Strange World: A Letter to My Daughter About Embracing Strange New Worlds

Dear Ezra,

Whatever we have done to prepare you, it could not have ever been enough. Now you are your own whole person. Can you prepare someone for their own total personhood? You cannot give someone everything you know before they are ready to know it. You prepare and prepare and prepare and prepare and then send your child into the vast unknown wilderness that is Other Children and Every Other Parents’ Ideas, and now you have structure, and teachers, and not everything we said will make sense anymore. You will be filled, instead, with so many contradictory ways of being that I hasten to think we might have been better off just steadily preparing you for that moment. The only certainty is the constant ebb and flow of change as life runs through us and the only thing we can do is to take every moment as it comes. It is hard. It is harder than we prepared for it to be. With everything your Mom and Dad know, what we did not know, is how it would be to raise a girl for the very first time. While you’re learning, we’re learning too. We’re learning about ourselves. And most of all we’re learning about you.

Who you are. What you are like. What happens when we let go.

What happens when we let go?

It will be OK. It will be OK when we let go. We’ll let you go into a world full of equal parts wonder, discovery, and the terror of getting things wrong. We’ll let you go into a world that seems worse than the world we were given which seemed worse than the one our parents were given.

Moving is hard. You live in a different place than you did last year. You’re in school now, having outgrown your daycare rituals long ago, and now you’re being confronted with many unknown variables. How to socialize in large groups. How to get along with students that come from different backgrounds. How to grow relationships inside and outside of school and find comfort and safety in your friends.

It is not an easy journey and it is not an easy journey to watch. Every morning, my heart catches in my throat when we say goodbye. I realize you do not like goodbyes. I do not blame you. We have been through so much and went through so much before you even had any well-oriented perception of your world. Lots of trauma. Lots of love. Lots of recovery. Lots of learning about what it means to be alive. We are all survivors and anyone who gets through this world is.

The gift of perspective is now we can see the wonder of life. When you nearly lose everything, you begin to treat each day, not as borrowed time, but as a gift of our shared presence. Spiritually linked, I have no doubt that you’re with me even when you are away. But, all I think about is whether you are doing OK. Whether we have done enough. How we can do our best job of preparing you for the next day after you’ve just had a hard time.

The good news is that this is universal. We see it in all your friends, too. They do not want to let go. Every morning dropoff is a practice run at the day where we let go for good, where you may no longer live with us, where you move onward and upward into a world you will make better by virtue of being yourself.

I understand you have a lot to contribute. You tell me so. You want to do everything. So you say. But the things you say you want to do have certain things in common. You want to help people. You want to create art. Art helps people. Helping people is an art.

Your Mom and Dad are the same way. We created the most beautiful art and helped people, by creating you. You have become our greatest motivator to create a more beautiful world and to help the people around us with compassion and empathy. These are the essential things I have learned from you. I would like to think we taught these ideas to you but I know for sure that you have taught them to me.

When we go to the movies or play videogames or make art, I get to experience an isolated version of the beautiful person we have created. I get to see the world through your eyes for a short period. All the wonder, the joy, and the fear of the big, huge world, as seen by a little person. I get to vicariously experience all of your joys and sorrows. For me, the best way I understand sharing empathy is through movies. Every time one of these original Disney animations comes out, my only idea about seeing them is to see them and experience them with you.

Here we are at the theater again. We’ve been in this theater many times. This screening room. And we get a moment’s respite from the cares of anything outside of our one-to-one connection. Once again, I’m returned to what it was like early on. It’s only you and me again and you become so purely just a product of my imagined perfect little kid, and I feel overwhelmed with pride and also the tangible sense of connection, of knowing someone so well, sometimes better than I know myself, because you are just a mirror of my best qualities and not very many of the bad ones.

Now you sit still through the movies. Your imagination is working harder than ever. Once you were restless but now you are still and your mind moves and your body doesn’t have to. But you still have to let me know you are there. You need to hold my hand and need to pull me in close during heightened moments of action, need to lean your head against my shoulder during sweet moments. One day, you will not need to do any of these things.

This is the crushing realization of all parents. All of the most amazing moments in your life will also pass you by if you let them. Sometimes, you must remember to go and sit down at the movies and turn the rest of the world off. All the best parts of being a parent will constantly change and shift and your priorities about that job will rearrange themselves. As I’m sitting here next to you I’m realizing change is happening at the moment.

Every time we go do anything, I’m realizing it is a primary experience and suddenly these are the ones you’re going to remember for the rest of your childhood. It shouldn’t matter very much if I like the new animated Disney movie. I think you will. But I can’t refuse the moment. I can’t let go of the possiblity of a core memory like that slipping away. So, as I sit and watch this movie where I don’t feel like anything is happening, I remember the most important thing about going to the movies: not to take this great space for granted.

They will not always make movies like this and will not always put them out this way. During this viewing I realized very clearly, scanning the entirely empty theater, that this is not a possible future for this kind of movie. Your kids may very well not get this same opportunity. We may have a limited number of opportunites left for this kind of experience. Your interests are changing rapidly. You will want to see different things. If the Box Office of the last year means anything, they will stop showing anything but Minions movies. Who knows what happens in the case of making films like Strange World.

A film like Strange World is about parenthood, too. The way so many of these things are. To say it’s really about anything is a loose kind of partial credit. As my dear friend Vaughn, a co-editor of the site has noted, it’s just a film about whether you want to be an explorer or a farmer. Will you become your Dad or your Grandpa? My dear Ezra, please know you do not have to do either, no matter what an emotionally hollow Disney adventure movie tells you. You can just be you, the only you, just like everyone else. You do not have to be me (please don’t be), but just know that whether these kinds of movies survive, the memories we have made while seeing them will survive.

The words on the streets (of Disneyland?) is that Bob Chapek made decisions about which movies would go theatrical and which would be exhibited on Disney Plus. Now Bob Iger is back and the decision is said to return to creatives again. However, after Lightyear and Strange World, it feels like delaying the inevitable. Everything changed the last couple years. And now we’re dealing with the sudden consequences. The same people that changed things are now struggling to adapt to the changes they have made happen. Go figure.

What you begin to understand is a sense of impermanace. There will not be enough new opportunities to write articles like this. I have written a whole series for the website and I fear this will be one of the last. The pieces will become Retrospectives and not reviews of new movies being made exactly for you. The movies like this will stop coming out or will just go to Disney Plus where I feel no real impetus to cover them, because that experience is the same as every other one, while going to the movies is a way to isolate our Dad-Daughter relationship and to understand our bond over movies. It will never be the same.

You just have to let go. You know that as well as I do. The greatest joy in my life is watching your brain ignite with the passion of discovery. It’s the moment when I let go and it goes OK. That’s how we know it’s OK to trust the process. Because every time we do, you come back to us with the most beautiful new ideas, and you express to us the world outside of us, how your life is expanding, and what that means when you bring these big new ideas back to us.

One day, I realize that will also change. You will become more indepedent every day. Maybe you will go to the movies with your friends. On dates. With your children. With your grandchildren. It will not always be me taking you. But it’s the same as every morning when I let go. One day I will not be able to take you to the movies and you will still know I’m there with you. Because that is what we did.


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