Bluey and the Maternal Instincts of God

“Remember, I’m always here if you need me.”

Bradley Gray / 8.12.22

A rite of passage for most, if not all, millennial dads is watching an inordinate amount of children’s television. Suffice to say, I’ve earned my merit badge. If anyone else thinks they have grounds for confidence in their children’s cinema acuity, I have more (Phil 3:4). I’ve done the time. I’ve made it through all available episodes of Peppa Pig, Sofia the First, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse too many times to tabulate. I know both Frozen films by heart and I’m almost there with Encanto. In a manner of speaking, I must thank Elsa for raising my first two children — and soon I’ll be doing the same with the Madrigal family, since they are already doing a pretty good job with my third. I won’t try and justify the heap of screen time you might be imagining my kids accumulate. Some sociologists or parenting experts might deign to think that I’m obfuscating my parental responsibilities with an inordinate amount of pixels. To which I would say, mind your own dang business. 

Needless to say, there’s something strange that happens after you’ve watched — or, at least, been in the same room as — all those hours of programming designed to keep kids entertained. Eventually, those childish plots and cartoonish characters begin to speak to you as a parent. You start to pay attention. You start to notice things. And, if the premise isn’t completely grating, you actually find yourself enjoying those ten-to-twenty-minute blocks of loosely educational but incredibly colorful entertainment. One such example is the rambunctious escapades of one very precocious Australian Cattle Dog (a.k.a. Blue Heeler), fittingly titled, Bluey.

I’m fairly confident you’ve heard of Bluey by now (Season 3 just released on Disney+ on Wednesday). The show’s title character and her Blue Heeler family are endearingly animated engaging in a wide variety of family activities, from the meaningful to the mundane. Clocking in at barely eight-minute bite-sized episodes, Bluey is a masterclass at both captivating kids’ attention and conveying cohesive stories. Each installment is composed of the fundamental ingredients of creativity, joviality, and a depth of youthful imagination. Of late, Bluey’s dad, Bandit, has received attention for the way in which he is portrayed as the dad who “always plays the games right,” as Tom Lamont put it in the Guardian. I must confess that there are certainly times when Bandit’s fathering proficiency plays the law to my own less-than-exceptional paternal instincts. His devil-may-care spontaneity and the way in which he hurls himself into the expansive imaginary worlds of his daughters.

There is one particular episode of Bluey that stops me in my tracks every time it happens to play. Whenever “Sleepytime” comes on, I stop what I’m doing and watch the entire thing. There’s a trenchant and transfixing quality to those seven-and-a-half minutes, and I know I’m not the only one who thinks this. In 2020, the New York Times included “Sleepytime” on their list of “Best TV Episodes of 2020,” calling it “a dreamy outer-space ballet.” The following year, “Sleepytime” garnered an Australian Directors’ Guild Award, and it continues to receive critical acclaim from a variety of media outlets to this day. What is it about this episode that makes our feelers feel all the feels? What is that speaks to us? That resonates? That transcends the simple confines of children’s television to stir even adults to their core? With “Sleepytime,” the creators tap into something that is universal to the human experience. Namely, the warmth of a mother’s love. 

The crux of “Sleepytime” revolves around the events that precede and succeed a parent’s bedtime announcement. Observing these nighttime routines continually get extended by new alterations to the bedtime deal is hilariously precise. After all the drinks and stories and songs are properly negotiated, Bluey and her sister Bingo finally settle in for the night. Bluey, at first, protests the notion that she needs to go to bed, just before she crashes. Soon, Bingo drifts off to sleep, too. Cue “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity” from Gustav Holst’s The Planets, which serves as the Heeler family’s soundtrack for the night. Bluey ends up needing more liquid, eventually crashing on her mum Chilli’s side of the bed, leading her to take Bluey’s bed. Bingo, too, reneges on her earlier endeavor to stay in her own bed for the whole night, snuggling under the comforter between Bluey and Bandit. She can’t help but flee to mum and dad’s bed, intuitively knowing that theirs is much warmer, much more comforting than her own. 

An adventurous deep-space dream ensues, eventually leaving Bingo alone, separated from her stuffed rabbit Fluffy. And who else but mum hears Bingo’s frigid whimpering? Like a cosmic projectile, Bingo warps through space and time, and is made to bask in the beaming warmth of her mother’s love. She and Fluffy are reunited. But, more importantly, she’s reassured of her mum’s towering capacity for tender loving care, which is the respite she needs to finally fall fast asleep. She is safe and sound now, blanketed by the effulgence of her mother’s sanguine voice. 

From the poignant utilization of Holst’s The Planets to the precise animation, the entire episode is beautifully imagined. But it’s the mother’s affectionate bedtime promise that, I think, bespeaks the episode’s resonance. Just before Bingo announces that she’s going to attempt a “big girl sleep” and not escape into mum and dad’s bed during the night, Chilli touchingly reminds her daughter, “Remember, I’m always here if you need me.” It’s a promise which cannot be defaulted on and will not be withdrawn. It’s a blank-check assurance of presence, notwithstanding what goes bump in the night. It’s the unilateral extension of solace that’s always there. And in ways that I’m still trying distill, it always reminds me of my heavenly Father. 

Perhaps better than any other depiction of the love God has for his children is when it is conveyed through the portrait of a mother’s love. Maternal images of the Creator’s compassion pepper the scriptural canon, each of which bears witness to the intensity of God’s compassion and concern for us. Through the lips of the prophet Isaiah, the Lord enunciates just how laughable it is that those who are his would ever be forgotten. But it’s not the grip of paternal tenacity that paints the picture, it’s the tenderness of a nursing mother (Isa. 49:15). The compassionate caress of a mom pressing her precious newborn to her breast is the precise image God would have us keep in mind when we’re inclined to doubt his affections for us. The infant’s entire being is utterly dependent on her mother’s milk — equally as vital, however, is the mother’s willingness to open herself up to her newborn. Such is the implacability of the love of God for you and for me. 

The immensity of that love is glimpsed in ways that surprise even while they imbue us with unforeseen solace. Much of the vernacular we employ to understand who God is, is incredibly human. The language utilized to exalt and explain the nature of God betrays the condescension of the divine to our frame. He who is unknowable, incomprehensible, and uncontainable (1 Kings 8:27) stoops to the chassis of earthly philology in order that earthlings like you and me can grasp, however feebly, he who is spirit (Jn 4:24). As St. Augustine contended:

Holy Scripture, which suits itself to babes, has not avoided words drawn from any class of things really existing, through which, as by nourishment, our understanding might rise gradually to things divine and transcendent. For, in speaking of God, it has both used words taken from things corporeal, as when it says, “Hide me under the shadow of Your wings” (On the Trinity, 1, 1, 2)

In other words, scripture uses analogies to speak of God, such that a suckling mother and a reaffirming Blue Heeler can remind us of who God is. He’s the mom who comforts his own by bouncing them on his knee (Isa. 66:12-13). He’s the hen who “gathers her brood under her wings” (Lk 13:34-35; cf. Deut 32:11; Ruth 2:12; Ps 91:4). He’s the woman who turns over every table to find what is most precious to him (Lk 15:8-10). Whether it’s a skinned knee, muddy clothes, or midnight cries, there’s nothing quite like the embrace of a mother, whose arms wrap you up in a blanket of overwhelming sympathy, care, and affection. It’s almost startling to think that the Heavenly Father’s affection for us is even more infinite and intense than that. His is a love that transcends time and space, condescending to our frailty and our weakness, to enfold us in the warmth of his one-way love.

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One response to “Bluey and the Maternal Instincts of God”

  1. […] — we had two articles on the kids TV show. IYKYK, and if you don’t know you should stop what […]

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