star in the original.

Marlin, voiced by Albert Brooks, has permanent worry lines. I most related to him. (I always do — it was Brooks’ character in “Broadcast News,” not Holly Hunter’s, who had me howling into the proverbial mirror.)

As with the original, the movie is a journey — and while I’m sure my Facebook feed is right now filling up with angry blog posts and status updates about how certain portrayals (most of the main characters have some sort of disability) were insensitive or otherwise problematic, I thought all of that was pretty endearing.

It was the part about the lost kid — yeah, the entire story, really — that had me unhinged. From pretty much the time she was born, I’ve worried that Sophie would get lost, that somehow I would not be there to protect her. That includes the moment she slips away from me in the grocery store to the big-picture-what-the-fuck-will-she-do-when-I’m-dead scenario and everything in between.

Yes, I’m neurotic. I’m Marlin. But he’s not wrong to worry and neither am I. This world sucks. People who are perfectly capable of looking out for themselves get shot in night clubs. This weekend a man was arrested for hiding young girls in his house. Sophie likes nothing more than to befriend a stranger, no matter how many times we talk about it. Someday will she wander a few feet to take in a pretty view and poof — vanish?

And if she does, will the story wrap up neatly, like it always does on the big screen? The only time I cried during “Finding Dory” was at the end, when the song “Unforgettable” played over the credits.

“That’s convenient,” I muttered to myself. “Memory serves when it works with the plot.”

What about real life? Sophie’s memory is pretty good, but her judgement is not. Not unlike Dory, she needs extra support — a nudge here and there from a parent, a nanny, or a friendly sea creature — to find her way. I’ve never been comfortable relying on the kindness of strangers. The whole thing is an impossible conundrum and this movie faced it head on; not what I’m looking for in an afternoon of supposed light-hearted entertainment.

After the movie, Sophie and I both had to use the bathroom. Now that she’s a teenager I refuse to share a stall with her anymore, but someone does have to escort her in and out. I usually try to beat her to the sinks, but this time she beat me. I was in a compromised position (I will not overshare beyond that) and couldn’t do much other than call out, “Sophie, don’t go anywhere” when I heard her strike up a conversation with a stranger. It was innocent enough, she was making small talk about the movie, but I fast forwarded to the worst case scenario. I always do, I can’t help it. And this movie had me in more of a panic than usual.

“Hold on, Sophie! I’m coming!” I yelled, sounding like a total maniac. Then I remembered something. Quite a few years ago, when Sophie was 8 or 9, we were at a big water park in Phoenix with some old friends. She announced she needed to use the bathroom, and before I could protest, our friend Mike announced he’d take her. I wasn’t thinking, didn’t consider that they’d be going into separate bathrooms. Or that Sophie was wearing a wetsuit.

The story’s been told so many times that by now I can picture it as though I was there. Sophie got into her stall and realized she couldn’t get her wetsuit off by herself. She called out, “Help! Can someone help me?”

Luckily, our hometown — Phoenix — is the smallest metropolis in the world. In the very next stall, Sophie’s long-time swimming instructor — who happened to be at the same water park on the same day with her own family — heard a familiar voice.

“Sophie?” Britt asked. “Is that you?”

The two emerged giggling.

I smiled at the memory, took a deep breath and opened the movie theater bathroom stall. There in the mirror were my permanent worry lines. And there, waiting for me, was Sophie.

Another happy ending — this time.

Amy’s book, “My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome,” was published by Woodbine House this spring and is available through Amazon and Changing Hands Bookstore. For information about tour dates and other events visit and here’s a book trailer.

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4 Responses to “Finding Dory Made Me Nauseous, and Not Just Because I Get Sea Sick”

  1. Oh my gosh, I love this post! It brought back such memories. It was 2003 and I had sent my 12 year-old daughter to art camp 5,000 miles away. She had just gotten out of the hospital. Her doctor reassured me that this was the perfect time for her to go to camp – she had finished 3 weeks of IV antibiotics and her lungs were in peak condition. I arrived back home from Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan and immediately received a call informing me that the camp doctor had sent my daughter to the ER because they “didn’t like the way her lungs sounded”. I was freaking out. I knew her health was fine but was afraid they would mess with her in some hospital far, far away. I was waiting to hear from the hospital and was in desperate need of distraction so I went to see “Finding Nemo.” It turned into a Dory intervention:

    Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.
    Dory: Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.
    Marlin: What?
    Dory: Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

    The hospital called shortly after we left the movie theater. The ER doctor said Elizabeth was healthy as a horse. They said they were impressed at how well a 12 year-old was able to communicate her health status and navigate the ER. They said they would be talking with the camp physician and explaining that they should listen to Elizabeth if they had any further concerns about her health.

  2. I can’t express how much I love this. Thank you, Noan.

  3. I love to read what you write. I love that I am able to connect with your experiences in a very personal way. That seems like a simple statement, but it’s not. I had a panic attack and had to step out of the theater, thankfully big brother and Twinkie twin were there.

  4. I too struggle with these issues. My 13 year old (with DS) is also independent, but I struggle more on the other side of it. I feel like I’m constantly fighting for her independence.

    Two years ago, Katie walked home from school every day with her friends. One day, her feet hurt in some new shoes, so she started asking everyone driving by for a ride home. The school was horrified. I wasn’t, because I knew that the people driving by were the parents of the rest of the kids in the school and this could be a great teaching opportunity for Kate. Instead of teaching her what to do and what not to do, they just banned her from walking home. This year, half-way through and after talking with the police about the potential risk of abduction (very low in our community; not so low in the next city over) she started biking to school and had no problems at all.

    I work to teach her better boundaries, but it is the failure of those boundaries that gives me the best teaching opportunities. I hope Katie and Sophie can meet up some day. They sound like they would be best friends. If you’re coming to NDSC this year, let me know. We live here in Orlando and are really looking forward to it.

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My Heart Can't Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome is available from Amazon and 
Changing Hands Bookstore
. For information about readings and other events, click here.


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