On Losing Myself in My Children
by Jeff Stern
For the past four years, I have been fascinated, delighted and terrified by the notion of losing myself in my children.
When my son Leo was born in 2009, my wife and I disappeared into the cave of very early parenthood. We lived moment to moment. We learned to assume nothing. We tried our best to appreciate an experience that was often terrifying. It was exhausting. It was chaos.
But in the eye of the hurricane, there were moments of crystal wonder. I started to see the world the way my son saw it. I spent all day with him as he fumbled with a slippery spatula, slammed his face into the aromatic rug, pushed his fingers into a sponge, stared into the bright light coming in from the mystifying outside, and cried at the angry sounds of a truck’s shifting gears.
I was rediscovering the world through him. I realized that the world that a small child sees is raw, bright, loud, dangerous, and delicious. The word “overwhelming” doesn’t do justice to the relentless overload. And yet, from the moment he is born, a baby will dedicate himself to the massive task of making sense of the world. I was humbled by my son’s unwavering commitment to this task. And at several points I mused: what is my drive compared to his? What is my ambition, my hunger for truth, my willingness to fail until I get it right compared to his?
And the questions kept coming. Who was I before I was a parent? Who was I now? Was this what I was born to do? Or would I one day return to a life outside of my child? If I did, would that be selfish or healthy? Was it wrong to live through one’s child? Or did that make me a good parent? And on and on.
The conflict became apparent. I loved my son. I loved being a parent. And yet, there were moments when I profoundly missed the freedom I once knew. I wondered if I would ever finish all of those things I was working on before my son was born. I loved getting lost in my son. But I didn’t want to lose my identity.
So I decided that I wanted to share this nuanced feeling in the form of a movie. I wanted to explore the idea of losing myself in my child, in all of its myriad manifestations. I wanted to show the world the way I imagine my son sees it, and I wanted to explore the new ways in which I see it. I hope that what I have made is an honest expression of exactly how I feel: that my life is much harder than it has ever been and it is far, far richer than I ever imagined was possible.