Last night, I witnessed my 7 year old son’s heart break for the very first time.
And it was heart-breaking, and heart-warming, and heart-expanding. Like a process. A journey. A growth. A growing pain. A process that I have experienced many times, and here it is again.
It’s family film night, in the midst of a global health pandemic and our third lockdown in the UK. My son, Leo, has heard about a new Godzilla versus King Kong film. He’s excited about it, and so we decide to watch the old films while we await the release of the new one. First up: King Kong (2005), starring Naomi Watts and Jack Black.
Film poster copyright of Universal Pictures
We make snacks and take a few breaks along the three hour marathon of the film. Leo’s restless for the first hour as the stage is set. “Where’s King Kong?! Is King Kong even in this film?!” he asks, getting more and more restless as the storyline builds.
Then the film gets much darker and scarier than my husband and I had remembered, and it happens… King Kong bursts onto the screen. And the journey of mystery and adventure Leo had been wishing for began.
(Spoilers coming up below!)
But the plot twists. We learn that King Kong isn’t the angry, dangerous killing machine he is perceived to be. We see him and the lead actress, Ann, build a relationship of empathy and an unlikely friendship. They are both alone in the world and lonely. They share the beauty of a moment of rest together as they watch the wonder of the sunrise.
Image: Film still from the movie copyright of Universal Pictures
Then the awful happens. The worst of humanity is revealed. The greedy, egotistical, harmful, self-centred, manipulative side of humanity is represented in lead actor, Jack, who leads the capture of King Kong with violent and inhuman force.
We see King Kong shackled in chains. Broken in spirit. Reduced to an object for human entertainment.
But despite the chains we see King Kong rise up, break free, and run. But he’s on the streets of New York – an unfamiliar land. He’s isolated and frightened. He tries his displays of strength, with chest beating and roars. The warning cries to stay away, to prevent harm, to prevent a fight. But it’s no good. The humans are frightened too, and they have weapons – deadly weapons – that they are lost in, and lead by fear.
Amidst the chaos we see King Kong is searching. He’s searching for Ann. For the only kindness he’s been shown on this whole grim adventure. His point of connection. And he finds her.
And so they run.
Until they stubble upon a moment of play – Kong discovers ice and they slide around Central Park, playful, connected, and at ease. That park, that has become a familiar place of play to my son, through the playful films of Home Alone 2 and Elf. Memories of ice and snow; connection and hope.
But the attack from the scared humans advances, and Kong retreats to find shelter in the iconic scene where we see him clutching Ann in his hand as he scales the Empire State Building.
Image: Film still from the movie copyright of Universal Pictures
Reaching the top, again, both the characters and the audience are offered a moment to allow our heads to rise above the water – the horror of the advancing attack – to catch a breath. Ann and Kong once again witness the setting of the sun. Ann is amazed as Kong remembers her words, and uses sign language to communicate that the sunset is ‘beautiful‘.
But then the fighter jets fill the sky, and Kong is once more under attack. And at this point my son screams out, “no!” And I swear I hear his heart crack right open.
Tears fill his eyes and he says, “stop it,” and we pause the film. He runs into the other room and hides his face in the soft cushions of a chair. He doesn’t understand these big emotions. He’s never experienced this before. He has tears in his eyes, but his tears aren’t for himself. They are tears of compassion. Tears for Kong. A misunderstood, manipulated, and beautiful creature.
My son is 7 and doesn’t have the emotional or cognitive ability to process what he’s feeling. He just wants to escape. He just wants it to stop. It’s painful in a way he’s unfamiliar with. I offer cuddles and he sees I have tears in my eyes too, but he pushes me away. He’s unable to process at this moment; it’s all too raw and confusing. And it hurts.
He says, “I just want to watch YouTube,” and I know he’s retreating to his safe space. Like Kong and Ann resting and watching the sunset, Leo finds solace in the familiar faces of the YouTubers he enjoys. He retreats to his room, and I feel that although he’s pushing me away because he’s trying to cope with big emotions by pushing them away, I’ll stay within the boundary of his room with him. I pick up his Switch so I’m by his side, but I give him space. Together, but apart.
It doesn’t take long before Leo shows interest in what I’m playing and wants to play too. Leo’s Dad brings him a cup of hot chocolate and we play together for a little while. Then I suggest we brush our teeth and get ready for bed.
We settle into cuddles in my bed and turn out the lights. And that’s when the talking begins.
I say, “I think your heart just broke.”
Leo sounds shocked and says, “It did! That’s what it feels like. It just burst right open. It’s like half of my heart is in America and half is in Australia!”
“It hurts doesn’t it?” I ask. “It’s happened to me too. When your heart cracks like that, they say that’s where the light gets in.”
“What do you mean?” asks Leo.
“Well it’s like your heart grows. It has more love coming in and out,” I reply.
And I think of the moment in the Grinch, when the narrator says, “And his heart grew three sizes that day.”
Then Leo turns to me and says, “How do you have so much love?”
“What do you mean?”
“How do you have all this love for me? For when I’m happy and when I’m like this.”
And I feel my heart crack a little wider, and the love flow in and rush out, and I reply, “Well I love you very much, no matter what. And my heart has been broken many times, so it’s grown and grown.”
And with that Leo cuddles into me and I’m shocked and taken aback. And filled with love. And together we drift into sleep.
I’d love to say this is where our story ends. And it could end here, holding me in a halo of being a good enough parent. Drifting into a healing sleep, from which we awaken with it all neatly boxed off and dealt with. But that wouldn’t be true. This is a small insight into a small moment of life. And life continues.
The next morning as I write this post, I’m aware that the act of writing allows me space to process, to reflect, to share and seek compassion from you, the reader. To connect with you in the common human experience of suffering.
As my son wakes, he’s full of joy and excitement about the new release of a game he enjoys playing. He’s asking me to buy him something in an online game he plays, and we have the usual debate about spends day and saving up. I start to myself, “He went through a lot last night. I could allow him this special treat,” but as we do the maths we realise the item he wants is way more expensive than we thought. I tell him to wait and we won’t buy it now, and he’s okay with this.
But as I walk away, I wonder. When the heart breaks a little, is that a moment when we are vulnerable to our vices? In hope of soothing and helping by buying, eating, drinking, consuming, are we unconsciously trying to fill the wound of the internal pain? Is this a trap?
What if we wait? What if we gently notice our urges and pause? What happens to the pain?
There is no neat end to this post. It’s a journey and we’re right in the midst of it as it continues…