Sensitive Like Me

>> Sunday, November 18, 2007


When will I learn -- you can’t trust a movie just because it’s preceded by Cinderella’s castle and a flirtatious little fairy?

Michael and I saw Shrek a while ago. Cute enough. Elizabeth’s teacher (Mr. Billy) dressed as Shrek for Halloween. So we didn’t think much of letting the girls watch it when it came on TV recently. As usual, we kept an eye out for any scenes of unexpected violence and checked the girls for their reaction.

Shrek cornered in a stadium? No problem.

Shrek pummeling his adversaries before the townspeople? Hunky Dorey

A giant, fire breathing dragon chasing Shrek and his donkey friend throughout a castle practically lighting their asses on fire? Just fine.

No, the trouble began when the Princess walked through the forest and exchanged vocalizations with a beautiful blue bird. The Princess sang, the bird whistled. The Princess sang louder and the bird followed suit. Finally, the Princess unleashed her loudest caterwaul and the bird... exploded. The Princess shielded herself against the spray of blue feathers, then, saddened, she looked at the bird’s nest and found three lonesome eggs.

Next we see her frying the newly orphaned eggs. Apparently she was practical as well as lovely.

Ha, ha! I thought as I looked over at Lizzy. That’s like Snow White when she sang to the animals, only this time they took it in the opposite direction and the bird exploded. Get it? Pretty funny, huh?

No. Not so funny. Her face crumpled. She fell apart.

“The beautiful Mommy bird broke!” she cried. “The Princess broke her. And then she killed her babies!”

Yep, she got it all right -- everything but the irony, that is. Damn. She ran to her room and cried on her pillow.

As I wiped away her tears, I flashed back to a time (OK, several times) when my Mom comforted me after I’d seen something in a movie or on TV. Nature documentaries were the absolute worst -- little animals stumbling through the desert, dying of thirst, then falling onto the ground exhausted; long sequences of happy gazelle families, hopping across the tundra, only to be torn apart by lions. Then one day it dawned on me.

“Mama! Why aren’t the people who make the movie saving the animals? They’re just letting them die!”

She tried. But nothing she said made me feel much better.

“It’s nature’s way...” “Nature’s way” sucks!

“They can’t interfere...” Bullshit! Of course they can!

Occasionally Mom went the extra mile and lied to me. “Honey, I’m sure after they stopped shooting, they ran to the baby Ostrich and gave it food and water.”

Well, at least that stopped me from hyperventilating, which of course is the goal of every good mother. But most moms want more than that. They want to annihilate their child’s pain. It’s not good enough to avoid it. If they can’t do either, mothers often try to reinvent it:

“Your boyfriend dumped you? Well he was a cheap stupid bastard anyway so you’re much better without him.”

“You didn’t win the talent contest? That’s because one of the judges was sleeping with a contestant and they’re both clearly idiots.”

Thank God for moms. But while we appreciate our mother’s efforts (and are often saved by them), deep down we know it’s not true. The guy was great. I have no prize-winning talent. And the bird is dead. It’s as simple as that.

Dads, however... I think they might be different. Not better, just different. I didn’t have a dad growing up, but if my husband is an example, then I imagine dads to be the realists of the parental unit.

“Didn’t make the baseball team? Well, you’d better practice more.”

“You guys broke up? Well, someone else will come along.”

“The bird died? Well, sometimes it’s a hard world for small things.

Listening to Lizzy cry over the blue bird, my first impulse was to lie and backpedal and pretend she misunderstood. “No, it’s just a coincidence -- those weren’t the eggs from the nest. She got them from the grocery store. And the mommy bird isn’t broken. Birds often... explode... only to come together again... with all new feathers (yea, that’s the ticket).”

But I knew it wouldn’t help. Because she’s sensitive like me. And seeing her tears, I was reminded of my tears, and how unfair life can be. And sometimes, how terribly cruel. So I hugged her and allowed her to cry. I’m sorry, sweety... You’re a wonderful little girl... I know, I know...

Michael encouraged me to tell her a story.

“A story? Of what?” I asked.

“How about something from childhood,” he suggested. OK, Mr. On-Your-Toes. That’s a great idea and all, but at this moment all I can think about is four dead birds and how heartless I am to have missed the inherent cruelty in Shrek movies.

Go on,” he prodded.

“I’m not good at that sort of thing,” I muttered under my breath.

He sighed and joined us next to Lizzy’s bed. We both looked at him with worried looks on our faces. What are we to do? we pleaded with our eyes. It’s not fair. We feel so helpless.

Michael looked back at the two of us, and he talked. Lizzy and I listened. Instead of justifying Disney movies or encouraging us to toughen up, Michael talked about our day. Just our day. He talked about eating at the Beef and Bun that afternoon. About Lizzy noticing that her lemonade was just water. About going to a new playground and running through a soccer field.

Pretty soon, we felt better. Our worries drifted away on his words. The sniffles ceased. The tears dried. The smiles returned. Yea, they had a really great slide, too! You guys ran really far... Did you like that dog?

I sat there. And smiled. And when he wiped the hair away from Lizzy's eyes, I blinked. And for a moment -- just a moment -- I had a daddy. A good daddy. And it was sooo heavenly.

Sometimes it's OK to be sensitive like me.




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