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LuElla D'AmicoDecember 29, 2022
Chilli and Bluey (Ludo Studio)

During the spring of 2020, I received a text message from a mom friend asking if I had seen a cartoon called “Bluey.”

“You need to turn on Disney and watch the episode ‘Baby Race’ now.” she wrote.

I turned it on to see a Red Heeler dog named Chilli, and her two puppies, Bluey and Bingo, at a playground. Bluey, who is 6 years old, wants to know if she is the best at the monkey bars—better than her sister, who is two years her junior, and all her friends. Chilli measuredly explains that these comparisons do not matter and tells her daughter: “Run your own race.”

Next, the family sits down together on a playground bench, and Chilli recalls her own struggles with competitiveness when Bluey was a baby. While Chilli wanted to have Bluey walk sooner than one of Bluey’s pup friends from Chilli’s mom group, it was not meant to be. Judo the Chow Chow reached that milestone first. Chilli at first feels like a failure. Then a Poodle mom comforts the anxious Chilli with these simple words: “You’re doing great.”

Chilli learns that there is little to gain in comparing her children to others, or comparing herself to other moms. She learns to run her own race, and this lesson undergirds Chilli’s parenting philosophy throughout much of the “Bluey” series.

It is important to not only acknowledge but to rejoice in each child’s human dignity, absent of our personal self-images as mothers.

Watching this episode at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, when it felt as if the whole world were judging my parenting choices, brought me to tears. I recalled anew the struggles of my early parenting with my son, who at the time was 6, like Bluey. As a baby he too, at least in my mind, had “struggled” to learn to walk. Much of my life when he was a toddler was spent holding Cheerios out for him in our living room, hoping he would try to push himself up off the floor and grab them. Alas! He never went for those Cheerios. Instead, he would sit there, staring at me, his face red and crumpled, bawling so loud I was afraid the neighbors might hear. Every time I tried to get him to walk, I would cave and just give the child his Cheerios. Then, I’d sit down with him on the floor, while he chewed happily—not moving anything but his mouth—and I’d feel like a failure.

My mom friend who texted me about the “Bluey” episode remembered well the story of my son learning to walk. She has two children around the same age as mine, and many friends in our circle had children who learned to walk early (at least in my mind)—hers included. My son finally took his first step at the doctor’s office when I had taken him for yet another appointment, worried about this very issue. His first step signaled my lesson that all babies develop at their own pace—and that all moms should as well.

Although “Bluey” is not a Catholic show, Chilli’s advice to her daughter, and the show’s overall scope, has become an unexpected source of joy and support for my faith life as a mother. The baby race idea reminds me of Paul’s advice to the Philippians in 2:3-4, when he instructs: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” As a mother in today’s media-saturated environment, it is almost impossible not to compare ourselves to other mothers, their children to our children. But children are not ornaments that display our personal success.

Ambition cannot be our primary motivator as parents. This type of thinking too easily translates into children becoming part of that “disposable culture” Pope Francis often warns us about: We run the risk of children becoming an extension of our own images, of our races to be perceived as the best, the most-together mothers. It is important to not only acknowledge but to rejoice in each child’s human dignity, absent of our personal self-images as mothers. Like the Virgin Mary, the model for all Catholic mothers, we ought to aspire for more humility. Including being humble enough to learn parenting lessons from a cartoon dog.

In sum, Chilli promotes the integral ecology of her family as well as that of her local community, simultaneously celebrating Bluey and her friend Judo.

Our lives must celebrate the worth of being human first and foremost. But how do we do this when social media, and our culture writ large, motivates all of us all to be loud, different and first? The integral ecology of the family, and of the community, relies on each of us recognizing the value in and “interests of others,” as Paul reminds the Philippians, and us, today.

In “Baby Race,” we see Chilli moving beyond her own interests and beginning to look outward toward others. After her friend Coco reassures her she is doing well, Chilli returns to her mom group and this time looks lovingly at and encourages Judo, the little Chow Chow she once saw as her pup’s competition, now able to be proud of the little dog’s accomplishments.

Similarly, she lovingly cheers on Bluey as her daughter crawls backward on the floor. Chilli is free from the worry that she must get Bluey to walk before she is ready, or before someone else. In sum, Chilli promotes the integral ecology of her family as well as that of her local community, simultaneously celebrating Bluey and her friend Judo.

That loving text from my friend telling me about this episode she knew would resonate with our experience together as new mothers speaks to the value of the integral ecology the show promotes through Chilli’s character. My friend was basically saying: “Here, we shared this early mothering experience; our friendship and faith community was strengthened because of this bond, and I want to further strengthen it through sharing this show and this mom character.”

At the end of “Baby Race,” Bluey learns to walk because, as Bingo suggests, “[she] saw something [she] wanted.” And indeed, Bluey is motivated by the sight of her mom. The music turns celestial, and a woman’s voice sings what sounds like a resounding hymn. (The score for the episode is based on Bach’s Prelude in C Major.) That image of a mother, crying happy tears and reaching out to her beloved child, a child struggling to walk closer to her as heavenly music plays in the background offers a particularly inspiring image to many a Catholic mother—and child for that matter.

Our family sometimes likes to go around the kitchen table after dinner and share what brought us closer to Jesus that day. Recently, my son readily answered: “Watching ‘Bluey’ together.”

I had the same response.

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