It was with pathetic fanfare that I drove home from the bookstore one afternoon with a tissue paper-wrapped hardbound copy of Misty of Chincoteague, Marguerite Henry’s classic about two farm kids in love with a wild pony, for my 6-year-old. I inscribed it for my daughter like my own mother had long ago done for me. We got cozy in bed to read and, three pages in, she started asking me if people ever flossed their teeth with noodles. I told her to be quiet because the story was about to pick up and we would soon meet Misty’s mother Phantom and… please tell me you didn’t just rub one of your boogers on the back of Misty of Chincoteague?
Night after night, the magic of Misty bounced right off of her—unless you count the book’s magically soporific effects on my child. I soon had to accept that my daughter was not going to be inspired to start collecting plastic horses, she was not going to ride a pretend Misty around the backyard, and she was never going to explain how Misty of Chincoteague magically disappeared to the bottom of her hamper when we were only 2/3 through what I now must admit really is a rather dull book.
My husband experienced a similarly ego-driven heartbreak with the original Muppets movie. My daughter found them boring and uncharming, a review we worried suggested a heart of stone in our otherwise lovely child. There were small disappointments. How can a child disapprove of the box candy Nerds? And larger ones. Don’t you even want to stay and see if E.T. makes it back home? Nope.
It’s tempting in such blasphemous moments to blame the child and mutter in bed later to your husband that it’s her dopey friends’ bad influence or the fact that you let her watch too much Jessie on Nick Jr. Kids today and their lousy tastes! Then there’s the denial phase where you just think Misty or The Muppets went over her head at 5 but now she’s ready to eat it up with a spoon at 6. Then there are some bargaining periods. Ice cream, say, in exchange for attention and an open mind. And then, finally, there comes some level of acceptance that you the parent are being a needy asshole. But there’s something innately terrifying about recommending something you love, let alone a love that’s been burnished since childhood, to someone you love. If they dismiss or reject it, it can feel to our smallest selves like a personal attack or some form of weird betrayal. Totally unfair, impossibly human.
But you keep trying because there’s only one TV in the house and there are times you just can’t bear the sound of Spongebob for another second. Recently I brought the 1988 movie Big home from the video store. I tried not to oversell it. I didn’t overcompensate with laughter when my daughter sat mysteriously stone-faced through the scene of Tom Hanks and his little buddy pretending to squirt silly string through their nostrils at each other.
But as we laid there on our blanket bed in the living room, watching this perfect movie about the perks and costs of growing up, I realized just what I was hoping for when I introduced my daughter to some of my own childhood loves. I want my daughter to savor these years, to resist the urge to fast forward, to love new stories and ideas with uncynical abandon. I think you embrace things differently when you’re younger—with simpler ease and affection.
When my daughter rolled over at the end of the movie, after a wistful Tom Hanks realized he didn’t want to miss out on being a kid, she said, “That was the best movie ever!”
I played it cool. “You think so?” I said. “I love it too.”