January 31, 2008
Stuck between two worlds
A few weeks ago, I finally saw "Juno," a movie I'd been told was "uber-cute," "amazing" and just "soooo good." And I've become one of many Juno-obsessed. But
unlike others who are doting mostly on the movie's dialogue, soundtrack and sweatbands, the movie got me pondering about who really makes a good parent. And when.
The oddly idyllic portrait of teenage pregnancy -- which began with a cartoon sketch, a hamburger phone and a big orange jug of Sunny D -- introduced a smart-ass 16-year-old Juno (Ellen Page), who makes a very grown up decision. The perpetually tomboyish, ironic, T-shirt-clad kid realizes that she is not ready to be a mom. Instead, she'll find the perfect parents to raise it.
But as the movie progresses into full color, we peek into a less-than-idyllic world of people and relationships. Oh my. We're not perfect.
Juno supposes -- but later learns otherwise -- that she found the catalog-perfect parents for her accidental baby in the Penny Saver: Vanessa (Jennifer Garner), a pearl-donning, somewhat anal character whose house is immaculate, and Mark (Jason Bateman), a former rocker, now commercial-tune composer, dressed in a V-neck, who makes clever jokes.
Somewhat annoying at first, Vanessa is ultrasmiley yet nervous, wears cufflinks, offers refreshments and says things like, "I've always wanted to be a mom." Mark seems likable at first : the cool guy who claims he's into having a baby. (Insert disingenuous smile).
It seems a perfect balance until (spoiler alert) the couple disbands, and Mark reconfigures to someone perhaps less than cool.
Wearing my retro Kicks, my baggy jeans, and snacking on wasabi peas that I sneaked into the theater, I am reminded of my messy front foyer, my unhemmed pants and my half-written life story. There's no way Juno would pick me to be a mom. Certainly not alone.
But then again, would I?
I like to think I've led an interesting enough life thus far, if not always taking the bull by its horns, at least grabbing on for part of the ride. I've traveled, studied, worked (several places) and dated seriously (several men). I have my very own downtown chalet and a real job (and some on the side). I stay away from drugs and scoff at litterbugs.
But I also feel confined by, say, Ann Taylor's too-perfect look. I think high heels are misogynous torture devices. I still dream of moving "out West" and away from the rat race. I ride a bike and a snowboard (and have scars and busted ligaments to prove it), let my curly hair run amok and use "dude" way too much for my age and job title.
Feeling a little squished, and fighting for arm space between my beau and a stranger as I watched the quirky and endearing "Juno" characters interact and some of their stories unfold, I realize that I am stuck between two worlds, perhaps between the childish sketch and the full color of the story of being a grown-up.
Perhaps I've been in this limbo for not loving myself, or loving myself too much, or not settling down, or settling, or any other assorted psychobabble. Maybe I'm just waiting for perfection -- from myself or others. Maybe I haven't been ready, or maybe I just haven't found the elusive one, like Juno thinks she did at 16.
Now nominated for four Academy Awards, "Juno" is, in the end, uber-cute and a great romantic comedy that touches on important issues including teen pregnancy, abortion, love, who is really ready to parent and the proper use of "dude."
I giggled and/or cried deliriously throughout the movie.
I was moved that Vanilla Vanessa got the baby, if not only for its message about a woman's somewhat frightening yet deserved control over her own destiny, then for Juno's mature decision. But as cool-guy Mark reveals his stupid T-shirts and his disinterest in growing up and disappears with his boxes of his past into a loft downtown, I sobbed.
Sure, the new millennium allows us to explore a bit more, be career women and marry later. We can, supposedly, go it alone. But that's still second choice. Until then, we search -- just a bit -- for our balance and hope it works out.
Having always aspired to be an individual, a good person -- an artist, maybe -- a professional and someone who will make a difference in the world, I think I've done all right. And I remain fairly confident that I'd like to have an imperfectly perfect family.
But in waiting (debatably by choice) to choose a life-partner/procreate, I've also developed a real attachment to and fear of loss. Not, per se, of money or freedom but of identity -- the identity that Juno has so clearly developed early on and which she wasn't ready to forgo.
To me, if being a mom means I should adopt the qualities of someone who, for example, obsesses over what flavor to paint the wallpaper, or who becomes so stringent that she or her husband boxes up his or her dreams in exchange for parenthood and life, I can't say I'm so interested. And if mall-walking becomes my main focal point? I'll pass. (We won't get into my fear of suburbia.)
I've generally felt pretty comfortable with my split conserva-hippy-indie-yuppy personality, and I know I can always get my pants hemmed or hire a cleaning lady.
But watching Juno, I wondered, even if I aborted my baggy jeans and T-shirts or my stacking-instead-of-filing system, might I always be squeezing myself and my thoughts into an allotted room while my real "grown up" life interacts with the Joneses, who may, in reality, be doing the very same thing?
Incarcerated images like that make me glad that my bright-red snowboard and banged up bike are still leaning against my living room wall.
Dara Lehon, a freelance writer living in New York City, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.