Thoughts on 'Boyhood,' Parenthood, and Being Human

It was a treat to watch a film that got me thinking about my own life experiences (in the same way, I imagine, it got a lot of people thinking about their own experiences) and the life still yet to be lived.
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My husband, Drew, and I watched Boyhood over the weekend and I know I'm a little late to the game discussing it since it was released many months ago, but, seeing as it was just released for rent a few days ago and it won at the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday night for best picture and best supporting actress (Patricia Arquette, who is excellent) and best director (Richard Linklater, who is my all-time favorite director), hopefully I will be forgiven. I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't yet seen it (see it!), but I will say that it's rare that I watch a movie and it stays with me for longer than it takes for me to get home from the theater or, more often these days, take out my contacts and wash my face and get ready for bed. It's only been a couple of days, but I'm still thinking about the movie and hope we will begin seeing more films that experiment with time lapse production and editing. (Boyhood was shot for about one week a year over the course of 12 years). Beyond the groundbreaking production style, I really loved the simplicity of the story and how, as Linklater said in his acceptance speech last night, the film portrays the flaws and evolution we all (hopefully) experience as humans who love and grow and relate to each other and make lives and families together and just try to do our best as we go through life.


As a mom of a son who seems to be growing so quickly (look how big he's getting!), I thought the idea of watching a boy grow from 6 to 18 in the span of three hours would feel a little overwhelming, emotionally, and make me sad for the years that have already passed and how fast I know Jackson's remaining childhood will continue to fly by. But it didn't, really. Ironically -- especially given my predilection for nostalgia -- I don't tend to feel too bittersweet right now about the passing of time when it comes to my role as a mom. Maybe, probably, it's because I'm still so in the thick of it and it's hard to wrap my head around the idea that eventually -- and faster than I can imagine right now -- Jackson will be grown, or at least old enough to not need or want me in the same way he does now. That point still seems so far away that I see it with a perspective of relief and not as much sadness as I will one day.

I know what a luxury it is to say that -- to feel like there's still so much time, even if it is passing quickly -- and somewhere in the back of my mind I know my heart will break when Jack no longer runs to me when he needs a kiss on a stubbed toe or a scraped knee or a bumped head, and so I soak up those moments and remind myself they aren't going to last. But in these days that are still young for him as a kid and young for me as a mom, the idea that he will be independent eventually is a welcomed thought. I look forward to watching him grow up and become a person with his own unique opinions and ideas. And, frankly, I look forward to eventually getting back the pieces of myself and my own life that I have been devoting to raising a small child.

But then I wonder, what will those pieces of myself and my own life look like then? In Boyhood, when Patricia Arquette becomes an empty-nester after years of raising two kids as a single mom, she seems... well, empty. And she even says to her son as he leaves for college, "This is the saddest day of my life." What will that be like to devote so much to something/someone who will eventually just leave me? Is it much different if you have a partner you're sharing the experience with? Or will it still feel as empty and lonely? I don't know. And I don't know how you prepare for that day either except to keep at least a foot in a life outside your children as much as you can when they require so much of you so that, as their need for you changes and lessens and your free time expands, you have your own direction and interests to pursue.

And then there's the whole theme in Boyhood about doing the best you can despite your flaws and mistakes and poor life choices. And I think about that sometimes -- about how my own flaws and limitations have and will affect Jackson. Sometimes I feel so guilty for the things I don't or can't provide him simply because I don't try harder. Or because I haven't overcome my own personality flaws. Or because I'm lazy or selfish or because sometimes I put my own needs first -- my need for rest or quiet or a morning (or whole day) to myself. But then I think: Hey, this is helping him build character. This is helping him form some independence. This is helping him to think creatively and to learn how to entertain himself. And so what if it's not actually doing anything positive for him, but it's benefitting ME? That's ok, too. I think. Motherhood, after all, isn't martyrdom. At least, it shouldn't be.

Anyway, it was a treat to watch a film that got me thinking about my own life experiences (in the same way, I imagine, it got a lot of people thinking about their own experiences) and the life still yet to be lived. And maybe it's with the naivety of a mother who is still in the early stages of parenting -- but also, maybe as a woman who has a foot in a life outside parenthood, and definitely as a mother who has had the privilege of being very present in her kid's daily life -- that I can say I am looking forward to the later, more independent years of my son's childhood as much as I am the immediate ones to come. I just hope I don't mess any of them up too much. You know, just enough to keep everything interesting.

Wendy Atterberry writes the relationship advice blog, Dear Wendy. You can follow her on Facebook.

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