Any parent will tell you that raising children has ups and downs and moments for which we can never be prepared, no matter how hard we try. These lessons are ingrained in us early on and while we resist being surprised, innocence diffuses our ability to anticipate. It’s part of what makes parenting fun, I think. The world, viewed through the eyes and imagination of a child, is a wondrous place where things never really hurt you, there is fun to be had, and consequences are irrelevant.
It’s perhaps this last piece that gives us particular pause. The instinct to protect is strong in a parent, and can drive reactions that, under “normal” circumstances, would never happen. There is a heightened sense of awareness when anything seems awry with a child, and that awareness is a reflex, involuntary as a response and seemingly uncontrollable. In the right situation, that response makes perfect sense. We invest so much in our children, to groom them, to wean them, to help them grow and make morally defensible decisions and actions. It’s a crapshoot, to be sure, but the commitment is always there. Always lingering. Just below the surface. Waiting to respond.
During the holidays we took time with the kids, playing games, running around, watching movies, whatever the moment held. On a particular day, we curled up together to watch Bambi. Our oldest, Ryan (nearly 9), had seen it, though it had been some time and, to the best of our recollection, our youngest, Daniel (nearly 5), had not. Disney made animated movies, and to a degree still does, that can enchant and enthrall and entertain like no other but there is almost always a message, some value to be drawn from the story, some reality to be shared in a digestible manner for the youngest among us. In that respect, Bambi is among the most representative of Disney Magic.
My youngest sat with his mother, my oldest alone (too big to sit with Mom or Dad), and we allowed ourselves to be enveloped by the tale. Our boys have rapid, ceaseless commentary on most everything, a trait borne from their mother no doubt, but are generally silent and motionless during movies. The fact that they watch limited TV and never play video games accounts for this but we’ll give Walt Disney some due in this case as well!
Inevitably, the movie arrives at the point where Bambi is frantically searching for his mother, killed moments earlier “off-screen” by a rogue hunter. I could feel Daniel’s growing agitation. I could sense my wife gripping him tighter. Holding him close. Preparing to offer support in understanding the inferred trauma. I wanted to get up, to go over and be a part of this learning moment. To help this young boy understand what was happening on-screen. It was an overwhelming rush. My breaths grew rapid and shallow. My heart was pulsing in my chest…no, OUT of my chest. I could hear the voices in my head, “Get up! You need to help her! He won’t understand and will be upset! Help her! Help him!”
“Mother?! Mother?!”, Bambi cried, “Where are you?!”
And then it happened, as it often does. No warning. No preparation. No filter. Daniel emerged from his mother’s death-grip, and bellowed at the screen from his very toes, “Your mother is dead!”
From the mouths of babes…sigh…