The kids and I saw Inside Out a few weeks back.
My 10-year-old was annoyed it was a cartoon.
My 6-year-old was scared of the clown.
My 3-year-old fell asleep.
But I thought it was awesome. Should be required viewing for anyone between the ages of 9 and 90.
To be fair, becoming a parent has made me a crappy film critic. If the kids are quiet and I have Milk Duds, I’m gonna love the movie, whether it’s Annie or Battlefield Earth. Even if a child stood up and vomited on me (which actually happened during Toy Story 3), I would have given Inside Out two thumbs up. Here’s why: it makes a case for Sadness. It lets us know that Sadness is Okay.
We have really needed that lesson this week.
A few days ago, our dog, Shadow, passed away. In addition to my own grief about the failing pup, I had to figure out how to navigate this event with my kids. Was I going to be strong for them? Or was I going to weep openly? As a child, I remember thinking it was awful when I saw my parents cry. My father wept at my grandfather’s funeral, and I felt like the world might cave in. So, I decided I would be strong for my kids.
I was strong for them. But I was also a big, blubbering mess.
I cried when I drove them home from school and told them Shadow was dying. I whimpered when I saw them gather around his soft little body and stroke his fur. I guffawed when my husband took Shadow away. I was emotional. And so were the kids. Katie said it felt like her oldest friend had passed away. She wondered out loud, “what bad thing will happen next?” Lizzie said the next time she saw her best friend’s dog, she was gonna punch it in the nose. I nearly seized upon this remark. “We do NOT punch dogs!” But I was so glad I didn’t. Lizzie went on to explain that it just felt so unfair that anyone else should get to have a dog when we didn’t anymore. She is not a violent person. She was just struggling to translate intense feelings into words.
And Inside Out taught us that that happens sometimes. Feelings like Anger and Fear can get mixed up inside of us. And sometimes it is Sadness that helps us sort them out. Sometimes Sadness even helps bring people together. That’s exactly what it did for me and the girls. We sat on our faded green couch and felt all mixed up for awhile. We laughed about the time Shadow ate fruitcake and remembered how he used to cheat at Hide and Seek. We cried about how he wouldn’t be our night watchman anymore. And expressed remorse that we hadn’t walked him enough lately. Lizzie suggested we get another dog just like Shadow and call him, “Shadow, Jr.” Which prompted me to tell the girls about “rebound relationships” and high school boyfriends, and a whole raft of subjects we had never covered before. We have lots of Joy-filled afternoons, and I much prefer them, but I would be lying if I did not at least acknowledge that it was the Sadness that slowed us down and helped us take the trouble to understand each other. The Sadness made us hold one another more closely.
Maybe the girls felt like their world was going to cave when they saw me cry. But I don’t think so. Plus, it didn’t. We talked for awhile longer and then the kids started hinting about watching a movie. “Even Alexander didn’t have a bad day like this one,” said Katie. We put in a Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. It was not nearly as good as the book, but it was also awesome, because it reminded us that even the worst days don’t last forever, especially when you stick with your family through the pain.
It would not be okay if I always used my kids to prop me up in my grief. That is called Depression, and there are hotlines and therapists and medications for that.
But I think every so often, it is healthy for children to see us hurt, to comfort us in our sorrow, and to see firsthand that Sadness has a beginning, a middle, and, especially, an end.