Friday, July 30, 2010

Not what we thought

Today's Briefing column is here and here:

Some tales aren't what we thought they'd be

Summer nights are perfect for reading classics out loud.

I recently chose The Secret Garden as our ongoing bedtime story. It had been sitting on Katie's shelf for four years, always passed over for picture books or other chapter books.

Cooper, Katie and I settled in on the sofa, and I started reading Frances Hodgson Burnett's words for the first time. And Katie began to cry.

Little Mary Lennox becomes an orphan early in the story; both of her negligent parents fall victim to cholera, and sour Mary is left all alone.

As Katie cried and pleaded with me to stop reading ("This isn't what I thought it would be!"), I felt inadequate on two fronts.

One: How could I not have read this century-old classic before? What other important works of literature am I missing?

Two: What kind of mother am I to not screen the basic plot before reading to my two children, who lost their father to cancer less than a year ago?

I assumed that there must be a redeeming moment for orphaned Mary, so we kept reading, this time with my right arm wrapped tightly around a sniffling Katie.

We're more than halfway through the novel now, and Mary's life is turning around. Katie hasn't cried since that first night.

Summer nights are also perfect for watching a movie under the stars.

Last Friday night, Cooper, Katie and I joined other Frisco folks on the lawn in front of City Hall to watch The NeverEnding Story.

We claimed our patch of grass with a blanket and settled in for the 1984 film. And Katie began to cry.

First we learn that young Bastian's mom has recently died. His dad scolds him for not doing better in school. Then Bastian is pulled into a fantastical story in which the horse Artax drowns in the Swamps of Sadness.

"This isn't what I thought it would be!" Katie cried again. I snuggled her tight, smoothed her hair and apologized. My feelings of inadequacy returned.

One: How could I not remember the basic premise of a movie I watched dozens of times (albeit not once in the past two decades)?

Two: What kind of mother am I to not do some cursory research before subjecting my children to fictional sadness not too far removed from their own?

I texted my sister to report the fiasco, and she wrote back that the movie gets better. So we stayed, and Katie was eventually won over by the flying luck dragon and the hopeful ending.

Summer Saturdays are perfect for a newly released G-rated movie.

Last Saturday, the three of us settled into comfy theater chairs to watch one of my favorite childhood series come to life on the big screen.

Ramona and Beezus would no doubt be a safe choice. I knew that both parents stayed healthy and alive. I never cried once while reading Beverly Cleary's books about the Quimby family.

Yet I cried during the movie (and held Katie's hand to make me feel better). Why? Because both parents stayed healthy and alive.

Dad comes home from work to enjoy dinner with his family. After he loses his job, he spends time coloring and playing with Ramona. When Aunt Bea gets married, he dances with his daughters.

Katie cries when fictional characters experience the pain she's felt. I cry when fictional characters experience the life I wish we still had.

I'm slowly realizing that I can't shelter my children from literature and news stories and movies in which parents die. (For one, we'd have to eliminate almost every single Disney film.) I'm also realizing that I can't shelter myself from unknown grief triggers.

And I'm reminded every day that the three of us are fortunate to have one another and to be able to grieve together – and hold each other when we're heavy-hearted.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. E-mail her at

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