when a good night goes wrong


Maxine, last night I made a parenting mistake with you.  I don’t know what I was thinking.  I invited you to a private slumber party–you and mama.  You were excited all day.

When night rolled around, we popped corn in the air popper and brought it upstairs to watch a movie.  Daddy put “Ratatouille” on for us and left.  I should have previewed it.  Actually, I should have thought of something else for us to do together.  I’m sorry.

We were only a few minutes in and things spiraled out of control.  The lady in the movie took out a gun and all of the rats scattered.  The main character, rat, was separated from his friends.

Tears immediately sprang from your beautiful eyes.  I quickly turned the movie off.

“Mama, where are the rat’s friends?”

“Mama, what was the lady doing with that air blower thing?”  (you don’t know what a gun is)

I tried to answer calmly.

“Mama, I don’t like that.”

“I don’t either love bucket.  Do you want to talk about it?”

“Mama, I was really scared.  The rat lost his friends.”

“I understand that you’re scared about it Maxine.  It is pretend.  And I bet the rat finds his friends.”

“Mama, I’m scared.  What are you going to say about that?”

Indeed, my love.  What am I going to say about that?  About love and loss?  About all of the things I work so hard to keep from you…and then fuck that all up with five minutes from one movie?  What am I going to say about the things that I don’t want you to know but that you will, inevitably, know–no matter how hard I try to shelter you from the harsh edges of a world that is supposed to be round.

“Maxine, I think there is a happy ending.  The rat finds his friends.  I’m sorry it scared you.”

I’m sorry I stole some of your innocence by showing your a freaking Disney movie.  What was I thinking?

“Mama, how do you know it is pretend?”

“Because the things you see on TV are pretend.  We know that real animals don’t talk like people.  Mae Mae doesn’t talk like people.  Winston doesn’t talk like people.”

“Mama, Grumpy doesn’t talk anymore.  Remember when he didn’t die?”

Fuck.  You are  making the connection between the fricking air blower, that nasty lady, the rats’ peril and your grandfather’s death.  I’ve worked so hard to make death not scary for you right now because you are just not ready to wrestle with it.  Really, is anyone?

“Grumpy doesn’t talk the same way.  But he still talks.  He talks in your heart.  I know he is telling you that he loves you.  Can you hear him?”

“Mama, why did the rat’s friends leave?”

“It was a mistake honey.  They were all in a hurry.  They will find each other again.”

“I don’t like when you leave me downstairs and go up to check the laundry.”

“I will always come back to you, Maxine.  I love you.”

“Can I know the reason?”

“The reason that I will always come back or the reason that I love you?”

“That you love me.”

“I love you because you’re you.  I love you because you’re awesome.  I love you because you’re my daughter.  I love you because you are kind.  I love you because you are a goofball.  I love you because you make mistakes and do some really good learning from them.  I love you because you’re thoughtful.  I love you because you are so easy to love.  I love you to infinity.”

“Mama, how do we turn the slumber party off?”

Fricking electronic age.

“We don’t have to turn it off honey.  We just stop having it.  We can cuddle and nurse and talk.”

“I don’t like that movie, mama”

“I don’t either.  I’m sorry I showed it to you.  We won’t ever watch it again.”



5 thoughts on “when a good night goes wrong

  1. I was just telling my sister in law how I think the writers of every single disney movie have some kind of parental issue…they kill off at least one or both parents…the lion king, that we just watched, his own brother/uncle does it.

  2. I think how you handled it outweighs any mistake you feel you may have made by not previewing it. Movies are so tricky. Even now as an adult one that in a different frame of mind would not be disturbing at all sometimes haunts me. Disney movies in particular do seem to have taken a turn for the more psychologically haunting. The first Disney movie I ever saw was Snow White and while it has all those plot elements you might wonder about for a child they are more in the background than in some modern Disney. If you contrast Bambi against the Lion King in Lion King the trauma drives the plot.

    The first movie I ever saw period was hardly appropriate. It was Dirty Harry. When we were newly immigrated to Canada my parents smuggled us in to the drive in.Babysitting being out of the question as the movie itself was a luxury which must have seemed very necessary for one of them for it to even happen. Hardly age appropriate but what I remember is the thrill of having to hide because while my brother’s could pass for old eough to be allowed in in the company of adults I was clearly way too young. It was a double feature with some racing movie and years later it isn’t the movie and some of it’s to a three year old shocking and never seen before content that stands out but lying under the blanket coming in and sitting with my family in the car eating more snacks than I had previously known existed. So you could say bringing a pre-schooler to Dirty Harry was a parenting mistake too I guess but the memories of that night are of the non-movie elements. Down the road I would guess your daughter will retain the snuggles and the cuddles above the memory of the chaos induced fear and recollections of loss. The harsh world winds up being impossible to shelter anyone from but those memories of cuddles, and warmth sometimes even arising from some “mistake” do provide armor.

  3. I agree with the people who say Disney has changed. I have read the book, “Bambi,” and it is deeply traumatic (even reading it as an adult, I wept through most of it) but the movie was sweet and innocent. (In fact, I was just thinking about Bambi this morning as I woke up thinking about the song “With a Smile and a Song” from Bambi.)

    I love Ratatouille (because I love rats) but, yes, there are some very difficult parts to it. If you were wondering, He finds his family again and they are finally able to appreciate what made him different — I think this is what I loved best about the film (besides the adorable rats!) is that Remy is not understood by his family because of his love for good food. His love of food is demonstrated in an almost synaesthetic manner. But in the end, the family understands that “Remy is different and that’s okay.” And Remy’s difference took him great places. Of course I see analogies to autism in that story line!

    I don’t think you did wrong. We are told to expect that Disney is for children so it is a shock when some of the content is beyond what even adults can handle. I cry when I watch The Lion King. Some of what’s in Disney is hard stuff! And I say this as someone who deeply loves Disney and Pixar (DON’T show her Finding Nemo yet if you haven’t! It’s REALLY hard to deal with the opening scene where Nemo’s mother is killed! I was devastated the first time I saw it and still have a hard time with it. And Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron has a lot of scenes of separation and loss and persecution that are hard to explain to a kid! I love both of those movies very much and still have a hard time with scenes in them. And I cry every time I watch either of them.)

    I think you handled it all well. You are a good mom. It’s a tough job to help a tender spirit grow into such a harsh world as we live in.

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