Seeking some relief from the relentless heat and humidity, K and I went to see “Brave.” I thought the days of animated film were behind me, but I went anyway, happy to be in air conditioning and happy that teenage K was still willing to go to the movies with me.
My plan was to score some movie popcorn, settle down in my seat, and catch a nap. But there was something to this story of Princess Merida, who in trying to defy the customs of the day makes a reckless wish to change her life. Perhaps it was the novelty of a Disney movie still having the mother alive after the first five minutes that caught my attention. Perhaps it was seeing a princess rely on her own skills and bravery rather than hoping for a prince to rescue her. More likely, it was the relationship between Merida and her mother, Queen Elinor, that kept me awake.
The movie began when Merida was a very little girl and it’s obvious that she and Elinor adored each other. Then it fast forwards to the princess as a teen fighting with her mother about her responsibilities. In the middle of an argument Merida yelled, “Do you ever bother to ask what I want? No! You walk around telling me what to do, what not to do! Trying to make me be like you! Well, I’m not going to be like you!” Then there was the scene when Merida came home and excitedly told her mother about something amazing she did, but Elinor was busy focused on something else and barely heard.
I was my mother’s daughter long before I was K’s mother. I remembered being a teenager thinking, like Merida, I would never be like my mother. My mother was a stay-at-home mom of five; I was going to be something important. And have I been Queen Elinor – focused on something else while K is trying to share something important? Guilty, as charged.
The movie did a great job of showing both sides of a mother/daughter relationship going through a turbulent time. Merida’s wished for her mother to be different caused an unfortunate transformation of Elinor. Efforts to reverse the wish weren’t working. Near the end of the movie, Merida finally took responsibility for what she’d done: “Oh, Mom, I’m sorry. This is all my fault. I did this to you, to us. You’ve always been there for me. You’ve never given up on me. I just need you back. I want you back, Mommy.” K looked over at me and said “Mom, are you okay?” That was when I realized I was sobbing.
It was my mother’s daughter crying in the theater that day. My mother has been gone almost nine years, but when I heard Merida’s voice begging for her mother back, it felt like yesterday. I had left my ungrateful teen self behind long ago and grew up to realize that who my mother was and all she did was incredibly important. I grew into someone who was able to appreciate everything she did for me and even better, to tell her that.
I was 41 when she died. I know that she loved me and she knew I loved her. I have no regrets. I know how lucky I was to have her for my mother and to have her with me for as long as I did. But, in that dark theater, on that hot summer day, I was reminded that I want you back, Mom. I want you back.