Toys Behind Bars

If you have not seen Toy Story 3, then you should stop reading right now and head out to the movie theater. Yes, I know, "the third movie is always bad." But this one is positively inspired. Not only is it the visual feast one expects from Pixar, but it is fun, funny, sad, original, familiar, heart-wrenching and joyful. And all at the same time. You do not have to have a child to take with you to the movie - I saw plenty of grownups at the theater all by themselves. And anyway, there's much for adults to chew on, as there always are in the best "family" movies.

The inevitable losses associated with growing up/growing older and the idea of usefulness are at the center of the movie. The toys have been languishing in their toy box as their owner has grown older, and now that he is about to leave home for college, they have to go somewhere, too. They are not masters of their own fate, however. Mom, doing what moms do, sets out the possibilities: take them to college, put them in the attic, donate them to a daycare center, or throw them in the trash. It appears the toys do not have a say in their fates. But of course, because of plot twists and turns, they end up having a say after all, and that's where the part about "usefulness" also comes in. But I'll not tell more about the plot; you need to see it for yourself.

But here's a question the movie raises: what are toys for, anyway? They're props for the playing out of a child's imagination, of course. And then at some point they become touchstones for another time that lives on only in memories. Who hasn't unpacked a box and discovered items long forgotten (even if they are cheap plastic things) that have unleashed a whole 'nother world in their day and at the time of rediscovery unleash a torrent of memories? My last trip a year or so ago into the attic of my childhood home yielded a stash that was exactly in the place where I put it when I was eighteen and left for college myself. Among the jumble of toys, books, mementos, and room decorations were things I had truly forgotten even existed, and yet upon seeing them, I remembered parts of my past with sudden clarity, including the day that I tromped up the steps with those very things in hand to stack on a shelf that itself was a thing of memory - the bookshelf from my room when I was a toddler, complete with baby-room animal decals. Seeing those items even brought back the memory of putting them there in the first place, even if I had forgotten about them in the meantime.

Usefulness, place, loss, death, and recognition of the reality of said usefulness, loss, etc. The movie was permeated with these themes - and yet it was hilariously funny. There was crying at the end (on the part of grownups in the audience, not the movie characters). As I watched through my own tears, I remembered the awkwardness of putting aside childish things when I knew it was time (although I'm not sure I knew whether I was ready) and I was also keenly aware that my two sons sitting beside me are growing up and going away, just like Andy in the movie. (I planned to see the movie alone, as no one seemed interested when I mentioned it, but when I announced I was actually leaving, one son said it was pathetic for an old lady to go to a kids' movie alone and so they insisted on going with me. It was nice of them.)

In life as in the movie, there come times of letting go - letting go of childhood, letting go of children, putting the markers of our memories in their proper places, and (here's the hard part) being ok with that. Letting go of "times that were" in order to embrace and grow into the "times that are" and the "times that will be." Making room for new adventures still comes with the twinge (or heartache) of loss. I imagine my kids mostly see things to come but now I am beginning to be acutely more aware of things that were.

I'm trying to be ok with the losses and the changes and the memories and the possibilities. Some days I do better than other days. But I am grateful to the Toy Story people for reminding me that life is full of hard decisions and is changed by accidents; and life is fun and funny and painful and surprising and familiar and an adventure, all at the same time. And that love of all kinds, including the love that compels us to let go, is what makes life worth living.