I’m a parent of children between the ages of 4-6. This means I have seen the Disney film Moana so many times that I’ve memorized most of the song lyrics and character dialogue. I’m not complaining, though, because Moana is my favorite Disney animated film since The Little Mermaid released when I was five years old. It’s funny, exciting, moving, and inspiring… and my kids both love it.

My son is six years old and he often surprises me. Around the third viewing of the film I watched as Mareto stared intently at the television screen. Time seems to stand still as Moana commanded the water to part and let the lava monster, Te Ka, come to her. It is at this moment that Mareto tells me, as if it’s a secret, that this is his favorite part of the whole movie.

I watch with him as the movie continues in slow motion. Moana walks toward Te Ka and sings to her. The song reminds Te Ka that she’s been changed from her true, full of life, self into a shell of lava and ash. Moana declares that she knows who Te Ka really is – and so does Te Ka. We reach the climax of the movie as Moana puts the heart back in it’s rightful place and Te Ka transforms back into Te Fiti. The smoke clears and life burst forth.

It is a moment of redemption, courage, hope, and love. This is my son’s favorite part. I look at him tenderly and hope he never changes.

Mareto has such a keen insight on the human condition. There is no pretending in him – what you see is what you get. Mareto lives out loud – all his thoughts, feelings, joys, and fears on display for the world to see. He doesn’t know any other way to live but wide open. So I suppose he found it interesting that Te Fiti was hiding inside Te Ka all along – unable to find her way out.

I don’t know about you, but when I watch movies the character I tend to see myself in most is the heroine. I think most people do the same, probably because we want to imagine the best about ourselves in extreme situations. Rarely, if ever, do we identify more with the villain of the story. But when I watch Moana, I see myself in Te Ka. I am not the heroine, I am hiding. I am afraid and uncertain. I lose heart and see the worst about myself. I can lash out on the people I love and want to serve.

Mareto is Moana. He knows who he is and doesn’t know how to be anyone else. But e also knows who I am. I am his mommy and I am cutie-ful.

In my book, It’s Okay About It, I share a simple story about a day when Mareto reminded me of who I really am…

“It was a gorgeous spring morning, and I woke up feeling awful. Since moms don’t often get sick days and the kids were feeling fine and full of energy, we went to the park. I found a bench and settled in to watch them play. Mareto came to tell me he was headed for the swing set, and I called out, “I love you!” as he turned to run.

He stopped and turned, without skipping a beat, to respond, “I love you. You’re so cutie-ful, Mommy.”

As I watched him run off to swing, tears filled my eyes. I wasn’t running or chasing or laughing and playing like some of the other moms at the park. My body ached, my head throbbed, and I was exhausted. I wasn’t at my best, but I was at the park. And to Mareto, I was completely and fully enough because I am his.”

Mareto calls out to me and reminds me of who I am. He sees right into the heart of me and acknowledges that person only. He doesn’t see the insecure, sometimes frightened, usually tired version of myself that I most quickly recognize. He doesn’t know the me that is terrified of failing and convinced I’m messing up parenthood and friendship and marriage and, well, life. Because in Mareto’s innocent, clear perspective none of that is who I really am. When I feel like Te Ka Mareto still sees me as Te Fiti.

I know now why Mareto loves that particular scene of the movie. We get to see someone come out of hiding. We get to see what happens when the truth is called out and someone responds to it and says, “yes that’s who I am.” We see the transformation of someone choosing to live wide open, just as Mareto does.



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Lauren Casper is the author of It’s Okay About It: Lessons from a Remarkable Five-Year-Old about Living Life Wide Open, and founder of the internationally read blog laurencasper.com. Lauren is a top contributor to the TODAY Parenting Team and has had numerous articles syndicated by The Huffington Post, the TODAY show, Yahoo! News, and several other publications. She and her family live in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.


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