Mary Tyler Son saw his first movie today and it was The Muppets. It was wonderful. Like really wonderful. So wonderful that both Mary Tyler Dad and I wept. Well, I wept, and he welled, but there were tears for both of us.
You know when you want something to be great and wonderful and perfect, but most of the time the hype does not live up to the hopes in your head? That happened last weekend with the circus. I was so looking forward to bringing Mary Tyler Son to the circus, and wrote about it on the MTM facebook page. A few readers shook those scales off my eyes with the news of abusive animal practices perpetrated by Ringling Bros. We went, and, you know, it was fine, but an elephant should not be painting a picture with his trunk and tigers should not be made to stand on two legs instead of four, submissive front paws in the air. So, no, it was not the idyllic experience I had imagined it would be.
Mary Tyler Son will be three in just a few short weeks and, loving the movies, I thought we should make an event of his first movie. I tend to do this — try and make “events” out of things most folks just do. I don’t know why I do that. I’ve got a sentimental Irish heart, I suppose. And Donna’s death just sort of ups the ante on Mary Tyler Son’s childhood. Anyway. I was excited to bring the family to the movies. Another blogger wrote a post about how to take your toddler to the movies, so we were prepped and ready. Chose an early movie, brought lots of snacks, made certain pee and poop happened before we left.
Mary Tyler Son was tentative walking into the theater. He does not like dark places he told me, clinging to my hand. We might have to leave early, he announced, looking uncertain and tentative, but he kept walking forward, mesmerized by what was turning into the most mind blowingly large tee vee he had ever seen. His pace picked up a bit. He didn’t have time for stairs, as that would require more attention that he was willing to devote to anything that wasn’t that massive screen of animated creatures before him. We sat and all was well. A family at the movies. I was happy.
A few minutes into the film I started crying, softly. I was overwhelmed with the moment, I think. Happy. Mary Tyler Son was at the movies. He was doing something Donna never got a chance to do. He was eating popcorn. Life was good. And then there were those Muppets. They are so joyful, so hopeful. Watching them, I remembered how much I loved them as a kid.
I was ten when the original Muppet movie came out. I still remember Kermit sitting in that swamp singing about rainbows, a song Mary Tyler Dad now sings to our boy before bed. I am notoriously unable to remember lyrics, so I make up my own, which, amazingly, I can remember. I sang that song to Donna, often, a smush of the actual lyrics and some of my own. All apologies to Mr. Paul Williams. I’m not ten anymore, but there I was today, thirty-two years later, sitting in a theater watching Kermit sing The Rainbow Connection. Thank God some things do not change.
Early in the movie, there is a scene where Walter, the man/muppet protagonist, walks into the office of Kermit on the abandoned Muppet Studios lot. It is old, decrepit, abandoned. He sneaks in and the camera pans onto the office wall where there are framed photos of many of the guest hosts from The Muppet Show (1976-1981). There was Florence Henderson and Steve Martin. These smiling 70s faces were all askew and covered with cobwebs and dust. I thought to myself, “Just like my childhood — covered with cobwebs and dust and only existing in photos.” Man, I am a morbid gal when given the opportunity, but it’s true. My childhood is gone. Over. Finished. Like that’s news at 42, but in that moment, it was.
Are you wondering at this point how Mary Tyler Dad ever puts up with me? I ask him that all the time, and his response is always the same, “Because I love you.”
Yes, but we’re talking about the Muppets here, not my moribund grief over my lost childhood or how amazing my man is. In true Muppet fashion, the show must go on, so they get it together and clean up the studio and theater for one last show. I always loved that about the Muppets. They took care of business, did it with a smile on their face and a song on their lips, despite what always seemed to be insurmountable odds and strangely likable villains plotting against them.
The movie continued and Mary Tyler Son was loving it. We took a couple of breaks, but just two, and they were brief. When we returned from the first one, Mary Tyler Son ran across the front aisle and screamed, “Daddy, I’m back, I’m back!” Gratefully, the audience seemed charmed rather than irritated. As the film was nearing its end, it becomes clear that the Muppets haven’t reached their fundraising goal and would lose their beloved theater. Kermit, as he often is, was circumspect. And then he made a speech that cut deeply for both Mary Tyler Dad and I.
Kermit talked about being proud of what they had accomplished, that what was important was that they had tried, no matter the outcome, they had tried. Their efforts did not result in failure, but in success, because, all had tried and worked together. It was time to move forward as a family and acknowledge their loss. Their future was assured becase they were together.
Well, of course, we both felt Donna in those moments. That accounted for some of my tears, but some can be attributed to the realization that like the Muppets, we are gonna be okay. Our future, too, is assured because we are together. We are a family, significantly different than the family we were before, but still a family. We didn’t fail Donna, despite not getting the outcome we wanted. Like the Muppets, faced with crazy circumstances, we move forward, with a smile on our face and a song on our lips. If only our villain was like the Muppet villain; one who neatly sees the errors of his way and reverses course. That bastard cancer is more formidable than Chris Cooper.
But our story is not a movie, it is our life. And we are not puppets, we are people.
There is a line in the movie where Walter says, sings rather, “In my heart, I am a Muppet.” Me, too. In my heart, I am a Muppet. I will move forward. I will face challenges, different ones than I already have. I will always look for joy and laughter (I hope). I will acknowledge sadness, but it will not make me bitter (I hope). Rather, it will be part of me, just like my joy. I will try to try, despite how very hard that can be at times.
Thank you, Jim Henson.