I just watched a screener of Life Itself from our sponsor Amazon. Perks of the job, you guys, I can’t complain. What drew me in right off the bat was the empathetic lead. We drop into the storyline after he has experienced painful tragedy, and he’s struggling with his own identity and mortality. Will (Oscar Isaac) stumbles through the street, flashing back to memories of his wife. I quickly decided that I relate to this rather unkempt human more than I’d like to admit. “I got nowhere left to turn,” he croons loudly in a coffee shop. “Nothing left to burn.”
My sister died three months ago. In the wake of a loss like that, I suppose, every sad thing in the world hits like a kick to the chest. Suddenly, movie characters’ tragedies are my own. I deeply relate to each word that leaps off book pages and out of articles. Feelings of abandonment and lack of focus are the hallmarks of my day, and I’m often convinced that I’ll never feel any better than I do in those moments. I share this not to garner pity, but to speak from a place that I’m sure other parents can relate to. A place of mixed emotions: sadness intermingling with joy. A sense of impending doom meshing awkwardly with guilt at the thought that I’m not cherishing my kids the way I should.
What happens next is startling. Much like in the scenes of this movie, I flash forward. I look at my kids and see them years down the line. It dawns on me that there are pieces of me that will continue long after I’m gone, and my heart softens. Those in-between moments change all of us even more than the life-shattering events that led up to it. Many parenting moments are like that. We lack clarity to put it into words, but we feel that the dramatic highs and lows of stress, glee, heartache and satisfaction are building toward something bigger than the sum of our individual experiences. We see that our life – and perhaps the world – is shifting all around us.
In the movie, we flash between storylines, crossing between seemingly-unrelated moments that don’t seem to have any relevance to each other until – suddenly – they do. We watch Will’s daughter Dylan make her way through the world through a series of normal-seeming events that ultimately unfold into impactful, meaningful, lasting lessons for her. As a viewer, we realize those moments are what it’s really all about. Ten minutes of tragedy doesn’t define the sum total of any person’s story. It’s all those in-between moments that make up the bigger tale, and we can’t always see how it’s going to play out.
Mom Moments that Change Everything
Watching your First Sunrise or Sunset Together
Babies and toddlers, for the most part, don’t care if the sun is up or down. It doesn’t matter to them if it’s 3am or noon or midnight or if the most mind-blowing Aurora Borealis is happening straight overhead. They’ll wail right through the whole thing, if they feel like it. Their tiny bodies are a whole world unto themselves, and you’ll suddenly realize that the little space in your arms is far more important than all the external factors around both of you.
One of the characters in the movie sends her son away to live his own life with poignant words that any mom could relate to. “Life brings you to your knees,” she says, “Stand back up. Move forward. Go a little further, and you will always find love.” That overarching love is what keeps us going regardless of passing time or events or even the sun and moon overhead. It’s easy to be presciently aware of that fact when the world is turning right before our eyes.
When they Ask About your Work
I’ll never forget the first time my preschooler snuggled up to me while we were watching a movie and asked why I was on my computer. I explained that I had some important work to wrap up. He peered at my keyboard and squinted at the TV screen and asked, “Is your work more important than snuggling me?” OUCH. One of the characters in the movie, Javier, has a moment with his son when another man tries to gift the child a present. Javier doesn’t want his kid to have it – doesn’t want to owe anything to anyone – but also feels acute pain at depriving his child of nice things. Rock…hard place…parenthood. Sometimes there’s just no winning.
There’s nothing quite like a holiday with kids to make you realize that none of this is about you anymore.
When you Share your Hobbies with Them
It’s one thing to knit a sweater. It’s a whole other thing to teach a kid to knit a sweater, and then contemplate the fact that they could become THE protégé that somehow comes up with a business plan that puts a hand-knit sweater on the back of every cold, homeless child in the entire world. Far-fetched? In the film, Antonio Banderas’ mother probably believed it was absurd to hope her son might inherit a Spanish olive oil fortune, which would be benevolently used to turn around the lives of key characters in the story. Some things don’t come full circle and pan out as mothers envision – but then, sometimes, they do.
When they Share their Hobbies with You
The first time your kid teaches you something new is a whole other sort of world-altering experience. You’ll stop short in your tracks, realizing that you’ve managed to create an actual thinking, living, thriving human being who can function separately from yourself. Mind. Blowing.
When you Realize You’d Actually Rather be with Your Kids
The first few times you get a call from your kid-less college friends, you rush to rearrange your schedule and get a sitter so you can go do all the cool non-parent things (watching a ball game, going to a bar, hiking a mountain, whatever). Then you find yourself checking in on what the kids are doing, anxiously awaiting when you can see them again, and you question who you’ve become. I’d imagine that Will’s father in the movie, Irwin, never expected that he’d be sitting up nights waiting for his teenage granddaughter to initiate a toast with him to celebrate her 21st birthday. That’s life, though. Generations after us have a way of catching up.
The First Time you Drop Something on your Baby’s Head
Usually while breastfeeding, giving the baby a bottle or letting them nap in your lap. This is one of those inevitable moments where you realize that their entire life and all of its highs and lows are solely dependent on you. It’s absolutely terrifying.
The First Time They Smear you with Something Gross
One day, you will find yourself reaching out to clear slimy boogers from their nose with your bare hands. Or they’ll race up and hug you, covered in some unidentifiable liquid that might be rain or dirty dish water or pee. You’ll realize that your boundaries are gone, and you’re able to lean into any given situation more than your pre-parent self ever could.
When you Fear for their Safety – But Still want them to Live Well
This change came incrementally. There was the time my first son crawled off the bed and landed on his head, and I was convinced that I’d broken his brain forever. That made me a more careful mom in terms of physical limits and safety. Then, my third son was admitted to Children’s Hospital with a life-threatening virus when he was six weeks old. The time spent pacing those halls changed me forever. That made me think through how I spent my time, what risks – if any – were acceptable for my kids in their lives, how to let them live fully and keep them safe without smothering them, and what regrets I may have if something were to happen to myself or my children. I’d imagine that the character Isabel felt similarly in the movie. She struggles with protecting her child’s interests while leaving him with room to grow. She is ultimately mature enough to encourage those around her to live their lives as well as they can. A less experienced person would be tempted to tightly grab hold of the people they love in an attempt to keep them safe from the many dangers of the world.
The First Time you Shout, “I Don’t Care, Pick Something!”
Food, clothes, activities. I used to have a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Now, there are days when I am just happy that my kids aren’t barefoot and they have half a granola bar in their stomach. Standards alter, the Type A personality diminishes, and there’s a certain freedom in your newly-reassessed priorities.
When your Kids’ Needs are Pitted against Society
There will be an instance in which your child’s well-being will go against what their school or your job expects. This is a defining moment – and your response might surprise you. Again, I relate to the movie character Isabel here, as she made great personal sacrifices to secure proper care for her son.
When you Lose Someone you Love, and you Keep Going
After four kids, I still lacked a certain self-confidence. I relied heavily on people around me, and I worried about what would happen if any component of my carefully-built structure were to disappear. Then my sister died, and the whole house of cards caved in on itself. Somehow, though, I survived. So did my kids. I wasn’t wrong in seeking out community or having certain expectations for my parenting journey, but I’ve realized that life will never go according to plan. And that’s okay. Even in the wake of tragedy, we can always formulate a new plan. My children have given me a sense of motivation and stick-to-itiveness that I never could have imagined before.
Maybe it’s cheesy to get this reflective about life based on a movie, but I feel like I’m as qualified as anyone to speak to what moves a strained heart. Next time life brings you to your knees, do what they do in the movies. Get back up. Take the story farther. Find the big love amidst all the little moments.
Go see Life Itself from Amazon Studios in its theatrical release on September 21. It’ll probably get you thinking about life…and all the little moments in between.