I wrote in a previous post that I wasn’t raised to be very sentimental and used to fight against tears when I watched sad movies. Those days are clearly past. I took the kids to see Toy Story 3 yesterday and I didn’t just weep: I actually had to work to keep from sobbing out loud. It’s a beautiful, poignant movie that managed to put its finger right on my current tender-sore emotional spot: how kids grow up and move away from their homes, families, and the things they once loved.
I am by no means the first to point out that the toys in the Toy Story movies are in many ways a stand-in for parents: the kids adore them and want to play with them when they’re little but lose interest in their company as they move out into the real world and grow up. In the third Toy Story movie (which I promise not to ruin), the fact that kids outgrow their toys–hinted at in the earlier movies–sets the whole story in motion, and no matter how funny the jokes (very) or intense the action (very), the poignancy of that loss is always there, and the movie is that much more meaningful and moving because of it.
This isn’t a movie review (in case you haven’t noticed, I loved it, so you know five stars from me, if that makes any difference to you). I just wanted to mention how much it made me think about how things change and you can’t stop them, you can only hope you’ve laid the foundation for a future that’s different but still hopeful.
I always hated the Shel Silverstein book The Giving Tree, which, like Toy Story, is a parable of how parents lose their kids as they grow up. I loathe that book. I don’t want to be the kind of parent who gives and gives and gives . . . and then gives some more, without getting anything in return. I expect my kids to do stuff for me at any age: bring me a glass of water when I’m feeling lazy, help me carry something to the car, shower me with gifts (homemade is fine) on my birthday and Mother’s Day, respect my need to work and occasionally ignore them. That book never worked for me because the kid is so selfish–he’s not a nice person. I want my kids to be aware of other people’s needs, even mine, not just entirely self-centered.
But Toy Story 3 gets it. Near the beginning of the movie, Andy’s mother walks into his room–now stripped bare in preparation for his move to college–and gives a tiny little gasp. Her son realizes how she’s feeling and hugs her. It’s a small, lovely moment–and of course I cried. I have a son who’s going to college in the fall, and one who just left this morning for a summer program. And it hurts to have them leave, hurts more than I can say. But, like the mother in the movie, I’ll give my little gasp and hug them and let them go. Not because they’re selfish and I’m giving, but because that’s the natural order of things and when it’s time for kids to move out into the world, you have to let them go.
But I’m hopeful they’ll come back. A lot. I do believe we’ll have plenty of time together in the future. Our relationship won’t end, they just won’t be little kids again. I hope I can be as accepting and unresentful of that fact as the mom (and Woody) are in the movie. And as brave. I hope I can give my little gasp and my hug and then let them go.