When I imagined myself as a mom prior to having kids, I envisioned a relaxed, laid-back, playful person whose days would be filled with far more yeses than no’s — my future children would be thrilled to be raised by the “cool mom.” And why not? I was raised by a stay-at-home dad in the ’70s and ’80s, a man who thought it was okay for his young children to watch the Police Academy movies on the new-fangled VCR and build ramps in the driveway for their Big Wheels. These were the days before mandatory seat belts and carseat laws.
Then my first child arrived and I became a conservative despot.
One area where I exercise my absolute power is media consumption. I’m that mom who actually didn’t allow her daughter to have screen time until the recommended age of two (no, seriously…) and my kids have never once watched that rude show with the geometric-pants-wearing-sponge. In general, we’re huge fans of Disney films and television, although my daughter was likely the last child on the planet to watch High School Musical, and I still fast-forward past the attempted suicide in The Incredibles. So imagine my sadness when I realized that Saving Mr. Banks received a PG-13 rating. My kids still aren’t approved to watch all PG movies. How could I bend and allow them to watch something that was PG-13?
I researched the film. I read review after review. I quizzed friends who went to media previews. What exactly earned the PG-13 rating? There’s some incredibly heavy content, that’s what: alcoholism, attempted suicide in front of a child, the death of a parent.
I gave my 9-year-old the bad news that we would not be going to see the film. And then I took her to see Saving Mr. Banks anyway.
Something happened in the time I spent thinking about the dark topics covered in this film. I stopped imagining the negatives of exposing my child to incredibly difficult subject matter at such a young age, and started to imagine the conversations that would develop out of seeing the film together. My daughter and I are very different people, people who at times struggle to relate to one another. As she rockets into the tween years at a breakneck pace that terrifies me, I realize this will likely only get worse. But our love of Disney, and specifically Mary Poppins, is a shared joy. I knew that the moments focused on the making of Mary Poppins would be delightful, exactly the kind of film experience I want for my daughter.
It turns out that the portions of the film that focused on the childhood flashbacks of P.L. Travers provided just as many valuable bonding opportunities for my daughter and me. The time we spent laughing at the Sherman brothers, tapping our feet in our seats, and quietly singing along to “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” was priceless.
We held each other and cried when the father died, we cheered in whispers to each other when P.L.’s aunt appeared with her carpet bag and parrot head umbrella, and we gave each other knowing looks of disappointment when P.L.’s father was unable to refrain from drinking despite his wife’s pleas. In our ride home from the theater, we talked frankly about the choices people make and how it affects their lives, and surprised, I listened as my daughter even pointed out with sadness the dire consequences of Walt Disney’s own decision to smoke. We discussed the fact that even in the end, P.L. Travers was not entirely happy with the outcome of the making of Mary Poppins, but that sometimes disappointment is a part of life. And with tears in my eyes, I admitted that sometimes motherhood is not what you envisioned before becoming a mother; there may be overwhelming moments that make you want to quit, and days when you’d love for someone to float in on a breeze and save you.