Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Beneath the Surface

Long ago, in a world far, far away, I had the responsibility of explaining the gist of a court custody hearing to a child of about six in terms that were both comprehensible and fair. I said the judge, a very important court-man, would talk to both Mommy and Daddy and decide where the children should live. The child was concerned, “He can’t do that.” “Yes,” I assured her, he could, but he would think about it very carefully. The child launched into what sounded like a stream-of-consciousness rant about whatever occurred to her. I was reminded that her mother, who had a record of both child abuse and neglect, had reported to the child’s teacher that the child was “retarded.”

At last, the child paused and said sadly, “Mommy will never let us go. We’re hers and she won’t let us go.” The insight in her observation stunned me. Even though she couldn’t yet read or write, the child recognized a struggle over not love but possession.

Who can’t remember being a child walking beside an adult, perhaps not as quickly as the adult wished so that you were urged, “C’mon, c’mon!” We knew we were expected to fall into someone else’s pace, someone else’s shadow. The 2021 film C’MON, C’MON stars Joaquin Phoenix as an estranged uncle who volunteers to take care of his seven-year-old nephew while the boy’s mother looks after her husband, a creative man who has fallen seriously mentally ill. Phoenix works as part of a team of journalists who have a grant to travel the country recording interviews with children regarding their views on life and the future. He’s forced by circumstance to bring his nephew along. The interviews included in the film are real, reminding us that this film is not a Hollywood invention of the awkward uncle stumbling hilariously into parenthood. This black-and-white film is a depiction of reality and ideas—not everyone’s notion of entertainment.

The boy, played masterfully by Woody Norman (who is secretly British although I couldn’t tell) is not easy to live with. He seems disturbed, albeit precocious. He knows a lot about therapy from his family experience plus the observant attentions of his mother (played by Gaby Hoffman) and can recite therapeutic dialogues. He’s a challenge to his uncle, who would prefer to remain emotionally remote. Beside the true-life interviews, the antics of the boy remind us that children are as complicated and often as wise as adults. They absorb far more than their parents realize from a world that can be confusing to everyone. Joaquin Phoenix and Woody Norman open their hearts to the audience so we can watch their awareness evolve as they confront intimate subjects such as their fears, their failures, their needs.

Most, perhaps all, of us sometimes treat others—including ourselves—as commodities. Our communication floats like foam on the surface of issues we would be wise to discuss in depth. We pretend our differences—different ages, genders, cultures, etc.—hopelessly divide us when we lack the courage to explore our commonalities, our weaknesses as well as our strengths, our confusion as well as our understanding. “C’mon, c’mon:” perhaps it’s time to move forward more deliberately.

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