So I finally got to watch Juno during vacation, but this isn’t a movie review. I have a point, I promise. There are numerous reasons why I like this flick. The first time I watched it, I happily munched on my microwave kettle-corn as I soaked in the deliciously smart mouthed, intelligent protagonist. The script is well written; the characters are flawed and likable; it isn’t heavy-handed preachy, nor does it give the finger to traditional “family values.” It also revived an old pubescent crush of mine–Jason Bateman.* I’m so very glad to have had at least one junior-high celebrity that actually turned out to be talented. I’m sure River Phoenix would have also fit this category, but sadly, we will never know to what extent.
Anyway, so it was a nice little movie that I could enjoy… until the end at which point it went to a whole new level that packed such an emotional whallop for me that I’m still thinking about it. And the second time I watched it, it was just as powerful.
***SEMI-SPOILER ALERT*** Stop now if you don’t want to know how it ends.
Juno has just given birth to a boy. Adoption has been her plan from very early on. (In fact, the adoptive couple is the B-plot of the movie.) For the first time we witness Juno in a state of quiet and stillness, lying in her hospital bed. Her father gently strokes her hair and tells her that someday she will be back–meaning she will someday have a another child. A child that she will be able to raise and nurture. Her boyfriend Pauly enters the room still wearing his track uniform. “Nice legs,” she says, and dad leaves them alone.
Juno is not having second thoughts about giving up the child, but she is suffering. Without any words, Pauly understands this and quietly climbs into the hospital bed, holding Juno as she weeps into her pillow. Now, I’ll admit to being a sucker for a well-chosen, well-timed musical cue. This one was a deconstructed, simple cover of “Sea of Love” with delicate vocals.** What exquisite cinematography. The shot was from the vantage point of where Juno’s father was just sitting. The long close-up lets us really see Juno’s pain. The tenderness between Juno and Pauly is palpable. And the lovely Ellen Page freaking nails it without saying a word. A sixteen year old woman-child who is both experiencing the brunt of a difficult decision, but also sheltering in the love of her family and the father of the baby.
Perhaps this is so moving because Juno professed all along that she would give up this child. She seemed to understand well that her job was to take care of the baby to the best of her ability, and then to give the child to a couple who deserved a chance at parenthood. She seemed happy to do it. Not in a “Thank you, Adoptive Parents, for bailing me out of this huge mess I created so I can keep on being a kid” kind of happy. But in her words, an “I’m sixteen. I’m not well equipped” kind of way. This she knew all along, and she planned accordingly to give it to a couple who had been praying for a child.
What Juno didn’t know, what she never could have anticipated, what no mother (or father)-to-be can ever imagine, is how much she was going to love this child. It seems she was taken completely unawares of the power of this kind of love. Indeed, she was drifting in a sea of love with no boat, no oars, no buoys to mark the way to safe waters or back to shore. And this was when I did something I rarely do when I watch movies… I stopped analysing the plot, characters, and aesthetic. I just allowed myself to emotionally connect to that moment that resonated with me as a mother. Juno’s pain was not just the pain of giving her child away.
I remember feeling that way, and I’ve never given up a child. I don’t remember much about the hours, days, and first few weeks of my first-born daughter’s life. What I do remember is being completely bowled over by the sheer force of emotion this little creature inspired in me. I’ve never been one to really hold back or cut myself off from my own emotions. At least I didn’t think I was. But the magnitude of the love I felt for her caught me completely off guard. And I’m not a good swimmer.
I had no idea how overwhelming it would be. It actually frightened me because for the first time in my life, I felt as if my life depended on someone else. I honestly felt that if something were to happen to her, I didn’t know if I could stand it. If I were to wake up one morning, and she was not there, I didn’t think I could live through it. I felt helpless to her, this helpless baby that was mine to protect and to nurture. If she was helpless without me, and I was helpless to her, then who was in control? Not me. Not me. And I’m not ashamed to say it completely freaked me out. I was overcome and drowning in a sea of love (and of sore body parts, poopy diapers, and sleepless nights, but that’s a blog for another day).
And the ebb and flow of this love was not predictable like the tides. Just when I thought I had a handle on it, just when I thought I could tread water, again another wave of love–the realization that no matter what I did, it wasn’t going to be as good as she deserved–would crash over me. Every mistake felt like failure. I remember chastizing myself for days because it hadn’t occurred to me that I could actually talk to her until my mom came over one day and starting chatting to her like it was the most normal thing in the world. I remember hating myself because she would be hungry, and I would hesitate for a nano-second because nursing hurt. The hours I spent nourishing her didn’t measure up to the fraction-of-a-second hesitation I harbored in my mind. I would have dreams of me and the baby in dangerous situations, and I had to choose between taking a guaranteed safe route but handing my baby over to a stranger, or holding onto my child and accepting a course with no guarantee of safety. My favorite dream was when I was trapped on a crumbling stair case and Bobby Knight (the hot-tempered basketball coach) stood at the top of the staircase with a long pole stretched out toward me, pleading with me to hook my baby to the end of the pole and he would pull her to safety. Yes, I really did dream that.
When my husband was chronically ill during my pregnancy and in LMG’s early months of life, I would catch myself imagining us (he and I) floating in the dark ocean, with no land in sight. We were bobbing in the water, and I had in each hand a long rope. At the end of one rope was a rowboat. At the end of the other rope was him. I couldn’t get him to hear me, to understand that I had a boat. He was adrift, focusing only on the pitch black night in front of him, and not the little bit of safety I could offer. This is not a metaphor for how my love for him could save him. We were both awash in a sea of love. Overcome by what we did not know, could not see, unsure of how much we could take, or how far we could go–together and alone. Alone was never an option. Yet, part of what made it so scary was because we loved each other so intensely. We were only thinking of, and trying to watch out for, the other. He could only think of the darkness that enveloped us and the threat it posed to me and our child. I could only think of not letting go of the rope that connected him to us.
Truth to tell, there are so many metaphors for that overwhelming, heart-filling, heart-breaking, bring you to your knees in joy, bring you to your knees in humility kind of love. Maybe it’s just me, but when that love hit me for the first time it was scary. It was emotionally painful. I felt raw, and exposed, and truly vulnerable for the very first time. Feeling love that strong will first make you aware of all the things you’re not, before you discover what it can help you to become. Sometimes I think we should talk about that more.
Yet, I would plunge into that ocean again and again and again. Sometimes I’m still not a very good swimmer. Sometimes that tide rolls me over, and I’m in way over my head. Sometimes I feel spat up on the shore, unlovable, and unfit to even tread love’s waters. I’ve learned not to fear those ebb and flows. To take them as they come. If I get tossed by a few big waves, I’m okay with that. They are still scary. I still don’t know how I’d live if something would ever happen to John or either of the girls. But the alternative would be to live life in the concrete, chlorinated pool, Sure, the water may be pretty, and I may be able to see the bottom, but nothing lives there. There would be a limit to the love that I could share. And I’d rather be helpless to the depths than be safe in the shallows.
*I also liked him in Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, which did not get great reviews, nor is it the best kid movie ever made, but one could subject their children to worse movies–Thomas and the Magic Railroad. Have you ever seen it? Don’t.
** According to Itunes the artist is Cat Power. I highly recommend it, but it can’t be purchased as a single. Boo!