Pixar Releases Turning Red, Generates Way More Meta-Commentary re: Their Audience Than Anyone Was Ready For

Disclaimer: I have not seen this film and probably never will.

In the classic vein of Drama I Do Not Have Time For, Turning Red has overtaken my social media stream this week as equally outraged and delighted parents, all women, weigh in with their takes. Were it not for the surprising diversity on display in these strong opinions, I would have gone on my (usually not very) merry way. But I swear, at this point the movie itself simply cannot live up to the hype any way you dice it: the social narratives about the meta-narratives in the movie have already been worth the popcorn investment.

Some people say the movie normalizes grooming teenagers for sexual abuse. Some people say it normalizes much-needed discussions of topics that never should have been taboo. Some people say it promotes “harmful stereotypes” of mother-daughter relationships. Others say it depicts their true-to-life experience of abuse so accurately that it would be triggering to watch!

I can’t verify the accuracy of any of these evaluations without watching the movie, and I’m just not interested in the movie one way or the other, so I’m not going to even try. What I am here to do, however, is to point out that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, and I love the fact that Pixar has created something that highlights how different our vantage points often are—and how easily we overlook, dismiss, or ignore the perspectives of others in favor of exclusively focusing on our own.

Speaking as a repentant abject Judgy McJudgerson, myself.

Just because someone has a different take on something doesn’t mean I’m wrong. Just because someone thinks I’m wrong doesn’t mean I’m wrong. And… just because I think someone else is wrong doesn’t make them wrong, either… in and of itself.

But it might be wrong of us to write each other off just because we see things differently.

That’s actually the one thing that bothers me in the review linked above: it doesn’t grant that there are other takes on the mother/daughter dynamic in the movie.

I really like and appreciate this mom’s assessment of the movie overall, though. She’s pretty even-keeled. She owns her part in how the media showed up in her home without a trace of either self-shaming or deflecting (SO GOOD!). She can handle talking about puberty with her kids, whether or not she or they were prepared to do so (way to think on her feet and rise to the occasion!). She’s honest and real about what she didn’t like or appreciate about this experience for her family that she legit wishes had gone differently (yes, she is entitled to her own preferences, likes and dislikes!). She doesn’t mud-sling or denigrate Disney/Pixar but clearly communicates the simple facts about her prior expectations for their movies and describes, again very simply and calmly, how those weren’t met, and how, given that experience, she will plan to approach their media differently in future—and clearly describes how she would like them to handle such media of theirs in future, too, in case they would be willing to consider that.

These are all hallmarks of respectful, mature conversation. Brava!

Then, near the end, there’s that part about “harmful stereotypes of relationships with mothers and daughters.”

Well… ok, Redemption Unveiled Podcast. I see why you say that. I totally see how this negative depiction of a parent-child relationship could have scared you and your littles and damaged the sweet, trusting rapport you have worked so hard to cultivate with them. That is truly unfortunate, and I am sorry. Nobody warned you and you got signed up for this ride without your knowing consent and now you’re stuck doing damage control and that’s a shame. It is. I mean that.

But, uh, there’s something you need to know… depictions of negative, destructive, harmful parenting, are not… stereotypes.

They are just truths that you, and especially your children, are very blessed to not have present in your immediate family.

That can’t be said for a lot of people. Particularly… a lot of kids out there.

Kids who do indeed, for very good reason, feel just like this character you’ve quoted from the movie (that part I can legit comment on since you kindly shared it): “I’ve been obsessed with my moms approval my whole life. I couldn’t take losing it, but losing you guys feels even worse.”

Friend, I’d like you to know that I wish somebody, even if it was just some cartoon movie narrative, had presented me with this life lesson as an option when I was a teen.

It might have saved me from another two decades of solid grief, abuse, and arrested development.

Here’s the thing: some kids actually need stories like this to tell them the truth about their parents. Even, maybe especially, when those kids have grown up to be adults and still don’t know any better.

Because their parents sure as heck aren’t going to tell them.

And their parents’ friends sure aren’t going to tell them because, well, they’re the parents’ friends, and we have a society full of grown-ups more willing to look out for the interests of their fellow grown-ups than for the vulnerable children being exploited in their midst.

Sometimes we need stories from people who’ve never met us and never will to speak the truth that we desperately need to hear that not a single person we actually know will ever say.

That is why I am fundamentally grateful Pixar is creating stories like this, even though you may not be.

I am sorry this movie was a waste of your time, and I’m not denying that it was; it clearly was. But it’s not going to be a waste of someone else’s time. In fact, someone else out there really needs to see it.

And you know what? It would not be a waste of your time… for you to sit down with that person, whether a child or an adult… as an engaged and observant and supportive and quiet and listening friend… and watch this movie with them. And talk about it.

Ask them how it spoke to them. Ask them if it resonates at all. Ask them how safe they feel at home, how seen they feel, how respected they feel. Ask them if they just want to talk about any of it.

Maybe start with just that last one first.

And then really, really listen.

Because, friend, if someone had done something like that for me when I was a kid–if that kind of appreciation for different, unfamiliar, even uncomfortable perspectives on stuff like this had existed when I was a kid–maybe you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation today.

Maybe we wouldn’t have to.

Maybe you would still accidentally stumble into the misfortune of having your own kids unnecessarily exposed to this subject matter… but maybe then you would be better equipped to have a conversation about how, sadly, parents like that do exist, and the kids of those parents need love and help, and because your kiddos have good and kind and loving parents… they can grow up to be good parents themselves and maybe even show hurting little kids like that what it is to be truly loved.

Gratis.

P.S. Also can you please not use sarcastic quote marks to discredit the main character whenever she talks about her true self? Because, um, that tells survivors of child abuse (like me) that they don’t actually know themselves and what they’ve gone through… even though nobody else could possibly know everything they’ve gone through as well as they do. Let’s all please keep in mind that God designed each individual human to be literally the best-qualified human on the planet to know who he or she is… because God did not make people to be a hive mind. Nobody gets to know my mind and heart and life like I do, and I don’t get to know that about anybody else. Nobody but God has that insight (Jer. 17:9-10).

Kthanxbye.

“You Pick Your Battles”

My child was recently diagnosed with autism—for the second time. If I found the initial report from this past fall sharply illuminating, the complete evaluation report we received on Monday was by far more circumspect.

Parenting a child with special needs poses unique challenges when it comes to maintaining our family values of bodily autonomy and personal agency—values that we have developed in response to my own background as a child abuse survivor and our subsequent education on the topic. Toilet training, in particular, has remained an enormous question mark for years. My child has needed a great deal of assistance, and many things that come naturally or make a certain amount of innate sense to a neurotypical person do not occur to him. Despite our attempts to help him habit-train privacy routines, for example, they are easy for him to forget or ignore simply because he feels zero compulsion to modesty, even as he ages. I have faith he’ll surmount this complication eventually, but his brain is going to get there differently than mine did. This isn’t generally a big problem, but occasional situations crop up that trigger the fears I have that are rooted in my own background and advocacy training. Even as I own and manage my triggers, separating them out from the situation in front of me and dealing with each separately… I do routinely still have to face a particular dilemma.

How do I meet my child where he is and help him develop healthy and safe personal boundaries from the ground up?

The abstract solution is straightforward enough; the implementation, however, is not.

Though my child is good-hearted, an eager learner, highly intelligent, and naturally very curious… his stubbornness quotient is enormous, well beyond that of a typical grade-schooler. When the stubbornness isn’t at play, the distractedness settles in full force. Between these two impediments, exhaustion, frustration, and overwhelm rises up daily on all sides. We are all steadily working on strengthening our coping mechanisms: self-regulation, co-regulation, self-soothing, comforting, patience, owning our triggers, resilience, verbal articulation, CBT…

And, still, my husband and I often resort to choosing our battles.

Sometimes I focus on maintaining my child’s hygiene and lose sight of the need to guard his privacy. Sometimes I focus on guarding his privacy and overlook behaviors that are less than hygienic.

Frequently, I just can’t do both. I do my best to cover both priorities, and I try to improve my tactics, my resources, and my approach on an ongoing basis.

But at the end of the day, I pick my battles.

Note, when I pick my battles, I’m not defending my choices or my actions by projecting them onto you, dear reader.

At least, I try hard not to do that anymore. Cause I used to—a lot. I used to say, like everyone else I know, “You pick your battles.”

But, while I’m sure you do—pick your battles, that is—your battles aren’t mine. They don’t apply to me. And I don’t pick them. And you don’t pick mine.

We, each of us, pick our own battles; and I have found owning my choices in battle—rather than casting about for another person to share their victory with me or take on my shame if I fail—has freed me to do the best job I can with what I have.

That is the only work that makes sense for me to do.

Before, I would hold myself up to standards that only made sense for other people. People without my history, without my skillset, without my hangups, without my strengths, without my weaknesses, without my resources or lack thereof.

My battle choices are not prescriptive for you, and yours aren’t prescriptive for me.

Just above there, I typed, “How do you meet your child where he is…” before I caught myself and corrected it.

How often do we do this? I read a viral twitter thread recently wherein posters were confronted with this tendency in themselves. Over the past few months it has deeply shaped not only my own perspective, but my husband’s.

“Like ya do.”

“As one does.”

“You know when you…”

“How do you…?” (rhetorically, non-literally)

Yikes.

Let’s own our battles. We’re the only ones out there who can fight them.

Like ya do.

My cat sitting on the counter

Catterel

O fanged thing! Thou of the flats
Of fooding places, spills and splats,
You lurketh there between the bowls,
Your bowels are full of meowls for fowls,
And other things best left unsaid.
You like your cows both warm and dead
Or at the least a bit more ed-
Ible than paltry offerings to growls
Of tummies that inhabit cats.
You are a victim of possession foul:
That's how you've pled for being on the prowl!

Child Hunger

It can be hard to recognize child hunger
Says the billboard


[Uncooked ramen

The smallest serving of nuggets off the dollar menu

Cream cheese on a sleeve of crackers on a days' empty stomach, gift of parents

The gap between near satisfaction
And feeling loved]


you removed your eyes
you couldn't stand tears

Short Story: Cancelled

Last week I made a submission to Reedsy Prompts, a weekly creative writing contest. It had been a good while since I had drafted, let alone completed, a work of fiction, so it was a delightful exercise, and I found seven days to be an ideal span of time to both formulate and revise a story to my satisfaction. I didn’t win anything aside from the great experience and the opportunity to read some excellent work by another author; but I genuinely love this little story that was birthed from a terrific prompt, “Write a story about a character who’s trying to fill an empty space, literally or metaphorically,” from Contest #108.

Cancelled

Maire said cancellation didn’t hurt. If that were true, Cara would have traded the last day full of a stiff back and migraine for an early quitting time. She floured the work surface and kneaded a lump in rhythm to her pounding temples. Only an hour or two: after that, there wouldn’t be enough of her left to suffer. It was just a matter of filling the space between now and then.

She rubbed an itch on her cheek with her shoulder and didn’t see how it left a powdery smudge on her sleeve. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth; she wondered where she had left her tea. It would be cold by now, but Conall had honeyed it perfectly when it was hot, and though Cara could no longer taste it properly, the needless charity warmed her.

He had let her in to the bakery that morning even though it was Sunday and he would sell none of the bread. He had told Cara to eat whatever she made, but she wasn’t hungry. Rather, she felt her hunger had been swallowed by another, deeper gulf steadily widening inside. Trying to fill it with food seemed disrespectful. Spending her final moments baking, however, felt like a proper observance.

Every ounce of the thrashings she had stored up and never delivered—not even when she let loose that torrent of rage over the Iudex in the square—she laid into the defenseless boules. She cried afterward. The loaves offered no threatening retort, and she was already condemned besides, but guilt accosted her for abusing something that could not cry out. Cara, at least, had that. Her cry had cost her everything, but it was hers. She had spent it.

On a cause that had never advanced before her and would gain no ground from her effort, for a consequence with no redemption.

Was it worth it?

Could anything be less worthwhile than silence?

Could any silence be filled?

Cara considered the chalky streaks on her apron as she dried her eyes. Oppression had begun her life and would end it, but not only hers. The men of the communia might never be auctioned, but Maire’s husband had treated her sons, not as cancelli, but as chattel equal to her. Never as worthy of their sire—not as the rightful heirs to the Iudex* that they were.

It didn’t matter when only one of them struck him down: it had been in defense of the other. Both were sentenced by the cancelli peers and allowed eight more years to live—long enough for Cara to taste happiness on Dryden’s lips. She had heard his sentence just as well as the rest of the communia, and she had chosen him anyway.

She had never acknowledged her hope that the new bloodline chosen by the cancelli would provide a Iudex willing to pardon her husband until after he was gone. All it had required of her, then, was another wake, held mutely, invisibly, within her. What was one more?

Maire welcomed desolation as an old friend. It made a certain sense for her to expend the last of herself on a doomed outcry. “You’ve called me bitter,” she had laughed at the peers. “You were right. Of course I am.”

No crime rivaled slaying a Iudex but for questioning one while he lived, and no regrets haunted Maire after her sons’ supplanter decreed her fate. Cara saw him wipe spittle from his eye as she ran after Maire’s escort from the square. She had pressed between indulgent guards to link arms with the older woman, feeling the firmness of her stride, and witnessed the biting clarity of a tearless visage. On another day, it would have looked like hope.

Cara sighed and turned to the shrouded mounds on the table, lifting the cloth to check their rise. She wasn’t bitter, but not even Conall could bother to tell the difference. He would only have been her second husband, so she tried not to hold it against him. It had been Maire’s idea, anyway. With her gone, there was less point than ever. It wasn’t that Cara didn’t like Conall. He was sturdy and dependable and generous and wheezed in the flour and the hayseed and didn’t complain. And he had taken both of them in, though only Maire was blood.

He said he owed it to Maire and his cousin alike to look after Cara. It was thanks to Conall that Cara gleaned just enough, between field labor in summer and the bakery work in winter, to sustain herself, on her own, without remarrying. And then, he had never asked. At least Maire had not lived long enough to realize that disappointment.

Cara shaped and slashed the boules, knocked them with flour, slid them into the oven, and retrieved her tea from the oven lintel. Not cold at all, if she could still trust her fingertips. Her bare feet no longer detected the shift in temperature when they crossed over the long slant of light from the window at the other end of the room, which suggested at least some extremities were now unreliable. Her eyesight, too: the light wasn’t golden, but pale white, and the pine-paneled floor an ashen gray. Drifts of more flour than she remembered spilling littered it.

The scents of yeast and warm sugar and cinnamon filled the bakery. They did not reach her mind, and she missed them. It was a mercy, Cara supposed, that the drug stole sense of taste first—honey notwithstanding—because the reek of it alone had still staggered her after the first two sips. Two more had taken care of that, thankfully, and she had been able to imagine enjoying her cupful the rest of the morning.

Twenty or thirty minutes finished the boules and her tea. Conall came to check on her and make sure she had drained the draught. “Cara . . . .”

He almost left it at that. Then he asked, eyes askance—“Does it hurt?”

He wouldn’t look back to see her shrug, as though he had forgotten. Instead, he rubbed his thumb and forefinger across his chin and said, “Never thought it would be you, getting cancelled. Not you, Cara.” Then he did look up. He winced and turned away.

Cara watched him leave and ran her finger along the rim of her cup. She guessed that the quiet, distorted braying from outside the shop a moment later came from the cancelli recorders, and she knew how much was left of her hearing. If she had been the one to choose, she would have saved hearing for last, too. It would have been better yet if she could still hum to herself, but the price was the price. Just like Maire, she had known it her whole life. She had weighed and accepted it well before she strode into the marketplace and struck the deal that would end her.

The clocktower tolled seven. Cara sat watching steam rise from the boule she had cracked open, shedding flour and dust all over. She could just make out a hissing sigh when she leaned in and lifted a half loaf to her ear. It did have a voice, after all. A pitiful, charming, demure whine. Had she sounded like that?

Cara remembered Conall’s face when she had entered the square. She remembered the sensation of cotton filling up her chest, her neck, her ears, and the weight of her cheekbones when she screamed, and the prickling at the rims of her eyelids. She remembered how her breath didn’t belong to her but turned wild and raced around the cage of her lungs. She remembered the Iudex issuing the order, same as he had given two days before, but she could not recall the sound of a single word he had uttered. She remembered the grip of the guardsmen, the tension in the fabric of her skirt as one of them trod upon and tore it, and her body’s refusal to leave that place until the soul launched out of it had returned, full of vainglory from its onslaught.

She remembered the fullness of her misery, the ache of no Maire to run home to, and she was glad to be emptied.

“What happens when you come to the end of yourself, Maire?” The words had dropped out of Cara, seedless figs forsaken by their tree. Her only kin—and not even blood, at that—stood nearly disintegrated in front of her. Cara didn’t have to be told she was the only one who had ever dared watch this far.

Maire smiled. Her teeth crumbled to dust, and the dust smoked to nothing. “This is not my end,” she mouthed. Slowly. Painstakingly, each word provoking a tiny avalanche across her face. “I am only becoming more fully what I have always been.”

“You may be fulfilled—” Cara’s voice cracked. “But you have left me. Left me empty, alone. You are leaving me alone with them.”

Maire’s countenance broke—splintered. Her figure melted into a fountain of dust, then away altogether. Cara gasped when she felt a press of fingertips on her arm out of the nothing that remained. She heard Maire’s voice once more, quiet and strong.

“I am sorry, child. Neither of us belong here. I must go where I belong.”

“Then,” Cara said, “I’m coming with you.”

*Pronounced “Yoo-decks”; Latin for “judge.”