While in L.A., I went with my grandson, Oscar, to see The Happy Dinosaur. It’s a beautiful Pixar (I love Pixar) movie about a dinosaur family. With the animation in Pixar, so much of what is said is presented through facial expression and body language.
Arlo, the youngest and runtiest of the family, strives to be like everyone else in his family. He struggles to achieve what he perceives as a demonstration of love and acceptance, and, ultimately, to ‘make his mark’ in his natural world, especially with the members of his family of origin…the world of his parents and siblings. He searches for ways to prove himself to others and struggles with the natural events in life that jeopardize that pursuit.
According to Developmental Psychologist Eric Erikson feelings of acceptance and love develop within the first 5 years of life. Initially, our relationship with mother determines our sense of trust vs. mistrust in the world. Both parents are influential from 3 months to 6 years for our sense of autonomy and our development of strong will. Our relationships with mother and father, brothers and sisters, sometimes even grandparents and aunts and uncles, reflect the development of confidence and self worth that initially drives our psychological development and grows our sense of purpose and efficacy in the world. Virtues of hope, will and purpose are determined during these early years.
The Good Dinosaur portrays a graphic illustration of family. In the sandy terrain of the desert, Arlo and his new acquaintance and buddy, Spot, draw a circle around the members of their families. Within Spot’s illustration are two large branches representing his father and his mother. Himself, he shows with a small twig. Arlo places two large twigs and three smaller ones, each lined up according to size, with himself showing up as the smallest. Once Spot knocks over his two largest twigs, suggesting that they no longer exist, Arlo sadly does the same to his largest branch, his father, who had died during the latest storm.
As we sit watching this scene in the theatre, I feel Oscar’s little body leaning forward and I can sense his head twisting 45% until he’s looking directly at me. That I am uncontrollably weeping, I know, is not the only cause of his attention.
Rather, Oscar is remembering two days ago when he and I were sharing time together and talking. At that time, he asked, “Safta, do you always carry your journal with you?” “Yes, Oscar. I do. And if, for some reason I don’t have it with me, and I have something I want to write, I write it on a scrap of paper or a kitchen napkin, and when I am with my journal again, I glue it in.”
“What else do you have in your journal?” he asks with sincere curiosity. “Oh, lots!” I reply, and I go immediately to grab my journal to show him some of the things that are inside. Photographs, an admit ticket to see the Dalai Lama in Vancouver, a red autumn leaf that a friend gave me recently to remind me of the beauty of autumn. I showed him the lists I made, diagrams I created, mind maps and circle graphs and pictures. I showed it all to him.
“What’s this about?” Oscar asks as he points to a diagram I had just recently created. It was of 3 circles, each one within the other. The outer circle, I explained to Oscar, represents my family of origin. My mother and father and siblings are all part of that circle. The next inner circle, not far from the first, is me and all that I am. That means, daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, wife, friend, colleague, From there, all the way to the centre, I describe as my family of creation. Here are all the children who make up my offspring…all those to whom I have given birth, or adopted, and all their children too. That’s where you fit in, my Oscar!”
I tell Oscar, during our conversation, that I needed to draw this diagram because I was feeling something I could not describe in words. “What does it mean?” he asks.
“Well” I said. “Now that your great grandma (my mother) has died, I no longer feel sense of my family of origin. The outer circle is gone. I, now, am that outer circle. There is no one and nothing that tethers me to the outside now. It’s something I must do alone. I have my own integrity and morality to help me determine how to live and how to be. I have myself to attend to, with a heavy understanding of the effects that my behaviours have on my inner circle and beyond. I feel different now…less stable, less secure, more vulnerable and cautious. And alone.
At the end of the movie, Arlo recognizes his triumphs even before he receives his reward. It is Arlo, “The Good Dinosaur” who learns to appreciate himself, even before others do so. That is my struggle now too. Love begins from within, however we are able to initiate that process. Seeking approval and love from others doesn’t always work. I hope Oscar gets to learn that early, and still maintains humility, grace and compassion so that he can share what he knows with others. As for me…I’m still working on it. That’s my vision for 2016!