In 1995, I walked into a darkened theater, no doubt holding hands with a little boy, maybe one of my four-year-olds, maybe my five-year-old. We didn’t know it then, but like millions of families, we were about to enjoy a soon-to-be classic children’s movie, Toy Story. At that time, Pixar Animation launched brand new digital technology into the entertainment world that brought a unique, charming and moving story of childhood to life on the screen.
In 1999, we made our way into the theater again to see Toy Story 2. Once again, these adorable toys and their story of loyalty and love captivated us. Sure, a little time had passed since the last Toy Story film, but I was still the mother of three young boys, and they still needed me. And trusted me to be there. And knew that they could count on me, in almost exactly the same way they had just a few years earlier. We were all a little older, and just slightly rearranged in mind and body from where we’d been in ’95.
Eleven more years makes a difference in almost every life and it’s made a difference in mine. I’ve undeniably entered “middle age” and have celebrated the birthday that everyone seems to take comfort in calling “the new forty” although I can’t explain why. I’ve lost and mourned some people very dear to me in that time, but celebrated the arrival of a dozen new family members through marriages and births. I’ve felt successful; I’ve felt like a failure. I’ve questioned everything from my faith to my marriage to my career choices to my sanity. But I never questioned this: my boys and my relationship with them.
Which is exactly why I knew we would see Toy Story 3 together. And we did. On Monday night, in a theater filled with people who all appeared to be in their late teens and early twenties. In other words, people who grew up right along with Andy in the movie. People who were out of high school, or soon would be, and like Andy, were very likely finding their way into the world. My husband and I were the oldest people there.
I’d heard about the final scene of the movie, and that if you’re inclined to such things, you would find yourself tearing up. Forget about that. I could barely make it through the opening, when you see a home video camera view of Andy as a young boy, exactly the kind of images you have of your own kids on hours of videotape. The kinds of images that captivate me whenever we dig up our tapes and relive our lives. It’s not possible that we were that young or the boys so small.
Twenty years. Just. Like. That.
Whatever the future holds for the Toy Story franchise, the story arc seems to have come to a tidy little ending at just the right time for my family and me. Like Andy, my boys are college guys now. Most of their boyhood toys have been given away; others packed away, possibly for other boys to come; possibly to eventually find their way out of our home and into the hands of children who will love them.
It’s fifteen years since we first entered that theater playing Toy Story, but even when we’re not in the dark, I still reach for their hands, and am rarely disappointed. All these years later, they slip their own hand comfortably into mine – or more accurately, they cover mine with theirs. They still trust that I’m there for them but now, these days I’m also trusting that they’re there for me. We count on each other for different things now, and I’ve learned to value and accept the unique approach each of them takes to life, to the people around them, to the ideas they hold dear. I’m positive they’ve discovered a different perspective on me, too. While I may not have the same energy or outlook I had at 36, I hope they’ve accepted a more realistic view of a flawed person who above all – despite the moments we’ve lived through that will never, ever find their way into a Pixar film - loves her children.
At the end of the movie, Andy’s Mom – I love that we don’t know her name – gets caught up in the moment of his departure and says something like this: “I wish I could always be with you.” I know just what she means. And on my better days, like when I'm sharing Toy Story 3 with two nineteen-year-olds and a twenty-year-old, I like to think I will be.