Everything’s Changed


“We got a baby now, H.I. Everything’s changed.
–Holly Hunter to Nicolas Cage in Raising Arizona.

I love the movie Raising Arizona. It cracks me up every time I see it, which is often. I first saw it long before I became a mom–I mean, it came out in 1987 for christ’s sake–that’s almost 30 years ago.

(Pause while I stare at the wall, terrified and awed by the slippery nature of time.)

I love the humor, the hi-jinx style of the writing and direction. I love the actors and the acting, the beautiful dream/vision sequence at the end that always leaves me in a puddle of tears. I quote favorite lines in my every day life just because it delights me.

“He’s a lil’ ol’ outlaw, he is.”
“No, he-he-he-he’s a good boy.”

“I mean–what? We got us a family here.”

“Watch his little fontanel.”

“H.I. Sometimes it’s a hard world for small things.”

(I could go on and on.)

I thought of it yesterday on the long drive to the Boston area for our final visit to the new school. It’s so clearly about parenthood. I mean, duh. It’s called Raising Arizona, about a couple who steal into parenthood by taking a baby from a litter of five (after all, those parents had “more than they could handle.”) And the odyssey begins, the wild passion and drama and terror, more than H.I. and Ed could handle. It nearly gets them killed, arrested, divorced.

Actually, what I thought was, parenting is like going through a tunnel only you don’t know what the tunnel will be until you’re in it–will it be short? long? cool? moist? dark? lacking enough air? Will it be sparse? lush? smoothly surfaced? strewn with debris?

Will it, I thought as I drove and drove, be fitted like the inside of a drive-through car wash? With sudden jets of water, gyrating sponge monsters lathering enthusiastically, violent bursts of air, ginormous buffers whirring and polishing until your skin is raw, pink, too new.

That’s the tunnel I’ve been in (in which I’ve been?). It’s not malevolent. But it has been, hmm, unexpected, and uh, a workout–yes, that it’s: It’s been a workout.

I leave you with the final words of the movie:

“But I saw an old couple being visited by their children and their grandchildren too. The old couple weren’t screwed up and neither were their kids or their grandkids. And I don’t know. You tell me. This whole dream, was it wishful thinking? Was I just fleeing reality like I know I”m liable to do? But me and Ed, we can be good too. And it seemed real. It seems like us and it seemed like, well, our home. If not Arizona, then a land not too far away. Where all parents are strong and wise and capable and all children are happy and beloved. I don’t know. Maybe it was Utah.”

It’s not the what; it’s the how.

th We think that once we change the way we feel, we’ll be able to change what we do. Or, when our situation changes, then we’ll do it differently. But the research says otherwise. The research says that emotional and mental changes happen as a result of behavioral change.

That’s not necessarily what my inner developmentalist wants to hear. But then again, I don’t take it to be all or nothing–it’s both behavioral and developmental, or behavioral and emotional/psychological, yes?  That is, if you define the word ‘behavior’ as simply what one does rather than a defiant and intentionally disobedient response to a medical and/or neurological condition that people find inconvenient, confounding and, at times, downright threatening.

Behavior is not always a dirty word. It simply means action or lack of action, something that happens internally or external, in gestures big or very subtle.

When I was in acting school, we learned to create character from the inside out: what do we feel, need, want? But we also discovered that our physical attitudes and postures had an almost immediate effect on us, internally. Just walking around whimpering, slumped over and dragging a bum leg isn’t enough to make me a believable victim of a wild monkey attack, but it could help me discover something key about this made-up person that I may not have been able to find just by using my head.

I’m sure by now you’ve seen or heard of Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on body language, about how ‘power posing’ can change your life, mentally and physical–in fact, physiologically. Yet, how often do I stop mid-pissyfit to plant my feet wide and lift up my arms up in an open V? I’m usually too busy grinding out whatever story I’ve got playing inside my head, (which apparently needs to be accompanied by loud noises and a frightening scowl) even though nothing about that story is helping me feel or be more open, flexible, creative.

I’d put power poses in the mostly internal, smallish gestural category of action, the ‘Don’t Just Do Something; Sit There’ (or rather–Stand There), along with other scientifically-proven ways to change your feeling state: deep breathing, meditation, kind self-talk. Some people might toss in prayer, and frankly, during particularly painful period when I was working as a faceless temp, I set an alarm every 30 minutes so I could go lock myself in the bathroom stall and pray.

Most of us know what to do when we’re upset. Nobody says, “The best thing to do when your son is stalling and complaining and dragging his butt through the morning routine is to yell up the stairs at the top of your lungs, GET THE HELL IN HERE AND DO YOUR GODDAMN MEDITATION.” It’s not that we don’t know what to do when we feel stressed, stuck, reactive, immobilized, but rather, the how to get there. How do we escape the enormous gravitational pull of our habitual reactions? To step out from under the control of our not terribly enlightened lizard brains?