When I first wrote about parenting in law school, I complained that my classmates were reading case law while I was reading Moo, Baa, La La La! Now, with the benefit of hindsight, it’s still clear that book had no educational value for me. But my daughter loved it. So, what can you do? Fortunately, in the years since then, my increasingly sophisticated daughter has brought me into contact with increasingly stimulating stories.
For instance, our new farmhouse-themed go-to is Click, Clack, Moo, a pro-labor story about the power of the pen. In it, cows gain access to a type-writer and use it to demand better working conditions from Farmer Brown. They then go on strike until their demands are met. The revolution will not be pasteurized. The movement for animal dignity spreads to the chickens. They bring in a duck to mediate as a neutral party. But he is radicalized and brings the insurgency to the other ducks. Fellow classmates going into labor law: get this book if you want to explain to children what you do.
We also read a book called Room on Our Rock, which tells the story of resource-guarding seals who will not make room on their rock for a mother and baby seal fleeing danger. Once you get to the end of the book, however, you are instructed to read it backwards. Then, the order of the words conveys an entirely different, compassionate, welcoming sentiment to those in need. Future immigration lawyers may want to get this book in the hands of immigration judges’ children.
But my daughter’s best contribution to my legal education came in movie form. Frozen II, I realized after watching it for the tenth bleary-eyed time, is a critique of neocolonialism and a call for environmental justice. The plot turns on a dam built by white Europeans, ostensibly for the benefit of a neighboring Indigenous community. But the dam was actually meant to disrupt the local ecosystem on which the Indigenous people relied, increasing their dependence on their scheming neighbors. Future environmental law practitioners and indigenous land rights advocates, this is the one for you.
In my favorite song, The Next Right Thing, the Princess-protagonist confronts the sins of her dam-building forefathers. Her sister died to uncover that hidden history, and she has lost her faith in the essential goodness of her own people. She starts out: “I’ve seen dark before, but not like this/ This is cold, this is empty, this is numb…Darkness, I’m ready to succumb.” Admittedly, the song is a downer. My daughter doesn’t like it. But I make her watch it with me anyway. Payback for Moo, Baa, La La La! But it’s not entirely petty on my part, I also want her to see this scene for its depiction of emotional resilience and moral courage.
The protagonist is in a state of grief, without the guidance of a fixed narrative to provide her moral North Star. She goes on: “I don’t know any more what is true…The only star that guided me was you.” The Frozen stories are inspired by a Danish fairytale, but the Danish imprint is probably strongest in this song, which draws deeply from the Christian Existentialism of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. For him, as well as for the secular existentialist movement he inspired, paradox, suffering, anxiety, and indecision were all unavoidable aspects of life. But they could be managed and made meaningful by the individual constituting itself through independent choice. As the protagonist puts it: “How to rise from the floor/ When it’s not you I’m rising for?…[B]reak it down to this next breath, this next step/ This next choice is one that I can make.” It’s a deceptively complex view of life, one that layers practical, common-sense resolve over a deeper sense of the darkness of the human condition.
Probably the most prominent proponent of this view of life is none other than Joe Biden, who has frequently cited the Kierkegaardian quotation, “faith sees best in the dark,” to explain how he has emerged from loss and grief throughout his life. Frozen II’s protagonist echoes that sentiment when she resolves to overcome her grief and her loss of innocence to destroy the dam her family built: “So I’ll walk through this night/ Stumbling blindly toward the light/ And do the next right thing.” The idea of stumbling through darkness towards light clearly resonates for anyone who has grieved the loss of a loved one. But it also provides encouragement to those dealing with the loss of moral clarity or purpose.
I have felt that sense of loss in recent years. There is cause for grave concern about our democratic and legal institutions. So much of America’s secular religion and national mythology are based on a sense of transcendent destiny, a teleological view that goes back to the idea of a city on a hill. But in recent years, we have been compelled to more frankly confront the dark passages of our national history. Our elections have become chaotic. Our Capitol has been ransacked. Our legislatures are marked by debased spectacle. And our judiciary is increasingly politicized. To treat this government as a paragon of democratic virtue is willfully ignorant. Having lost that mythological national origin story, and lacking a sense of inevitable American triumph, it may be easy to feel despondent and withdraw. But if you really love something, your effort and care for it aren’t predicated on the certainty that it can be saved. You choose to carry on because you must. And when it’s unclear how exactly to carry on, when the long-term prospects are obscured by darkness, you do the next right thing.
So, I’m grateful my daughter made me watch Frozen II for that tenth (and then eleventh, twelfth…) time. And I will keep making her watch this dreary song with me. Because the parent-child relationship is reciprocal, and I still don’t fully understand Torts. I was busy reading Moo, Baa, La La La!
Ian Ramsey-North is a third-year student at BC Law. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.