Some Mothers’ Day gifts are planned. A hand squished in cement and bejeweled with fish tank marbles. A scarf. The hammock you texted a picture of to your husband and he asked if it was lame if you picked it up while you were at Costco. (You said “no” because you really wanted the hammock and you’d really rather spend the night canoodling with your husband rather than sending him back into town to buy the item that you were standing right next to earlier that day.)
But some gifts come unexpectedly.
Tonight, we finally watched the movie Hugo and it lead to one of my wildest parenting fantasies coming to fruition.
I studied film in school. I initially had hopes of becoming a screenwriter or director, possibly even a cinematographer, but when I took my first documentary film class, I was hooked. I could imagine nothing more wonderful than making films about the beauty of real life, about actual human experience. My Hollywood dreams melted away and I settled into a burning passion for all things non-fiction, if there is such a thing in filmmaking.
This doesn’t mean I wasn’t more than happy to act as script supervisor for the occasional student vampire flick, or fumble my way through being key grip on an all-female crew woman power film, the plot of which I’ve long forgotten. I loved movies in all forms, especially fascinated by documentary and early film.
After graduation, I took a job at a public library with a gigantic, I mean truly remarkable, film and music collection. I was in heaven, every day working amongst the greatest films ever made, and Tommy Boy. I got to help develop programs to teach people about film history or a certain unknown-to-the-public-but-staggeringly-brilliant foreign film director.
I once led a man on a several month journey of film discovery, culminating in handing him what I believe to be one of the greatest films ever produced, sure to lead you to a place of self-discovery and religious transformation. When he returned the film, he brought it to me personally, with a thank you note. One day I’ll show that film to my kids, but they’ll need to work up to it. And Scooby-Doo ain’t gonna get them there.
I left the job after Laylee was born and have let the film world slowly drift away. There is more of Disney than Errol Morris or Zhang Yimou in my collection now. And for the past 7 years, struggling off and on with crippling anxiety and panic disorder, my film searches now have more to do with content than craft. Too many images I’ve seen in the past have become the raw materials for my waking postpartum nightmares.
But, I’ve always wanted to share my love of filmmaking with my kids. I keep a copy of Landmarks of Early Film, a collection of the first moving pictures ever captured and I think, One day my kids will appreciate these. One day I’ll show them Lumière brothers’ actualities and tell them about how and why they were made and they’ll be as captivated as my audiences of three at my public library programs. One day, they will beg to see A Trip to the Moon or anything starring Harold Lloyd.
I’ve brought the DVD out a couple of times and it’s been like a kale and turnips fiesta. You can make us eat it but you can’t make us like it.
Then tonight we watched Hugo, a quiet film about an orphan and a robot and a whole lot of film history, and when it was over, Laylee and Magoo were begging me to watch A Trip to the Moon and the Lumière actualities and listening with rapt attention as I spouted my rusty film history knowledge. They were AMAZED that I knew this stuff! They were thrilled that I owned these movies. They interrupted our family scripture study three times to explain new ways we could do our own special effects with Méliès-style editing.
It was an almost out of body experience for me, something akin to Wanda suddenly asking Dan to tell her all about how to write code… and soaking it up like he was the genius that he is… and then trying to write her own code all the way through family scripture time.
It was like Dan had paid them to do this for me, so I could cross one huge unimaginable thing off my parenting bucket list… and then they had suddenly transformed into the world’s greatest thespians and pulled it off. Now, tomorrow for actual Mothers’ Day, they can clog the toilet because they used it ten times without flushing, tell me to kiss off with their piercing eye daggers, and fight about a lollipop… because… MINE. You know? The usual.
I guess I want to thank Martin Scorsese for making a film to help me bridge the gap with my kids, to make them hungry to learn about one of my long lost passions, to transform the turnips into chocolate. I want to thank him for one of the best Mothers’ Day gifts ever.