Monday, July 06, 2015

i don't just want my kid to be happy

“I’m in heaven,” I told AK yesterday.

We’d just sat down in creaky-springed seats near the back row at Highland Theatre to see a matinee of Inside Out. Dash was already getting sleepy in his carrier (see previous post re: bringing infants to the movies). There was a cardboard tray of popcorn and a mini bag of M&Ms next to me, because we’d just discovered that while a small drink and small popcorn cost $10, a kid’s combo containing the same items plus M&Ms only cost $6 (and you didn’t have to be a kid to order it). It was all of my favorite things.

Joy and Sadness ponder a memory.
The movie, as you probably already know, follows the inner workings of an eleven-year-old girl named Riley as she navigates a move and a new school. Thus far, Joy has been the main driver at the control center of her mind, but all of a sudden Sadness—a bespectacled blue girl in a turtleneck—is popping up in the most unexpected places, even tainting pleasant memories. Assuming that you yourself are over eleven, I’m probably not giving away a lot to say that they discover life is a bittersweet blend of emotions, and that you need all of them for balance and sanity. When Joy tries to keep Sadness in a tiny little circle, she (and Riley) fails. When Sadness copilots, Riley becomes vulnerable, expressive and mature.

Guess who's manning the controls in my head.
Anthony Lane wrote one of his condescending reviews of the movie in the New Yorker, implying that Riley had first-world problems (because she had a lot of sunny childhood memories, I guess) and that the whole endeavor was a bunch of self-esteem-movement mumbo-jumbo and a denial of Reason.

I think he missed that it’s first and foremost a coming-of-age movie, and that being eleven is a fairly universal problem. And just because Reason isn’t a character doesn’t mean it’s totally devalued. There’s a spot-on moment when Joy opens a box on the Train of Thought and a jumble of what look like mahjong tiles falls out.

“These are Facts, but they’re all mixed up with Opinions,” she laments.

Inside Out is an imaginative, funny, sweet movie, one that could, I think, actually act as a non-didactic guidepost for kids trying to understand adolescence, if not Anthony Lane. The animation and landscapes aren’t quite as fanciful as, say, The Lego Movie, but they get the job done.

Riley on the ice.
(Side note: I love that such a big, non-princess movie features a girl as the protagonist. A girl who happens to love hockey and have two male personality traits [Fear and Anger], even though quick glimpses into other characters’ heads reveal traits that match their external gender.)

Shortly after their move, Riley’s mom muses that she (Riley) is the one thing making her father happy right now. Later, her parents wonder “What happened to our happy girl?”

This is a bit of a soapbox of mine: When parents say “I just want you to be happy,” they’re not always doing kids a favor. Sure, it’s better than pressuring a kid to become a doctor or to marry Jewish or whatever, but happiness is actually a huge demand. When kids feel responsible for their parents’ emotional well being, they can crumble under the pressure, as Riley nearly does.

Happy baby pose.
AK and I took this cautionary tale very seriously. We knew our mission, and we chose to accept it. Dash, in his five months of life, has shown himself to be an extraordinarily happy baby. Like, so happy that I can’t even relate to parents who talk about the blood, sweat and tears of parenting (exhaustion, yes, but not a lot of tears). So happy that I feel like I could learn a lot from him. So happy that, if he didn’t engage so actively with his surroundings, I might wonder if he was a little bit dull in the head (in which case I’d love him no less).

But that doesn’t mean he’ll always be happy, or that he has a responsibility to be. AK and I can rejoice in his happiness without making it an obligation. He is entitled to the full range of human emotion. As long as he becomes a cardiologist.

1 comment:

Fresca said...

Oh, good! I've been waiting for someone whose opinion I respect (not Mr. Lane) to recommend this movie. The preview did look good, though I noted the gender thing. But it looks like Fear is played by Beaker, from the Muppets!
Now I will go.