Finding Nemo: A Lesson in Parenting

1 Dec

Sometimes I think FInding Nemo is the only source of parenting advice I’ll ever need.

My kid has a lucky fin. No, not really….but if you’ve seen the movie, you understand. He’s not your typical kid, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But bottom line, there are certain challenges that come with parenting a kid who’s so uniquely blessed, and they’re not limited to the logistics that come with extra doctors’ visits, medications, and diagnostics. It’s always hard to let go of kids as they grow up; I’m just living it through a differently-colored pair of glasses

Many days, I feel like Marlin. I don’t want to let my precious child swim out on that field trip near the edge of the reef. I want to call out to him, remind him to be careful, not get in past his depth. But that’s just the sort of thing that pushed Nemo to take risks recklesssly, to swim out to the big boat, and led him into the way of the diver’s net.

Marlin: Nemo! You’re gonna get stuck out there and I’ll have to go get you before another fish does. Get back here! Get back here now! Stop! You make one more move, mister…
[Nemo lifts his fin]
Marlin: Don’t you lay a fin on that boat! Don’t you dare touch that boat! Don’t you…
[Nemo touches the boat]
Marlin: Nemo!

And as much as I want to protect him, I also don’t want him to grow up in fear. I want him to explore this big blue world, to know that he is capable of great things. I want him to choose what risks to take not out of rebellion, but out of courage and joy. I cannot protect him from every danger in this world, and it wouldn’t be in his best interests for me to try.

My BFF is a self-described Dory, and reminded me this morning to just keep swimming, just keep swimming. She’s right. In the movie, Dory also reminds me none of us are alone:

This is the Ocean, silly, we’re not the only two in here.

I find myself thinking that parenting is like a ride on the EAC, except that any given day can seem to call for Squirt’s exit advice:

We’re gonna have a great jump today. Okay, first crank a hard cutback as you hit the wall. There’s a screaming bottom curve, so watch out. Remember: rip it, roll it, and punch it.

How many days must I really spend on that screaming bottom curve? Sometimes I’m tired of ripping and rolling.

I want to learn from Gill. He’s sure not perfect, but he does help Nemo learn a little bit about self-reliance.

[Nemo is stuck in the filter intake. The others are about to help him out when… ]
Gill: Nobody touch him! Nobody touch him.
Nemo: Can you help me?
Gill: No. You got yourself in there, you can get yourself out.
Deb: Ah, Gil…
Gill: I just want to see him do it, Okay? Keep calm. Alternate wriggling your fins and your tail.
Nemo: I can’t. I have a bad fin
Gill: Never stopped me
[Turns to show Nemo his broken fin]
Gill: Just think about what you have to do.
[Nemo wriggles out of the filter]
Gill: Perfect.

I’ve got a bit of a broken fin myself, not quite like my kid’s but certainly I know what it is to walk around in this world with what some might consider imperfections. Maybe I can show my kid that my lucky fin never stopped me.

And really, Marlin’s got a bit of a broken fin himself, though it doesn’t show on the outside. He’s still struggling with love and grief, having lost most of his family in what my spouse refers to in an 9/11 allegory at the beginning of the film. His heart is broken, and he truly believes the only way to stay safe is to live in fear, to never let go.

And of course, when all is said and done, Marlin eventually learns to let go, to trust that Nemo knows how to save the fish caught in the net in the film’s climactic scene, and we see that Dory’s right, that we’re not the only two fish in the ocean, that we can do together what none of us can do alone.

I hope I can keep learning that lesson too.

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