I’ve always loved watching short animated films, but it wasn’t until Autumn was having difficulty adjusting to our new home that I began binging them. In search of something comforting and familiar, I ordered Disney Plus. Cuddling on the couch with her favorite movie, Frozen, was the perfect antidote. It was meant to be showing for one night only, but due to audience demand, it ran much longer.
“I watch Elsa Anna?” Autumn would say.
Her daily diet included lots of outdoor play, some cooking and other sensory activities, and just a pinch of screens. But just as eating different foods is healthiest, I decided her sprinkle of media needed variety. Although hesitant at first, sampling classics like Peter Pan in tiny bites before dismissing them in favor of her usual, she finally bought into the animated clips with a series starring Dug, the dog from the movie Up. His slobbering and digging reminded her of our pup, and she was hooked. These days, Frozen has melted into oblivion, and we cozy up to shorts where umbrellas fall in love, and lost and found objects teach lessons. We see clouds creating babies and paper airplanes playing matchmaker. Each clip is poignant and inspiring, indulgent in theme topics like acceptance and survival. We’ve watched so many, I’ve become, in my mind, the director of my own mini cartoon.
In my movie, I’m with Autumn. We’re running toward rainbows, skipping through sunflowers. It’s too good to be true, this mother/daughter relationship. A dark cloud with ‘back-to-school’ written on it looms in the distance as we rest near a pond. While throwing pebbles, I notice another mom at the water’s edge wearing a rock, at least two carats, perhaps three, and a thought bubble forms above my head. I imagine her driving home in her Mercedes, arriving and kissing her husband just as the maid sets on the table parmesan crusted salmon. The same day I start back at work, she sees her children off to school and heads to yoga, then the spa.
And while these thought bubbles show these images from my brain, they are floating above the reality of what is happening in this woman’s life. Yes, she’s in a Mercedes, but on the way home, she speaks to the doctors about her mother’s cancer. She greets her husband at therapy, then relieves the babysitter and eats leftover pizza for dinner.
My film, just like life, is riddled with dramatic irony. If only my character knew the woman’s reality.
At the end, we see dozens of people sleeping in their own houses, thoughts expanding on peoples’ lives whom they assume have it easier, better, but the audience sees the truth.
Of the dozens of shorts Autumn and I have watched, I think of my own the most. There are so many things about me that those who only see photos on my social media would never know. There are no pictures of four-year old me shaking with anxiety fearing death or sitting on the steps of my sorority, wondering when things would get easier. And for sure there’s nothing showcasing my loneliness in my 30s. These times, these emotions, are just as much part of the human experience as the victories and smiles, but they are far underrepresented.
And so, as I prepare my classroom, I catch my mind wandering toward the fountain where my coins carry wishes for more time and different circumstances, and I remind myself that even then, there’d be hardships. I internalize my motivational posters, meant for students, but relevant to all: A positive attitude will lead to positive outcomes; It doesn’t get easier. You get stronger.; and Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. And I take in each moment with Autumn, appreciating the way she makes faces at her reflection in the bathtub faucet and strums her ukulele while singing the alphabet song.