Posted: Dec 18, 2013 6:00 AM
 
After attempting the theater last weekend for a movie experience with my 6-year-old, I discovered what I thought might be true: She still hates movies. Though I contemplated her acceptance of hard real-life concepts, I came to the conclusion that "reel" life isn't the same. A Parental Guidance movie rating for us means we're not quite ready for the big screen.

Four years ago, I took my oldest daughter to see Tangled for her first real theater experience. We went with friends, and I figured it would be a slam dunk for a memorable date. I mean, come on — popcorn, cherry slushies and Red Vines. I realized 10 minutes into the movie though that my daughter was not enjoying herself. Her small body practically folded in half from a movie chair that threatened to swallow her Venus flytrap style, she curled closer toward me in the darkness as the infamous movie villain emerged from the plot. I clearly sensed her empathy for the girl with the awful "mother," and by the third nasty remark from Mother Dearest, my daughter was in my lap with her head buried in my neck. She hated the entire experience.

"OK," I thought, "so she wasn't ready for the big theater." The thing is, she really wasn't into movies at home either — and hasn't been since. We've made fires, popped popcorn and built couch forts out of blankets, but no matter how much I talk up our movies, we can never get past the tragic parts in some of my childhood favorites before my contemplative girl shuts down. Bambi's mom dies, Simba's dad dies, Mowgli fends for himself, Tarzan's parents are eaten by a leopard, nobody's nice to Cinderella, and poor Nemo can't catch a break. And though there's comic relief, important lessons throughout and heroic victories for the good guys in every movie, my girl is too affected by the sadness to enjoy the rest of these classics.

And though there's comic relief, important lessons throughout and heroic victories for the good guys in every movie, my girl is too affected by the sadness to enjoy the rest of these classics.

So we've stuck to Little Bear, Curious George, Angelina Ballerina and most recently, a movie victory with Haylee Mills in The Parent Trap. No dead parents, no tragic deaths.

"Maybe she's growing out of this movie thing," I thought. Because last weekend, when we were invited back to the theater by some friends who wanted to see Frozen, Lainey begged to go. We bought the tickets. And the Red Vines. And the popcorn with the extra butter. Three years of growth means my daughter can finally sit in a movie seat without getting folded in half and can sway her feet all carefree and happy while we wait for the show.

The movie started. Two sisters ("just like you and Nella," I whispered) and their doting parents. Until 10 minutes in, Mom and Dad left their girls and boarded a ship to go on a short trip, and — you guessed it. Ship goes overboard in a storm. At which point Lainey's friend leaned over and — attempting to whisper but horribly missing the mark — yelled, "Her parents died. They're dead. "

I knew I had half a second to know where this was going, and it didn't take even that. She burrowed closer, handed me her popcorn and laid her head on my arm. We were done.

I leaned in for recovery treatment which sounds like, "It's just pretend. Movies aren't real. Watch what happens; everything's going to work out." And for one crazy second, I thought maybe her reaction was my fault. I mean, is her life too perfect? Have I sheltered her from the challenges of real life? Maybe I needed to catch up on some hard knock life lessons. I had half a notion to tell her right then and there — "Lainey, people die! Ships go overboard! Orphans are real! There's no Santa!" Yes, that totally would have been the responsible parent thing to do.

And then I realized that I was judging my 6-year-old's ability to cope with "real life" by her discomfort with a movie involving parents who die in a shipwreck and their daughter who freezes her little sister's heart with magical ice powers. Yeah, that happens every day. Perhaps the ship isn't the only thing that went overboard.

So my kid doesn't like movies just yet. Just because she's still shaping concepts of reality doesn't mean she can't cope with it. Someday she'll be sneaking into R-rated movies, and I'll yearn for the day evil step mothers made her twitch.

Children and their behaviors and responses to circumstances are as unique as the DNA that runs through them.

This is just another of a hundred examples I've experienced since becoming a mother that navigating through parenthood relies less on searching for that one right way and more on being in tune with your child and your instincts. Children and their behaviors and responses to circumstances are as unique as the DNA that runs through them. So you simply do your best to know your children, to listen to their concerns, to love them in a way that allows you to speak their language fluently and follow your heart with making every decision that affects them.

For us, that means we wait a little longer for the sensational world of movie plots. There's plenty of Curious George to keep us entertained until we're ready.

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