Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A River of Emotion Runs Through It

Friday nights at our house are usually pretty low key, and almost always wind up with the kids and I watching a movie. This week's selection was Bridge to Terabithia, based on the novel by Katherine Paterson. It's got a few twists and turns, and for a "children's" story it's filled with powerful emotions. By the end of the movie, we are usually in tears as the story leads the main character to unexpected and difficult territory.

Not to spoil it, but in order to make my point I have to be a little specific. At the end of the story, the lead character is wrestling with the sudden accidental death of his best friend, and in walking through these strong feelings he alienates his baby sister, who also misses their young fearless and imaginative companion. When the little girl follows her brother into the woods, he turns on her, yells at her and physically pushes her away, which of course breaks her heart (and everyone else's). When the boy in the story later approaches the little girl and she rejects his attempt to reach out to her, the chasm between them is even more evident. I noticed at this point during this viewing that even my son, who is both a typical teenager and also fiercely protective of his little sister, was trying hard to conceal his tears. Eventually in an act of healing and apology all at once, the boy reclaims the woody retreat he shared with his friend and recreates the magic for his sister to enjoy.

I think even I was suprised by the ferocity of my kids' reaction to this exchange between the sister and brother. After the movie, my son and daughter, who was feeling the emotion in the movie particularly hard -- she looks tough on the outside but feels everything a hundred times more intensely than the rest of us -- needed a real hug from her big brother, whom she admires more than any kid she knows. To see them reassure each other that they loved each other regardless of anything else was a real gift to me.

My sister recently sent me a book by a woman whom she knew at Vanderbilt. It's called "The Switching Hour," and it's one of the most difficult things I've ever read. It's not long at all, but deals with an enormous issue: the way of life of children of divorce. The Switching Hour is that time between households when a child is jettisoned from one life and home to another. The author describes them as being like little astronauts who travel through space between one parent planet and the other, and how this pattern will be with them the rest of their lives -- as they marry, as they bring children into the world, as they bury us. I told my sister that if I had read this book before the divorce, I might well not have been able to go through it knowing what they would be facing.

I'm not the kind of parent who believes you can censor feelings or whip a kid into shape and into accepting and believing what they do not, and in some cases, never will, accept. The force of feeling is strong, and there is nothing anyone can do really to destroy it, unless they destroy the vessel of the emotion in the process. Even then, the emotion lives on in the subconscious or unconscious, and will direct that child's behavior, decisions, relationships, and in many cases successes or failures for the rest of his or her life. Take a look at the adults around you. The degree of brokenness -- what does that tell you?

That's why my house has always been a sort of "safe zone" where it's ok to express feelings no matter how strong or scary. I don't know the degree to which their feelings are valued or validated when they're not here, so when they are, we let go and let ourselves unravel a little bit. That's where the meaty stuff comes in. Some of the conversations my son will start really are quite something, and make me miss my own parents so completely because they are not here with him to talk about his big questions about the universe or whether to believe or not believe. The task is left to me and I take it on willingly, as I take on the heartfelt comments my daughter makes about how fast the week goes when we're together. These are difficult things to express at any age.

My son and I at the end of the weekend watched a different film, A River Runs Through It, based on the book by Norman Maclean and produced by Robert Redford. It's a lovely coming of age tale, and about heartbreak and families and never knowing the ones closest to us, yet loving them regardless. My son loved the story, and we both sort of marvel at how simple life could be. He's desperate now to go fishing this summer. My father, and grandfather, were keen fishermen. I know two of my brothers to fish, but it's not something I took up. I'll have to entrust my son to them for the task as he rises from a boy to a young man and all the powerful emotions he has to learn to deal with.

I think I said I was done with pimping Tim's new album, Chameleon, but I managed to talk Mr. and Mrs. Ipsissimus into getting the album so maybe I can topple the will of a few more of you with one more tune. It's the lead track, "Where's Love Come From?" and begs the question of how powerful love is, well beyond our understanding. It's jazzy melody belies the gravity of the message. I feel certain that you'll enjoy it if you let yourself.


At April 16, 2008 7:10 AM, Blogger Shameless Agitator said...

Powerful post, MandoMama. You're right, we need to deal with our emotions lest they deal with us. Shadow, pain-body... different names for the neglected parts of ourselves. Your kids are lucky to have you to guide them through the rapids.

And, you sold me too. I just downloaded Chameleon from iTunes. You know I am a sucker for acoustic.


At April 16, 2008 7:23 AM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

LOL! Oh my, well, I guess now is the time to start working on a Central Ohio gig for Tim -- maybe if it's not too late I can convince Andy Carlson to approach him for the Bluegrass fest next year!

I am very worried for the emotional lives of my kids. They feel things intensely, and it shows when they feel it's "safe to come out". Like your amazing girls, my two are not little square pegs that can be coaxed, "Papa-whipped" or squeezed into round holes.

At April 16, 2008 8:22 AM, Blogger Blueberry said...

We loved Bridge to Terabithia. We don't have any kids to deal with, but it made us cry. It was surprising, we weren't expecting it to be that good.

At April 16, 2008 10:39 AM, Blogger DrDon said...

This is why I pretty much just watch superhero movies. Much less to think about. :-)

At April 16, 2008 10:39 AM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

Hey Blue,
The movie was surprisingly powerful. I think it really drives home the random unfairness of some tragedies, and the loss of potential. The key is what we come away with in the aftermath, what we do in the wake of such an unexpected and inexplicable, random loss. That would affect anyone who is paying attention.
I didn't know what to expect the first time we watched it, and my daughter and I were just a mess. This time wasn't a whole lot better. It's particularly tough on kids I think, since they don't often think of themselves as anything but invincible and immortal. YET STILL THEY RUN WITH SCISSORS!!!


At April 16, 2008 10:40 AM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

Oh Don. This is one you should see. Have you seen it?

At April 16, 2008 9:55 PM, Blogger Blueberry said...

We love the super-heroes, sci-fi, fantasy and action, and those don't always have a lot of substance (which is fine), but when they DO have substance, then you've got Lord of the Rings, Pan's Labyrinth, and this one too... even more treasured.

At April 17, 2008 9:46 PM, Blogger Mando Mama said...

Good point.

I love myth, and magic, and shadow, and the idea that even as mere humans, we can be something greater to each other -- extraordinary, even -- and something good to ourselves, and still be beautifully, perfectly human, like my favorite Tolkien character, Samwise Gamgee.


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