Last year, film critics universally lauded Inside Out for its raw depiction of childhood unhappiness, a subject often glossed over in popular media. While I applauded the film for this depiction as well, I could not help but feel the cries of originality were a bit off-base. In 1990, years before Inside Out was even a concept, a 22 minute episode of The Simpsons illustrated how children are capable of profound and deep sadness. The episode is called “Moaning Lisa” and I cannot watch it without crying. In the episode, Lisa falls into an existential depression marked by a surprisingly sophisticated brand of ennui for an 8 year-old. Unable to help her snap out of it, a frustrated Marge eventually advises Lisa to simply pretend to be happy. “Lisa,” she says, while driving her daughter to school, “I want you to smile today.”
“But I don’t feel like smiling,” Lisa responds.
“It doesn’t matter what you feel inside,” says Marge, “It’s what shows up on the surface that counts.”
After a bit more convincing on Marge’s part, Lisa agrees to smile. When Marge drops her off, she watches Lisa from the car. She sees her daughter smile through harassment from classmates and then bow down to a warning from her band teacher not to have another “outburst of unbridled creativity” during class. This is too much for Marge. Outraged, she turns the car around and snatches Lisa from the sidewalk.
“Lisa, I apologize to you. I was wrong,” she says, “I take it all back. Always be yourself. If you want to be sad, honey, be sad. We’ll ride it out with you. And when you get finished being sad, we’ll still be there.”
This is the part where I start to cry. It’s because this reminds me so much of my own mother, who was able to handle my depressive spells as a child with a grace equal to Marge’s. Clinical depression is always scary and painful, but can be vastly more difficult in childhood when the newness of the world makes life equal parts enchanting and disturbing. I dream of having children of my own someday, but fear having a baby that is too much like me. What will I do with a depressed child? Will I be able to handle this as well as my mother did? Our mothers have tremendous impact upon our lives. The notion of motherhood is one that connects us to our sense of self. Motherhood can bring hope and comfort, but can also trigger insecurities, fears, and sadness. I know, from my mother, to always be myself, to be sad if I need to be sad, and to trust those around me will ride it out with me. Alongside these warm feelings, there is fear. I am afraid I am inadequate. I am afraid I will never be strong enough or stable enough to teach a child the vitally important lessons my mother has taught me.
That’s what motherhood means to me. Now, tell me what it means to you.
May is the month of Mother’s Day. In celebration, Entropy wants your writings on motherhood. Tell us about your mothers. What does it mean to be a mother? What does your mother mean to you? What are the moments, big and small, that you can fall back on to define the theme of motherhood? What songs, movies, poems, books, or TV shows spark memories that can momentarily derail you? We are interested in hearing your own notes on motherhood, in any genre or form that comes naturally to you.
Please send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions that are accepted will be published throughout the month of May.
Follow the series, Notes on Motherhood, here.