I rented The Tree of Life last week. It’s a Terrence Malick film, and they are notoriously obscure and arty and weird and inaccessable, even to the actors who star in them. So it always feels very pretentious to me to say that one actually enjoyed a Terrence Malick film; however, I do like his movies in general, and I really loved The Tree of Life.
Not that I can fully recommend it – see above re: obscure, arty, and weird. I mean, there’s a 15 minute segment near the beginning that is just lovely, if inexplicable, shots of the cosmos and the solar system and giant waves here on Earth. Plus, there’s a small scene of dinosaurs, which is actually pretty cool, but odd.
(I may have fast forwarded through the cosmos shots. I admit nothing.)
What makes the movie magical, however, is the scenes of young family life in Texas in the 1950s. Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain play young parents to three boys, and these scenes are stunningly beautiful and nostalgic and perfectly dreamy.
It’s almost worth owning the movie for this one sequence in particular that traces the first few years of their oldest son’s life. We see his birth, a quiet event full of white sheets and starched nurses; a bassinet near a window with billowing white curtains; feet in tiny white leather shoes taking their first steps. The toddler boy sits on his mother’s lap as they learn the names of animals in a wooden Noah’s Ark set. We see him struggle to crawl up the stairs for the first time; later, his face is full of wonder and interest as he meets his new baby brother.
It’s touching and very, very true, and I just couldn’t believe how easy it was to forget all that. It’s only been five years since I had a baby, but I forget so much. I forget what it’s like to hear your baby babbling and then realizing they are actually telling you something meaningful. I forget the triumph of a little hand finally being able to reach something on the table. I forget the peace – and the total, total exhaustion – of 3 a.m, a rocking chair, and a fussing baby in your arms.
This past weekend we went to Montreal, and on the drive down we passed a minivan pulled over on the highway. The back hatch was open and inside, there was a preschooler sitting on a little potty. We used to do that, travel with a potty in the back seat for highway emergencies. It nestled in there between the playpen and the diaper bag and the box of toys and the suitcase containing three outfits per day, for all of us. Now we can go away for the weekend with a single suitcase and a cooler of car snacks.
It’s okay, though. In fact, it’s so okay that I’m pretty cranky these days with Little Miss Sunshine, who just turned five years old but likes nothing better than to pretend to be a baby. “Can I be your baby?” she’ll say, and then she’ll get a wide-eyed, slack-jawed look on her face, say lots of “nyah nyah” and “bip bap.” You’re expected to carry her around, fix her a milk in a sippy cup (we have just one left from the old days), coo and fuss over her. You have to dress her and take her to the potty (“Pretend I am having a diaper change”) and deal with her refusal to talk or understand the things you say to her.
She’ll always be my baby. But really, does she have to be so…babyish?
I’m far enough removed from those baby days that I can look back with weepy-eyed nostalgia and remember the softness of a baby’s hair and the feel of a milk-drunk head passed out on your chest with nothing but dreamy happiness.
But I’m not so far removed that I don’t value the fact that I have an inch of freedom now, days that are just as busy and just as hard, but days when I shouldn’t by rights have to wipe anyone’s butt or wash the 50 different tiny parts of a sippy cup.
My tree of life has grown big, wide, strong. It’s fruit picking time.