“Oh honey, smile for the picture.”
The words were barely out of my mouth and I was already cringing. Why had I said that? It came out so naturally. I hadn’t planned to say it but there it was, hanging in the air between us. My sweet and loving daughter had automatically burst into a smile, and I silently cursed myself as my face responded with its own smile mirroring my daughter’s.
My seven-year-old wild-child, Emilia, was posing at our local movie theatre in front of the Captain Marvel poster at my request. I had asked her to stand the same way as Captain Marvel and she had immediately struck the appropriate stance. Legs slightly apart, balanced for a fight, arms down and to her sides, open to discussion and reason, and a determined look on her face. The exact image of the super hero she had been waiting to see on the big screen for so long. Captain Marvel wasn’t smiling, so neither was the girl emulating her. This was serious business and a smile was not appropriate.
As soon as the words requesting a grin came out of my mouth, I immediately took them back and acknowledged that Emilia had been correct the first time. Immediately her face settled back into that determined expression I have come to adore. My daughter knows what she wants and woe to the person who tries to get her to do otherwise.
Captain Marvel will always be remembered as one of the moments in our mother-daughter relationship. Emilia spent the majority of the movie holding my hand, resting her head on my shoulder. or sitting on my lap. She asked a thousand questions, most starting with “why” and had to be shushed more times than I could count. But there was no quieting this child. She wanted to know why people were being mean to others… and why there had to be war and warriors… and why were Vers’ hands glowing… and could we see this movie again tomorrow?
I spent the majority of the movie watching my daughter react to her first onscreen female role model. I loved seeing her fists raised triumphantly as Vers/Carol Danvers effortlessly flew planes, handled herself in one on one combat, and easily made friends with new people she encountered. At one point in the movie, Vers is outside a store and a man tells her to give him a smile. My heart dropped and then continued its downward plummet as Emilia looked up at me and said, “Why would he tell her that?” What was I to say? “Don’t worry, you will soon discover women get that line once a day or week.”“Because men feel less threatened by women who smile.” Or, “Well, sometimes women are expected to fulfill gender roles decided on by the society in which they live.” Instead I said, “Because sometimes people expect others to behave in a way they think is proper.” That got a sage nod from Emilia. My child is used to having people tell her to stop being so… Emilia-like. At school she is admonished for being fidgety in class. At church she is told not to ask so many questions during Children’s Time. When we visit other people’s homes I am forever telling her to stop jumping on furniture, and for Heaven’s sake will you stop climbing! My girl’s world is one of constraint and yet here is super hero Vers, refusing to smile when smiles are not called for, and learning who she really is rather than filling the roles other people had planned for her.
But, the best part of this female super hero movie came during the montage, which for me was rather welltrod ground. But for Emilia it was new and enlightening. The montage is the part where we see all the lessons learned over the course of a life in split second flash backs. In this case, every time Carol Danvers fell or was mocked, and every time she was told to stay in her place… she got up. Emilia happened to be on my lap and in that moment she turned to me and with wonder in her voice whispered, “She is getting back up.” I whispered back, “That is right baby girl. She is getting back up. We women, we always get back up. We are strong, we are fierce and we will always get back up. And on the days when you think you cannot get back up by yourself there will be other women there supporting you until you get the strength back in your legs.” She looked at me then, her eyes wide and her face serious and said, “This is the best movie ever.” That was the moment my wild child learned that it was okay to be different and it was okay to fall down sometimes. The trick, she learned, was to get back up and having friends to help you when you needed it made getting back up easier.
Now, that may be the part Emilia will always remember… the part when other people told Vers/Carol that she was not good enough as she was only to be proven wrong. However, for me the best part was when Carol tells another character that by trying to force her to behave in a certain way, a way that went beyond her natural inclination, she was being forced to live “with one hand tied behind my back.” In other words, when told to stop being herself, something Emilia has heard far too many times, she responded that she is at her best when she is being her authentic self. It was then that Emilia raised both fists in the air and yelled out loudly, “WHOOHOO!!!! YEAH!!!!” Several people in the theatre laughed in solidarity with my daughter. I wanted to shout out to them how lucky they were to be there at the moment when my daughter learned that, just like her favourite super hero, it was perfectly fine to be yourself. That you did not need to suppress your emotions, or your inner self, for others to accept and love you.
Emilia walked out of the theatre chattering on about flying planes and “boom, bang, punch!”
“Mom!” she asked enthusiastically,“Did you SEE those aliens!? And did you SEE Captain Marvel FLYING? And did you notice that I look just like Captain Marvel??????”
Yes, baby girl, I did. And I cannot wait to see what you do now that you know you are not alone in this wild, beautiful universe of ours.