E.T., the Orangutan and My Son

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As I wash dishes and stare at the rice I burnt on the bottom of my silver pot, I hear sniffles. I look over and see my first grader with a deep frown on his face as he watches the IMAX movie, Born to be Wild. This movie is narrated by Morgan Freeman and is about orphaned elephants and orangutans in Kenya and Borneo, respectively. I started to watch it with him at the beginning, but then got up to make dinner.

He senses me.

He turns away and buries his face in the pillow.

He’s crying. And hiding it.

He dries his tears, regains his composure and tries to watch the show again hoping I don’t notice.

I say nothing.

Not yet.

I know he’s not ready to talk.


I recognize this scene very well. A couple of years ago he watched some of Where The Wild Things Are. In certain parts,his face was sad. His shoulders drooped. After the movie ended, I couldn’t find him. Moments later, there he was.

Bawling. Quietly.

Not wanting to be found.

Hiding the fact that his heart had been stomped on by a movie.

The monsters were sad Max had to leave.

My son was even sadder.

E.T. was the same thing. He could barely stand to see Elliott send E.T. away. The pain Elliot felt and the pain E.T. felt were magnified within my son’s chest many times over. After the movie, I couldn’t find him.

But then I did.

Sobbing. Silently.

Not wanting to be found.

It was real to him. His emotions were intense but he felt like he needed to shield them from me. This isn’t always the case with him. I have, of course, seen him laugh and cry many, many times. I have seen him cry over injustices he feels he has received or physical pain or being sad about something he loves breaking to pieces.

I guess the broken heart cry is different. It’s more raw. It’s a deeper pain.

The cry that happens when your heart breaks for someone else is different.

When I see that his demeanor has changed, I feel like it is the right time to ask him about his feelings. It may not be that way with all children, or all people, but it’s that way with my little dude. So, I asked him, “Did something sad happen in that movie Born to be Wild?”

I thought an orangutan had died.

He begins to tell me about the “orangu-” but he chokes up and tells me I need to watch it for myself later.  “The whole thing.”

Wanting to be comforted, however, he tries again and is able to get out the words, “they had to drop him off in the jungle all by himself.” No tears flowed out of his eyes, but his lips quivered. Quivered and stopped. At the tender age of 7, he is trying to be strong, though no one has said he couldn’t let the tears flow. No one has told him crying was bad. No one in our family has said, “Boys don’t cry.”

In each movie, E.T., Born To Be Wild and Where The Whild Things Are, a character is leaving a place where they are loved and cared about for another place. A place the other characters know nothing about. Maybe this is where his tears come from- the fear of leaving people he loves and setting off all by himself.

The fear of being alone in a big world.

For as long as I possibly can, I will wrap my arms around him to remind him that he is not.

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