Finding Dory: I Can’t Sit Through It Again

This is not a review.

I don’t think there are any spoilers here. But if you really need to go in blind, come back and read after you’ve seen the film. I know I’m in the minority. Everyone loves a Disney flick, and so do I. Monsters, Inc? Yes, please. The Emperor’s New Groove? I’ll have an extra helping with a side of Yzma (but hold the Kronk’s New Groove).

The best Disney movie ever made. Eartha Kitts at her most hilarious.

The best Disney movie ever made. Eartha Kitts at her most hilarious.

I even loved Finding Nemo. It came out when the Padawan was just a toddler, and he had already set his sights on becoming a marine biologist.

We went to see Finding Dory on Father’s Day, even though Disney has a history of offing parents in terrible and creative ways. We figure with both of us as parents, we’ll be paying for our kids’ therapy anyway, so why not? We even took Squish. It was his next-to-first movie. We even bought popcorn with free refills. We were ready for adventure. And then the picture rolled.

Fifteen minutes into the film, I didn’t want to watch it anymore. If you’ve never seen either movie, let me catch you up. Dory is a fish who suffers from short-term memory loss. Notice I didn’t say she’s a fish *with* short-term memory loss. She suffers. It is painful, not just for her, but for all of us.

She's adorable. And heartbreakingly apologetic. Photo source: USA Today

She’s adorable. And heartbreakingly apologetic. Photo source: USA Today

The movie contains a number of scenes that flash back to Dory’s babyhood. We get to see baby Dory and her Mom and Dad as they coach her on how to help a cruel world understand her. “My name is Dory, and I have short-term remembery loss.” Isn’t that cute? Maybe it should have been, but it wasn’t. Instead of a little baby fish with big, violet eyes, I see my son.

No, he hasn't been drinking blood. He has a cherry slushie.

No, he hasn’t been drinking blood. He has a cherry slushie.

What broke my heart more? Was it the look on baby Dory’s face each time she realized she was different, somehow lacking in an essential element? Was it her abject apologies to her parents when she failed to remember, when her disability caused her to stumble? Did I imagine the heartsick expressions on her parents’ faces when they reassured her that she hadn’t done anything wrong? I don’t know. I just know I felt exhausted, and I wanted to cry. For Dory, for her parents, for myself.

Instead of feeling hopeful at what was supposed to be an adorable story, I was inexplicably angry, and I wanted the movie to stop. I wanted Disney to quit exploiting this child, to quit showing me over and over and over again how different she is and how painful that difference is for her.

Dory slips away from her parents, something we know has to happen in order to move the story forward, for there to have been a Finding Nemo in the first place. But what was the real story? So many questions bubbled in my brain.

Were Dory’s parents  ever hopeful that one day their child would live a successful life on her own?

What is their internal dialogue each time they reassure her that she is just fine? Do they cry on the inside because they foresee how difficult her life is going to be?

Did they keep her away from the other little fish for her safety, or was it because they were afraid the other fish wouldn’t understand her and would be treat her badly?

How many times did they cry because another fish was cruel to her?

Did Dory understand her parents’ heartache and anger when she was bullied? 

Did being pushed around bother her, or was she, like Squish, completely oblivious?

Did Dory ever have supervised play time with hand-picked small fry so that she could learn how to interact with others, or was she isolated?

Had Dory’s parents planned to have only one child, or were all their resources, both financial and emotional, tied up in Dory?

They knew she had trouble remembering. Why did they ever leave her alone? Why was there no alarm on the door?

Had Dory made enough progress that they genuinely thought she would be able to remember the rules for keeping herself safe?

Were they just so worn down from constant vigilance that they let down their guard?

In the movie, Dory’s parents are always seen together. If they had maybe tag-teamed and taken shifts, would they have had more energy for supervising her? Would their marriage have suffered as a result?

And most importantly, if Dory’s parents couldn’t do it, can I?



The Post I Almost Didn’t Write

Cover photo from Goodreads.

I won this book from Goodreads, and I was so stoked. It’s the story of a woman who delivers her second child and discovers that she has Down Syndrome.  I have worked with kids with special needs since I was twelve years old, and Downs kids have always had a special place in my heart. I was intrigued by the story this mom had to tell. I fell to reading the book the moment I got it in my hot little hands. And I’ve regretted it ever since. I finished it months ago, and I have put off reviewing it because it was hard to get my thoughts together.

The whole book feels like a lie. Whether that lie is for the benefit of the reader or for herself, I am not sure. The first thing that struck me as weird about the book was that the blurb on the cover was from the Pioneer Woman.  It seemed a very strange and random choice, as though the publisher needed to push the validity of the story before I even opened the book.

I have struggled with putting my finger on what bugs me about this book. For starters, the author is incredibly superficial, describing her life in the most idyllic terms, including an overuse of the word “perfect.” I have not yet met a parent who could honestly say that they “loved every minute” of parenting, so from the get-go, I found Hampton to be completely unrelatable. She has no struggles in her “perfect” life. And then she has a baby with Down Syndrome, and for 24 hours, she’s a total wreck, and then she’s fine. Or says she is.

It bugged me that she spent 62 pages crying over the discovery that her perfect baby was not, in fact perfect. 62 pages. Let me put that into some perspective for you. She describes the one non-perfect event in her life, offers one solitary opportunity to draw me in, and she blows it. She shares that her parents divorced when she was younger because her pastor father came out of the closet. I barely had time to process this revelation before she resolves it two paragraphs later. And now they have a “perfect”, albeit somewhat estranged relationship. Really?

Three paragraphs devoted to what must have been a cataclysmic event for everyone involved, the kids who see their parents divorce, the man who has been living a lie and is suddenly ripped from his family. She has a chance to make me feel something for her besides annoyance, but she glosses over it all in a way that makes me wonder why she bothered to mention the divorce in the first place. So 62 pages of crying over an imperfect baby seemed extreme. And I’m still not totally sure why she was crying.

When I was pregnant the second time, testing indicated a higher than normal chance that our baby would be born with Down, so I do have a bit of empathy for Hampton’s situation. It was hard, and it took several days to wrap our heads around it. We had a heads up, which is always an advantage. My son was born normal, but we did not know that for the last 20 weeks of the pregnancy. Though I wanted to, I couldn’t relate to her. The concerns she mentioned were superficial and had nothing to do with the baby herself. Would having a sister with a disability ruin her “perfect” first daughter’s “perfect” life? If people saw them in a shopping mall with a child who looked different, what would they think of her? Is that why she is crying?  These are actually normal concerns, but without any concerns at all about her newborn baby’s health and quality of life to balance them out, she is left looking very shallow indeed.

No mention was made of the baby having to go for an echo cardiogram shortly after diagnosis because babies born with Down have heart conditions about half the time. Hampton does say that the baby’s heart is “perfect,” but she never mentions being afraid for her child before or during the procedure. Like it didn’t register on Hampton’s radar that her daughter was being taken from her to check for a life-threatening condition.  Like the baby’s an accessory and not a human being in her own right.

Hampton says that she fell deeply and madly in love with her new baby in the first 24 hours. I have to be honest with you (at least one of us needs to be, after all), I wasn’t feeling it. She tried really hard, but she resorted to shallow, vapid prose that left me nauseated. Using the word “snuggle” twice in one paragraph hurts an author’s credibility in my book. Using it five times on a page makes me want to hurl both the book and the contents of my stomach. And she refers to children as “littles,” ( I know, spell-check. I don’t recognize it as a word, either.) which is both annoying and at times very confusing.

Maybe what left me cold was that this book was supposed to be a memoir, a tell-all, the baring of her soul. That didn’t happen here. The book is a photographic journal, both literally and figuratively, carefully chosen portraits of the author’s life that reveal very little truth, or at least not the truth she thinks she is sharing. In this book Hampton neither honestly struggles with her child’s disability nor believably embraces the beauty she claims to have found. I could have embraced her either way, as long as she was genuine. As is, her tale is sugary sweet icing on a cardboard cake.

To be fair, the photography is good (most photos were taken by the author herself). The black and white images are the one redeeming feature of the book. If you simply must pick up this book, I recommend perusing the pics and skipping the text. The story Hampton tells is nothing more than a glamour shot. The kind you could get at the mall in the 1980’s.

***Update*** A friend just clarified for me that the Pioneer woman has a child with a disability, which now makes the Pioneer Woman’s endorsement palatable.

The Best Week of the Summer!

Looking pretty good to be 90 years old. Him. Not me.

I often can’t believe I get paid to do what I do. I work for the Education department at our zoo, which means I get to play with kids and animals. Even a bad day where I work beats the stuffings out of a good day just about anywhere else. And in early August, it gets even better. Last week, our ZooCamp hosted Open Doors, an organization for children with disabilities and their families.

This is the second year we’ve been able to offer the camp, and this year we pulled out all the stops. I don’t aim for this camp to be educational so much as experiential, and I looked for every hands-on opportunity we could get. I wanted the kids to see, touch, hear, even smell as many unique things as possible. We were aiming for a total sensory experience, and boy did we get it!

I am so proud of our zoo. Every department who offered our kids behind-the-scenes tours or keeper chats went above and beyond the call of duty. The camels are a special favorite, and though we didn’t ride this year, we were given bags of sweet feed to offer them. When Brian the camel “wrangler” saw the sandwich bag of camel food I was trying to divide among 11 campers and their peer buddies, he brought out a bucket of the stuff. The kids dipped their hands in the bucket again and again, delighting in Bernice the bactrian’s slobbery kisses.

When we went to Herpetology, campers got up close and personal with our ancient Aldabra tortoises. Big Al is somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 years old, and the kids were amazed to pet a critter that’s older even than their parents (gasp!). The keepers even brought out watermelon to share with the old guys, and we got to watch Al and Tex devour their favorite treat.

The Encounters Village, which provides hands-on opportunities to all zoo visitors, kept a running list of what the campers had already seen. They kept up a steady rotation of program animals so that there was always a different species of program animal to touch and new biofacts to see.

The best part of the week was the campers themselves. Most of them were returnees from last year’s extravaganza, and seeing the progress they have made over the last year was amazing. One fellow managed to sit next to a play yard full of guinea pigs without reaching over to touch one until he was given the go-ahead from the animal handler. That’s a HUGE success for him! And there are no quiet moments. These kids who tend to say very little under normal circumstances never stopped asking questions. Many of the campers fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, and to see each and every one of them engaged on some level was truly awe-inspiring. What a difference animals can make in the lives of these special kids!

My biggest challenge now is trying to come up with new stuff for next year. This year’s camp will be hard to top, but I am sure going to try!