Photo by Vincent Teeuwen
Last night at dinner, when our family spontaneously decided to go to a movie, I didn’t expect to cry. It was an animated kids’ movie, after all—Toy Story 3. I expected lots of magical, imaginative moments from the film, and lots of laughs, but I certainly did NOT think to pack Kleenex.
Those of you who aren’t living in a popular culture hole quite as deep as mine might be wondering how I missed the word on the street: “If you go see Toy Story 3, expect to cry. Maybe even more than once.” But I missed it, so I went in blindly, unguarded.
The movie makes good use of the usual cinematic storyline techniques to tug at your heartstrings—from happy flashback montages of Andy’s imaginative childhood playtime, to scenes of solidarity and love between the toys as moments of sure tragedy inch in, ever closer.
But the thing that really got to me (and, I suspect, to most adults) was the scene at the very end, which Pixar could have just hinted at, but instead takes time with, to beautifully draw out (don’t worry, no spoilers here). The scene perfectly articulates this aching sense of loss we have all experienced: The loss of our childhood—our imaginations, and sense of carefree wonder, and possibility.
Parenting just throws salt in the loss-of-childhood wounds
As parents, many of us are going through that loss all over again, as we watch our own children approach (and in some cases cross over) that great divide. I think it just might hurt even more to watch them go through it, because we’re aware of so much that they aren’t.
This has been a particularly weighty matter at our house in the past year or two. H will be in ninth grade this fall—a true teenager, who surprises us with her height and maturity every time she walks down the steps or into a room. She seems to have shed childhood completely, and with grace, but every once in a while she still calls her dad “Daddy,” attempting to snuggle in like someone who isn’t full-grown.
At 12, Q is stuck in an in-between land that regularly confounds her (and those around her, as well). Sometimes she throws herself into imaginative play with her younger sister and friends, still clearly enjoying it and being fed by it. Other times she is 100 percent pure adolescent, rolling her eyes and turning her back on her little sister’s pleas to play.
That, of course, leaves 10-year-old S right where you would expect: mourning the loss of her sisters’ childhoods, and clinging desperately to her own. And the issue is not confined to home. Throughout her fourth grade year at school, this was a regularly wailed refrain from S: “I have lots of friends but no one likes to imagine and pretend anymore!”
Participating in some healthy, collective mourning
So no wonder I cried last night during the movie, right? Apparently I’m not alone when it comes to adults who have seen Toy Story 3. When I shared my movie experience on Facebook and Twitter, dozens of friends immediately responded with their own teary-eyed tales. Gregory said “My sister and I were sniffling all the way through the last 15 minutes,” and as my friend Laura said, “If you don’t cry in that movie you’re not human.”
And isn’t it good, after all, for us to be human, all together—to recognize what experiences we share, like childhood, and what we’ve collectively lost? It’s good for us to corporately mourn, and to have opportunities to empathize and console.
My own kids surprised me by not crying during the movie—maybe because they haven’t completely lost their childhoods yet, so they aren’t ready to fully mourn them. Still, I will put on my mothering hat for the benefit of my grownup friends, and say, “Go ahead and cry—cry. Sometimes we just need to let out all those bits of sadness that have collected inside.”