This has some very mild spoilers about Inside Out.

Mike and I took the kids to see Inside Out this weekend. We all enjoyed it immensely. Gorgeous to look at, well-acted, lovely score, clever story, smart dialogue – it had everything you’d want in a move. But what I like the most about Inside Out are the conversations it’s lead to in our house – even if a lot of them have been really hard.

Annabel laughed all through the movie, but I was curious how much of the film’s message she’d been able to process. As we walked out of the theatre, I said, “Annabel, what do you think the movie was about?” She replied, “It’s about memories! And that even when you’re sad, your body wants to be happy!” We talked a bit about how important each emotion is, but eventually started laughing about our favorite parts of the movie.

The next morning, as Annabel and I ran errands, she started asking me questions about memories. Memories play a very important role in the film – the way they’re created, the way they influence our personalities, the way they’re filed in the brain, and the way they eventually just…crumble and fade away. Annabel wanted to know about my memories. What was my oldest memory? My funniest? As I talked to her, I could see exactly where the conversation was headed, but I knew I had to let it happen.

“What is your saddest memory? Was it when Maddie died?”

“Yes. That is my saddest, scariest memory.”

“Ohhhh…so Sadness and Fear were both running your brain. Got it.”

She then went on to ask a bunch of other questions like, “What did you do after she died?” “Where is her grave?” and, “What’s your favorite memory of her?” After answering her questions, she said, “I never got to make any memories with Maddie. But if she were still here, we’d play all sorts of games together!” Her imagination was off and running.

I really related to Riley, the girl whose brain the movie takes place in. The first part of Riley’s life is idyllic, full of joy, friendship, and accomplishment. And then her family moves and she finds herself confused, lonely, and sad. It reminded me of my life before and after Madeline died. I’d lived a lucky, charmed life up until that point – joy was definitely my primary emotion. In the years since Madeline died, sadness, fear, and anger have taken on larger roles in my brain, and it’s been hard for me to reconcile.

The main message of the movie is that all of our emotions are important and valuable, and that they often are intertwined. I spent a lot of time trying to repress the “unsavory” emotions – to be honest, I still struggle with it. This movie was a great reminder that I not only need to let myself experience my emotions, but I have to let my kids experience them, too. I’m way too guilty of telling my kids to stop crying, to have a better attitude, to get over injustices. I have to stop that.

Later in our conversation, Annabel asked, “Mom, do you have any memories where Joy and Sadness work together, like in the movie?”

She’s not quite old enough to hear that Joy and Sadness are always working together in my brain, tethered to each other for the rest of my days. So I simply told her, “Yes.”

“I know all about that, Mommy. Like when you take the last bite of birthday cake. You’re so sad it’s gone, but you’re happy you got to eat it.”

Such a perfect kid analogy. I hope this is her saddest happiness for a long time.

with Joy