Why we’re all Luisa from Encanto’s “Under the Surface” right now

I’m not sure how much more can be said about the amount of seismic stress crushing parents right now. A month or two ago, I was feeling pretty optimistic about the way things were going, with lower case numbers and vaccines for kids under 5 (both of mine are in this age group) on the way.

Then came Omicron. 

Which is why I find myself relating so hard to a character in a Disney film. In Encanto, Luisa starts her “Under the Surface” song by bragging about her incredible strength. All of the Madrigals, except protagonist Mirabel, have one supernatural power, and Luisa’s is superhuman power.

I’m the strong one, I’m not nervous, I’m as tough as the crust of the earth is 

But then she pivots to explain the pressure she bears and how people keep giving her more tasks because they know she can bear them. 

But under the surface, I feel berserk as a tightrope walker in a three ring circus

Pressure like a drip drip drip that’ll never stop, whoa 

Pressure that’ll tip tip tip til you just go pop, whoa

ICYMI: To the moms who it all together this year

Stratospheric case numbers, hospitals filling up, and conflicting advice have all converged on caregivers to a drip, drip, drip that definitely doesn’t seem like it will ever stop. 

Make sure you have tests at home, but remember they don’t always work. Want an appointment for a PCR? Strap your kids into your car and get in line! For two hours, maybe more. You have to pee? Do not go in the park. Do not go anywhere. 

But it’s okay, we’re pretty sure Omicorn is mild. Except when it isn’t. Oh your kid’s under 5? It’s gonna be a few months before they can be protected. But again, it should be mild. Unless it causes long-term problems. We’re still not sure!

Give it to your sister, your sister’s stronger

See if she can hang on a little longer

Who am I if I can’t carry it all?

Rates in my county are higher than they have ever been before, and this strain is more transmissible than any of the others. But our governor has taken away the authority of both school boards and health department officials to implement curve-flattening measures like masks and quarantines for students who test positive. The superintendent wrote that the schools might be able to apply for a special waiver in the case of extremely high case numbers,  but that the “best they could do” would be a seven-day break. 

At the same time, I am terrified of going back to virtual school. My child is in pre-K, where most of the education involves singing, body movement, art, and social skills, a curriculum that doesn’t translate well to sitting in front of a screen. Unless I’m available to facilitate all day long. Did I mention that I also work and have a 2 year old?

Pressure like a drip, drip, drip that’ll never stop, whoa

Pressure that’ll tip, tip, tip ’til you just go pop, whoa-oh-oh

Give it to your sister, it doesn’t hurt

And see if she can handle every family burden

Watch as she buckles and bends but never breaks

There’s a meme floating around about where someone keeps telling a mom that she’s a superhero, and the mom keeps trying to respond that really, she’s not okay and just needs help. But the other person keeps interrupting with how incredible it is that she can do it all. 

This is how Luisa’s song feels. 

Here we are again, at the precipice of another shutdown, except that we don’t have the social support – child tax credits, stimulus payments, and, honestly, the sympathy – that we had in March 2020. 

Pressure like a drip, drip drip. 

Give it to your sister and never wonder

If the same pressure would’ve pulled you under

In the song, Luisa brags about her superhuman strength at first, and as if challenging her, the sky sends down donkeys, boulders, and finally, the entire Madrigal house. It lands on top of Luisa, and she appears completely crushed. We watch the worry play out on Mirabel’s face until Luisa rises, muscles rippling, with the house on her shoulder. 

She can’t even finish her damn song without fending off a tornado and a three-headed dog! 

I read that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote this song as a mea culpa to his oldest sister. The youngest of six, Miranda didn’t realize the amount of responsibility that his sister bore for her siblings. He specifically mentioned one time that their parents had woken her up at 5 a.m. on Christmas morning to build one of his presents.

Pressure like a drip drip drip that’ll never stop

Recently I read Eve Rodsky’s new book Unicorn Space, which asserts the radical idea that women should foster a creative space in their lives beyond the time they spend on self-care. Taking a walk isn’t unicorn space. Painting your nails isn’t unicorn space. It’s the place where you can focus on the thing that makes you, you, whether it’s making pottery or perfecting your arepa recipe (they don’t even have to heal people like Mirabel’s mother’s do). 

Maybe your gift isn’t superhuman strength like Luisa’s or talking to animals like Antonio’s (which would be great, because I need to explain to my cat that waking me up at 5 a.m. isn’t necessary). Maybe your gift is basket weaving or bowling or writing alien romances. I don’t know. 

Whatever it is, Rodsky gives us permission to fight for it, with the same tenacity that Luisa uses to hoist donkeys over her shoulder and support the weight of a 10 bedroom house. 

Under the surface, I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service, sings Luisa.

But I think Rodsky would tell us that it’s okay to not be of service for a while. That it’s okay to need our own time and space and to have the courage to discover what’s there when we’re not juggling responsibilities.

In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy the fact that the constant pressure I’m bearing at least comes with a catchy tune. 

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