A photo of Shannon SaiaA few weeks ago I was listening to an interview with Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney, on NPR. He was promoting his new book, Working Together, Why Great Partnerships Succeed. It was an interesting interview, and as usual, Diane Rehm took questions by phone and by e-mail that were then posed to Mr. Eisner on the air. What made this interview stick in my head was not anything in particular about the book, but a comment/question that was sent in by a listener. I don’t remember the exact words, but the comment was something along the lines of how the movie Bambi had caused the listener to run crying from the movie theatre, and whether or not Mr. Eisner felt that scenes such as the death of Bambi’s mother are appropriate for children’s movies. Mr. Eisner declined to really discuss the question, stating that Bambi was made some years before he took the helm of Disney, and the interview moved on.

This was one of the few times that I was inclined to actually call in to a talk show. If I had, this is what I would have said: I think that a child whose first personal experience of death is the loss of Bambi’s mother is a very lucky child indeed.

* * * * *

I’ll admit it; our T.V. is on around here A LOT, more often than not playing kid’s shows on DVD, or Disney movies, or for awhile there last fall – at my daughter’s repeated request – one of the six movies comprising the Star Wars saga. This used to bother me. I used to worry that we might be allowing our child’s brain to rot; that we were being bad or inattentive or just plain lazy parents. But lately, I’m starting to reconsider my position here. I’m starting to wonder if, just like the death of Bambi’s mother in Disney’s famous movie, the T.V. issue is all what you make of it.

For us, the television has always been a conversation-starter. Since she’s been old enough to really start asking questions, and since she began to watch things more sophisticated than Elmo, we have talked through almost everything that she has ever seen. “Who’s that?” “What’s that’s name?” “What happened?” “What happened to Bambi’s mother?” We always identify the “toot” – the “bad guy” in the movie, if there is one – and why they’re a toot, and whether or not they redeem themselves. We talk about the fact that there are “toots” in this world, and how a person can keep from becoming one.

We’re always right there ready and willing to answer the questions. And as we go through our day we’re constantly connecting dots. Like connecting what happened to Bambi’s mom with the baby bird she saw one of my dogs kill in the back yard; to the worm we later saw hanging out of a “mother” bird’s mouth; to the decomposing and insect-infested squirrel we saw on the road one day while taking a walk around the neighborhood; to the chickens and pig and eggs we buy from a local farm; to the missing (deceased) parent in so many fairy tales and Disney movies; all the way to the recent death of her last surviving great grandparent. We’ve had conversations about death, and what happens when we die that I never expected to be having with a three year old, and she’s taken it all in stride.

S.M.R. Saia
10/7/2010 5:07:45 PM

Veronica, Amy and N. Dave, thanks so much for stopping by and for sharing your Bambi memories. I appreciate the kind words.

Nebraska Dave
10/7/2010 11:00:50 AM

@Shannon, You have discovered the secret to modern day technology and child raising. The technology is not bad but what we do with it can be. Life can be cruel and difficult to understand at times. Your philosophy of explaining what is being watched on TV in terms your daughter can understand are priceless things that will make her strong in character and help her to understand the issues of death. She may not always like what life throws at her but she will be able to handle it because you have prepared her for what lies ahead. I applaud you for spending the time explaining what life is all about. More parents should do that. Kids do remember things that have been talked about. I’ve also learned that there are windows of opportunity with kids and people in general when they are more receptive then other times. When those windows open don’t let them pass. As kids get older those opportunities to talk are most important. As far as Disney movies, I grew up with Disney and Bambi. I don’t think that my psyche was horribly damaged because I watch them. Of course, I grew up on a farm where life and death happened all the time just to survive. Keep doing what your doing and your daughter will turn out just fine. Have great life today.

10/7/2010 10:33:43 AM

Wow, what a wonderful post! Thanks so much for sharing it. You are so right, if a child's first experience of death is the death of Bambi's mom, they are a lucky child, indeed.

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