Nightmare on Earth

I have always loved going to the movies. I would get nachos, a fountain Coke, and a box of chocolate-covered raisins. When my mom’s family got together for holidays, we would go to the movies with my grandparents, my mom’s brothers and sisters, and my cousins. My mom is one of four. I have 6 cousins. My mom would get to the theater, stand in line, and save seats for 15 to 20 of us. Back in the days before seat reservations in movie theaters, she would have to stand in a long line outside the theater, wait for the doors to open, and push her way toward her desired aisle. Yes, my mother has a strength, grit, and determination that exceeds most people. Us kids were a mix of pre-teens and toddlers at the time. We would all be piled in cars to meet her at the movie theater, where people would stare in disbelief as she held her ground. I remember being embarrassed and joking with my cousins but also appreciating the perfect middle seats and being able to sit together.  

Our family circa 1991 before the youngest two cousins were born.

In the summer of 1994, Disney released an iconic movie known as The Lion King. Lauren was 9 years old; I was 7 years old. I can’t say if we saw it in the theater or at home. I do know this: Lauren was Scarred. (Get it? Because Scar. Okay, moving on.) *Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen The Lion King.* Lauren couldn’t make it past the scene where Scar kills Mufasa. My mom and dad desperately tried to explain that it was the circle of life. However, The Lion King showed an on-screen death of a parent. It wasn’t predator versus prey. It showed brother turning against brother—pure betrayal. As if that wasn’t enough, Mufasa dies and Simba is left wondering why he won’t wake up, and Simba sleeps with his father’s corpse. Simba wakes up to Scar manipulating him to make Simba believe it’s his fault. No wonder it was revolutionary content; it was the first Disney animated film to feature an original story. From then on, when my dad wanted us to pull ourselves together and not be so sensitive after a pet inevitably died, my dad would reference “the circle of life”. Lauren and I would get frustrated and insist that it was okay for us to cry. We all grieve in different ways. Looking back, our tears were harder on my dad than the death of our pet, and my dad adores his dogs.

The Lion King was the only age-appropriate movie that was off limits for Lauren. I used this to my advantage. For the rare times when I wanted to watch something by myself, I would pop the Lion King tape in the VCR. I didn’t have to rewind the tape. The mere sight and sound of the infamous stampede was enough to send Lauren running to another room. Ah, the torture methods of kids.

The cassette that launched a thousand tears.

When I saw the trailer for the remake, I knew it would bring up some deep-seated trauma for Lauren so I immediately texted her. The exchange went a little something like this:

That’s right. Twenty-five years later, my sister watched The Lion King without having to leave during “the sad scene”. I also loved the fact that her five-year-old son asked her if she would be okay during the sad scene if they saw it in the theater.

While I quickly grew out of torturing my sister with the Lion King; earlier this week, I inadvertently tortured the next generation. In February, my best friend and I watched all the episodes of the dazzling nature documentary Night on Earth in one sitting. I gave a glowing recommendation to my sister and brother-in-law. It was rated PG. I did remember a few animals being devoured. I thought most were off-screen. I also knew my dad introduced the kiddos to the great circle of life concept when my parents’ dog died and again when my grandpa passed away.

Then again, I am not a parent. I don’t have toddlers. The only ones I’ve spent a significant amount of time with are my niece and nephew when they were younger. I will be the first to admit that I’m not the best judge of age-appropriate content. It takes practice to look at everything they watch as a potentially traumatizing lesson. Lesson learned for me.

At 11 o’clock in the morning, my phone dinged as I received my first text of the day. It was a picture of my niece Hazel’s red face covered in tears.

I can hardly stand it.

She was mourning for baby turtles that were the victims of seagulls and sharks. They had started watching Night on Earth. I sent an apology text and called her to calm Hazel and apologize verbally.

Oopsy daisy.

Everything changed that night. I received another text at 7:43 PM. Lauren, Brian, and Hazel were deciding what to watch before bed. Harrison was spending the night with my mom in the other part of the house. Hazel requested to restart Night on Earth. My sister tried to talk her out of it and start with a different episode. No, Hazel wanted to watch the episode with the cheetahs to see if they catch anything. My sister and brother-in-law reluctantly agree and turn on Night on Earth. As my sister was sitting in suspense and making noises when an animal gets away or gets caught, Hazel shushed her. Lauren texted me to tell me Hazel told her to, “Be quiet and just watch.” I laughed out loud and showed Deaven while beaming with pride. Hazel made it through the second showing unscathed. Even though Lauren had to fast-forward during some new scenes, Hazel’s rebound time and willingness to try again was admirable. I was also happy to be off the hook for permanently scarring her.

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