Why does every teachable moment in my poor kid’s life begin with This Old Mom making a ginormous mistake?
Either I’m not listening or listening while multi-tasking which is basically not listening or it’s impossible to understand what Grace is saying because her current stabs at English give her an accent that veers from Brooklyn to Boston to Creole- sometimes in the same word.
One morning, while simultaneously feeding her, the dogs, turtle and cat, Grace hollers:
Grace: I wanna watch Lion God.
ME: What? You mean The Lion King.
Grace: No. Lion God.
ME: There is no such thing as the Lion God. It’s called The Lion King.
While wiping cat food off my hands, I find The Lion King, thrilled to distract her while feeding everyone but me. While trying to find a free pirated version, I worry that the Mufasa death scene, a mere 3 months after her Granny passed away, might fuck her up, but I figure, it’s a cartoon and she has to learn the difference between reality and cartoons and people and animals and death at some point so… I let it fly.
Pause. Can we just gasp in amazement at how BAD The Lion King is.
The Lion King was released a mere 5 years before Pixar disrupted the animation playing field with the digitally animated Toy Story. Next to Toy Story, The Lion King is so clunky and long as dirt that it’s easy to assume that Grace will be over it in about 5 minutes. Again. Assumption incorrect.
Suddenly it’s the Mufasa death scene, which basically is the Millennial version of the Bambi dead scene- responsible for traumatizing new legions of children–and their parents who will have to answer many sad, complex questions about death for like 5 hours a day for the rest of both of your lives. I try to turn it off, but she insists on watching as Simba watches James Earl Jones bite it in a stampede. Question time.
GRACE: Why does Mufasa die?
ME: Well, Scar is a bad brother – and a very bad lion. Or a good lion, actually, in that he’s a predator. His name is Scar, which is a heavy handed hint that he’s just no good. That’s why Jeremy Irons is his voice. With a British accent, even though his brother is voiced by James Earl Jones, who has an American accent. See, it makes no sense. It’s just a cartoon, honey.
GRACE: But why does Mufasa HAVE to die?
We blink at each other for a moment. What is she actually asking me? Is this about plot and storytelling devices or is this about how life sucks because we just end up dying? By the way, spoiler alert: the Circle of Life is a lie. It’s a straight line from birth to death. A circle implies otherwise.
ME: Well, we are led to think from the beginning of the movie that the titular character is Mufasa, because he starts out as the Lion King. But the Lion King turns out to be Simba, his son. It’s the Hamlet story, but set in Africa’s animal kingdom. Sadly, Simba has to lose his father in order to become who he is supposed to be.
Grace practices her eye roll, which is swiftly becoming as artful and broad as that of a Nickelodeon tween star. She stomps her massive Spidey-high-top-encased foot, furious.
GRACE: NOOOOO. WHY. DOES. MUFASA. HAVE. TO. DIE?????!!!
Eyes instantly watering, I wonder if she’s upset about Mufasa’s demise or about my mom’s recent and sudden death? My mom’s been gone 4 months. Grace hasn’t mentioned her lately.
Grace sure talked about Granny’s death in the beginning. Like all our intense conversations– on race, racism, adoption, gender issues–all happened before we thought Grace was ready (and WAY before I was) I realize death is going to be a chat we will have over and over until I kick it.
ME: Grace I appreciate your frustration, because I’m mighty frustrated too. I hate that Granny died. While anger is an understandable reaction, and one I am currently entrenched in, Mufasa dies because all beings die– sooner or later. If we live than we die at some point and you won’t die for a LONG, LONG, LONG—
Grace claps an exhausted hand to her forehead in the purest act of surrender ever witnessed. She is so utterly over me, that I am too. She sits on the floor. Suddenly wiped out, I sink to the floor too.
ME: Are you upset Granny died?
GRACE: Why do you keep making everything about Granny dying?
ME: (Ouch, okay) What do you want to know?
GRACE: Why Mufasa has to die?
ME: Well, in most Disney animated movies a parent dies early on, which infuriates a lot of mothers who think Disney is out to get them, but it’s a trope from old, old Fairy Tales. A child’s worst fear is losing a parent, especially a mother. And as evidenced in Bambi or Cinderella, it’s important for children to learn that they can survive the loss of a parent- so Mufasa dies so that Simba will grow up and be his own man- I mean, lion.
Grace eyes me like I’ve ruined all four years of her life.
ME: I didn’t answer your question, did I?
Grace just shakes her head very slowly with a centuries-old-soul ‘no’.
ME: OK. Mufasa dies because his brother kills him.
I see another question coming but I head it off at the pass.
ME: Scar is jealous his brother is king so he kills him. Then he tries to kill Simba so that he, Scar, can be the evil king. That’s why.
Grace takes it all in soberly, somberly, sadly. It’s no fun explaining the facts of life, especially the bad facts. But if she’s going to have someone blow holes in her innocence with all the ways people are cruel and wrong and evil and weak and frail and fragile to the point of ceasing to be, it might as well be me. She gives me a sad smile.
GRACE: Oh. Scar kills Mufasa because he wants to be king. That’s really uncool, Mom.
ME: Yes. It’s supremely uncool.
GRACE: And it’s ‘preemely uncool that Granny died.
ME: Yes, yes it is Grace.
GRACE: And this isn’t the Lion God.
Then she climbs in my lap and we watch the rest of the most endless animated film of all time. I cannot feel the love tonight or any night for The Lion King.
And while Grace learns about betrayal, murder and death, I text the most in-the-know Mom I know, and learn about The Lion Guard, which is a Disney animated series… where, magically no one, not even the predatory animals or the ruminant prey of the African plains, ever dies. The worst The Lion Guard ever gets is when hyenas grin malevolently as they harrass antelope, which are protected (not hunted, which is a TOTAL LIE) by a peaceable gang comprised of a lion with a red mohawk, a hippo, a cheetah and a honey badger. It’s awesome.
While the dumbass in me wishes I had known about The Lion Guard just so we didn’t have to have this awful conversation and watch The Lion King… both were going to happen sooner or later.
I kind of hate teachable moments because all of them are for me.