November 30, 2017
Cozy was at her abuela’s for Thanksgiving weekend so Andrea and I used the rare child-free time to reconnect as “just us.” You know, like before everything became endless kid clutter and whose turn in was put the girl to bed. We’re talking wine bars, non-wine bars, a lot of making out in the car, sleeping in, and going to the movies. I didn’t dare to suggest The Justice League, because I knew Andrea wanted to see Wonder. It’s not a prequel to The Justice League (that’s Wonder Woman), but Julia Robert’s new film about a cute kid with a facial disfigurement. (How often have you heard that tag line?) If we thought we were briefly, “child free,” that film quashed that illusion.
I blame my tendency to cry in films on my being a Pisces. That scene in Spiderman 2 when Spiderman (Tobey McGuire, dammit) is fighting Doctor Octopus and ends up on the commuter train with his mask ripped off. You know the scene? When the commuters realize he’s “just a kid.” Every time I lose it. (Even writing this I want to weep for Spiderman.) So Wonder was hard. I did not bring tissues. (Note: There are no spoilers in this post other than the fact the goddamn dog dies.)
Wonder, directed by newbie Stephen Chbosky, follows the Pullman family who has a kid named Auggie with Treachers Collins Syndrome that makes him look a little like the Mole Man in Fantastic Four #1. (There are already way too many superhero references in this post.) The very first scene was the birth. Mom (Julia Roberts) and Dad (Owen Wilson and his beautiful nose) are filled with excitement as their second child pops out. You see the horrified faces of the young doctor and nurses as they rush the baby out of the room. Julia and Owen don’t know what’s wrong, but we do because we’ve seen the previews. And let the sobbing begin. Two minutes into the film.
Those of us who have had babies or who have held the right knee of our spouse while she gave birth know how emotional that moment is. It’s not just the nine months of anticipation. It’s the lifetime of wondering if you’ll ever have kids and what those kids will be like. Will they be healthy? Will they have all their parts? Will they have a few extra parts that will give them super powers? (Sorry.) In the birth video of Cozy’s arrival you can hear my voice go into some range that doesn’t actually exists for humans. I was so happy she was finally with us after a crazy detour in her trip to be born. That moment is us at both our most mammalian and most human. All the hopes in dreams placed on our lineage are in that moment. We are the dreams of our ancestors and those dreams are now placed on this tiny baby. Bam.
We were so lucky that, even though Cozy was seriously late, she was completely healthy. That’s not the case for the Pullmans in Wonder. Little Auggie is facing countless surgeries that would have broken our hearts. So many parents go through this hell, but they do it without question, and often without much help. Their lives become consumed with surgeries, appointments, and special needs. Their lives, as well as their other children’s lives, orbit around the sick life of their child, losing much of their own identity in the process. That’s kind of the set up in Wonder when rejoin the family about ten years later.
The rest of the film is about how Auggie, who has been homeschooled by Pretty Woman, is starting middle school and likes to where a space helmet to hide his funky face. So that means cruel kids, bullies, inspiring teachers, Saul from Homeland, asshole parents of bullies, sweet kids, supportive siblings, the dog dying, Mom’s dreams deferred, cool dads, and, finally, acceptance. There’s a lot of tropes found in such films. (Will the bully be redeemed?) Ebert & Siskel might have felt a bit manipulated. But as a parent, I fucking bawled through the whole movie, and so did Andrea. In fact, my throat physically hurt from trying to choke back the tears for two hours. Thank God there was a bar nearby.
Here’s why. You experience life differently as a parent. The young people in the theater (and there plenty of kids in the audience) must have had no idea how all of us parents were seeing this movie. I would have loved to interview them. “It was funny, not sad. Why were all these people crying?” But a switch is flicked when you become a parent. I felt it the first time we heard Cozy’s heartbeat. It’s not about you. It’s about them. You’re sole mission is to protect them so they will be ready to live without you. If this wasn’t true, women would give birth to 18-year-olds who who climb out of the womb and head straight to college. We have one job. And that job is 24-7 and does not get Thanksgiving weekends off.
I kept thinking that while watching the movie. What other job is 24-7 with no time off? I think we could do a better job of letting teenagers who think getting knocked up means a show on MTV in on this truth. It’s just not your time. (“My mom will help with the baby.”) It’s your mind. I’m never more than two thoughts away from Cozy. Right now I’m sitting in a Portland coffee shop and I know that Cozy is in daycare 9 blocks in front of me and one block to the left. She’s having her lunch and then a nap. I will pick her up at five o’clock and fall to my knees, knowing she’s had a fun, supportive day and is telling me all about it while I wrap my arms around her.
The Sunday before Thanksgiving we were at the packed grocery store getting supplies. I was trying to get some Tillamook cheese out of the case, along with a few other shoppers. When I turned around, Cozy was gone. Just like that. Gone. Did she wander off? Was she abducted? Did I even bring her with me? My first thought was to find her but my second thought was my wife was going to kill me. “Oh, we’ll find her. I have to go back tomorrow. I forgot the almond milk.” So I’m yelling for my three-year-old. Who cares what people think? I don’t care about their judgment at this point. What am I going to do? Before I can grab an employee and order an immediate lockdown, I hear “Daddy!” Cozy was three isles away playing with some colorful soap she had found. In those 30 seconds there was the entire range of emotion, from sheer panic to an endorphin blast of picking her up again.
As a criminologist, I know that kids that don’t have close emotional bonds with their parents are more at-risk of becoming delinquent. The clearest example of this is the research on kids who are in foster care. They may have a roof over their heads and hopefully non-abusive guardians, but it’s not the same as an emotionally invested parent (biological or not) who has made that child’s well-being their priority above absolutely everything else. Someone needs to tell Kylie Jenner that her kid will take precedence over her Instagram account and make-up supply. It also makes me wonder about abusive parents. Do they have some genetic abnormality” To hurt my child seems contrary to every cell in my body. Every time I pick her up, I immediately think, “Don’t you dare drop her.”
I might just be neurotic. That’s also a Pisces thing. I’m still more than a parent. I’m still a sociologist and vinyl junkie. Andrea is still an artist and an immigrant. But our identities have been formalized by being Cozy’s parents. My being is shaped by this primary duty. “What do you do for a living?” “I make sure my kid is OK.” It’s a wonder we ever get to exhale.