Why the End of Moana Wrecks You

**The movie came out last year, but still . . . SPOILERS**

Disney’s Moana was released on Netflix this summer, which means that I have now watched it approximately 6oo times. And every time that we watch it, I end up ugly crying and excusing myself from the room. Just like the first time that I saw it at the movie theatre. So, we know that Disney loves to tug the heartstrings, but this feels . . . different. Moana taps into something more raw and more real than their other movies.

Teenage me would really relate to Moana

While, yes, I spent a good deal of high school mooning over boys, what I really wanted and desired more than anything else was to be part of an adventure, to be the main character in my own story. The topic of marriage or romance never comes up once in Moana. With Brave, we had a princess end the story without a love interest. With Frozen, Disney turned the true love paradigm upside down. Finally with Moana, we have a female lead that is the central figure of her own adventure where romance isn’t even a topic of conversation. Teenage me would have been into that.

But it isn’t Moana’s story that resonates with me now

Although teenage me, and even 20 something year old me would have related to Moana and her yearning for adventure, 30 something me relates to Te Fiti/Te Ka. This is where I lose it every single time. I know that the standard interpretation is about man’s relationship with nature, but I see something very different in the ending, something deep and intensely feminine.

Once Moana recognizes that Te Ka is Te Fiti and she sings the song “Know Who You Are,” with lyrics by the AMAZING Lin Manuel Miranda, what I see is the journey of motherhood: the way we can lose ourselves and sometimes need to be reminded who we are.

Femininity is nurturing, creative, and life giving.Te Fiti’s role in the world is bring and sustain life. It is exactly how we imagine motherhood to be. When Maui steals her heart, that creative life-giving center of her being, she transforms to a raging lava demon who can only destroy. The darkness and destruction radiates out from Te Ka to the rest of her world, leaving the people with no food, no nourishment, no life.

This is how I often feel in my motherhood.

“I have crossed the horizon to find you. I know your name.”

Sometimes it feels like all I am now is mom. Even though I have kept my career, teaching is a career not far removed from parenting in that it is often about pouring out yourself for the sake of the next generation. I refer to my students as my kids and many of them call me Mama B. I now mostly answer to Mrs. Brandon, Reagan’s mom, Noah’s mom, or just plain mom. When you make the shift to motherhood, there is an extreme sacrifice of self. Sometimes I long for someone to call me by my name, to remind me that I am Heather – the person that I have always been.

“They have stolen the heart from inside you”

Yes. Not intentionally or maliciously, of course. But still . . . I feel drained. I have given away everything I have to support those around me and all that is left is anger, resentment, and destruction. I have lost my heart for so many things that make me “me” in the daily grind of getting kids ready, going to work, cleaning, cooking, lesson planning, teaching, driving, helping with homework, finishing my coursework, changing diapers, making bottles, planning meals, taking kids to activities, crashing into bed and doing it all again the next day. Some days it is easy to forget Heather in all of it. I am fortunate to have a career that allows me to be creative and follow my passions, but sometimes work is just work, and my family gets the spare parts at the end of my day. I want to be Te Fiti, full of life and love, but often I feel like, and fear my children see me as Te Ka, with only rage and bitterness.

“But this does not define you”

It is easy to get lost in motherhood, especially in the early years when child-rearing is a constant stream of menial tasks with little reward. Sometimes it feels like the person you were before is just gone forever and that your life is now just an endless Peppa Pig marathon. I was struck by this immediately after the birth of my oldest. My whole life was different. Even though I continued to work, I cut back my time at work drastically in order to spend time with my little one. I felt like I was never enough at work because I couldn’t give as much of myself there as I used to. The ability to come and go as I pleased was now inhibited by this tiny person. The financial freedom we had became more restricted as I had to consider my daughter’s needs, daycare and more. I don’t resent these things or regret having my children, but sometimes, the sacrifice of motherhood is overwhelming and it can be hard to remember or justify taking time for yourself and your own self-care.

“This is not who you are. You know who you are.”

I don’t want to be the mom who has nothing left to give and leaves a path of destruction. In my head, I teach and nurture my children into great human beings. I have patience. I enjoy life with them. I delight in them. And I do love my children fiercely. But, I’m not just their mom. I’m still Heather. All the daily tasks that overwhelm me don’t make me who I am. I know   who I am and that I need to take time for myself in order to be the mom that I want to be. I need to find time to enjoy the things that I have always loved. Just as important, I need to ask for help. No one can be everything to everyone all the time. Even Te Fiti needed Moana’s help. In fact, all it took to turn Te Ka back into Te Fiti was someone recognizing her for who she truly is and reaching out to show kindness.

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