I can’t say for certain if my four year old’s love for movies is a learned behavior or an odd bit of genetic material informing her tastes, but a day doesn’t pass in which she doesn’t beg me to let her watch a movie. I happen to share this particular interest with her, so I often find it difficult to say no when she asks because…you know, sympatico. Another trait we happen to share is a propensity for memorizing completely useless information – like say, cinema dialogue – and then using that to communicate our feelings, needs and emotions. My sister and I are fluent in this codified language – often engaging in entire conversations made up from our collective, filmic word bank.
My daughter isn’t at a conversational level yet, but her word selection and uncanny gift for timing – employed at the best possible moment to maximize my personal embarrassment and/or to falsely indict me for verbal abuse – are incredibly advanced for her age. I know it looks suspicious when Josephine approaches a nice, well-mannered family at the park and intones, ‘Doo-do-do…WE’RE DEAD.’ (How To Train Your Dragon) or matter-of-factly explains to a classmate, ‘I’m going to cut out your heart and bring it to my father.’ (Also from HTTYD).
Not long ago, while waiting in the check-out line at Target, Josephine struck up a conversation with an attractive, male patron who was ahead of us. Her precocious behavior garnered quite a bit of attention from other shoppers and as the line behind me steadily grew – so did her temptation to incriminate me. Josephine put her head down in silence and waited a full minute before standing up in the cart and yelling,
‘I’M NOT WORTHLESS AND I’M NOT A STREET RAT.’ (Aladdin)
Unless one was intimately familiar with the 1992 animated Disney film which Josephine was referencing, it would appear to the casual onlooker that I had a nasty habit of berating my daughter verbally. My tendency to sweat and giggle nervously when I am embarrassed didn’t help matters (nor did my instinctive reflex to clamp my hand over my kid’s mouth).
There was a part of me that was kind of proud of this development in my daughter’s behavior. It was hard not to be impressed with her tendency to gravitate towards the most offensive bits of dialogue – particularly given her uncanny ability to take them out of context and then apply them appropriately. There were many times, in fact, when I found this very thing to be hilarious…until one time when it wasn’t. I decided to take advantage of a program called Kid’s Night Out at the local Y in which you pay them money and they watch and entertain your child for up to four hours. Since it was her first night among new people in an unfamiliar place, I promised her that I would come early to retrieve her, just in case she was having a difficult time. As it happened, I made a grievous error in doing so – I returned at the worst possible time, just as she and her new friends were queuing up to watch a movie.
Now, most children usually look excited and happy to see their parents around pick up time. My child’s face actually fell with disappointment when she set eyes on me. A movie, the Holy Grail of entertainment, was about to play – and my child DID NOT want to miss it. At first, she made a valiant attempt to hide. When that failed, she shed copious tears to garner sympathy, but to no avail. I won’t reveal who, but at one point, someone decided that laying on the floor and kicking their legs ineffectually was the best way to make a point. I had to carry my daughter – Fireman Style – to the car, whereupon she magically multiplied her arms and legs (creating a flailing tangle of limbs not unlike The Kraken) and physically fought me for a good five minutes before settling into her car-seat. Driving home, I peeked at her in the rearview mirror only to discover her eyes – fixed on me – burning with a look of venomous hatred. I opened my mouth to speak, but my daughter beat me to it.
‘You are old garbage.’ She said.
I was positive that I misheard her, so I asked her to repeat her words.
‘YOU ARE OLD GARBAGE.’ She said – clear as a bell and slowly so that I wouldn’t be mistaken a second time.
Truly, it was the worst thing she could have called me. I will spare you the details of the events which followed that exchange, but suffice it to say – I was furious pissed and extremely curious as to how my daughter settled on that particularly stinging insult. I didn’t recognize it from any movies that we had seen together and I spent days wondering how she managed to formulate such an advanced slam. It was my husband who eventually solved the mystery. After multiple viewings of Toy Story 3 he noticed that there was much mention of OLD toys being thrown out and/or treated like GARBAGE – Josephine had clearly recognized the untapped potential in combining these words and thus her most skilled affront to date was born.
It may not surprise you, dear reader, that since then I’ve limited her cinematic exposure to foreign and silent films.