Family life

Lessons from an '80s movie

One of Katie’s favourite childhood movies has more meaning now than ever.

By Katie Dupuis
Lessons from an '80s movie


I am a child of the ’80s, but only sort of. I was eight when the ’90s hit, so while I lived through most of the big-hair, feathered-bang, blue-eyeshadow decade, I was too young to see The Breakfast Club in theatres, to remember when Madonna was married to Sean Penn, and to understand what the Berlin Wall was, let alone why its fall was such a big deal. 
But that doesn’t mean a girl can’t relish the decade from whence she came, more than twenty years later. And that doesn’t mean that the lessons about motherhood learned from one particular ’80s movie, starring Diane Keaton, are any less relevant.
When I was little, I hated staying home from school (yeah, yeah, cue the laughter). I’d try to convince my mom that despite the shivering and glassy eyes, or the hoarse voice and runny nose, I was completely fine. I never won those fights. I wasn’t that good an actress. But the only saving grace of taking a sick day was getting to choose whatever (VHS) movie I wanted (rented from Jumbo Video). I had two favourites: Prancer, a Christmas movie starring Sam Elliot that I’d watch year-round, and the prolific masterpiece that is Baby Boom.
If you’ve never seen Baby Boom, you need to go and find it right now. This. Second. (No, you don’t have to go to work. My mom said.) It is the cinematic delight of 1987 (forget The Last Emperor. Oscar Schmoscar). Diane Keaton plays J.C. Wiatt, a top sales exec nicknamed “The Tiger Lady” who “is married to her job and lives with an investment banker married to his.” Yes, there are a lot of suits with enormous shoulder pads for your enjoyment. J.C. inherits a baby girl named Elizabeth when a distant cousin dies in an accident, and chaos ensues. The investment banker takes off. Work thinks she’s going soft (the shock of a high-powered businesswoman having a baby! Show her the door!). And J.C. sells her city condo to move to a falling-down century home in Vermont. This all occurs in the first half-hour of the movie.
But what happens after that is truly inspiring. J.C. Wiatt, an unlikely mother, makes it work. In fact, she kills it. She develops a strong bond with the babe, creates a gourmet baby-food line and starts production out of the dilapidated farmhouse (and eventually gets an offer on the product from her old company), and meets a cute small-town veterinarian (played by a 43-year-old Sam Shepard. Now there’s motivation to see the movie).
The funny thing is, I still love the flick now, but for completely new reasons. As a rookie mother myself, I can see the humour (and the terror) in J.C.’s predicament. And what I glean from her actions is surprisingly poignant.

  1. Sometimes it’s about taking a leap of faith. Quitting a good job with a high salary to move to the country seems like the worst idea ever to some, but “with great risk comes great reward.” (J.C. didn’t say that. Thomas Jefferson did. But J.C. could have.)
  2. You have to thrive where you’re planted, instead of whining about the garden. Sure, J.C. made a mistake in purchasing a lemon of a house. But, she makes it past the frozen well and leaky roof, and she leverages her apple orchard into a successful business to support her child.
  3. Sometimes what seems like a victory is actually a step back. Recognizing that can be hard (especially when your baby-food company is worth millions, right, J.C.?) but it shows resilience and personal growth.
  4. Motherhood is hard. It’s no picnic. And you can lose yourself a little, but that doesn’t mean you’re lost forever. It just means you have to adapt and figure out who you are now. And if you go from “Tiger Lady” to country mama and grassroots entrepreneur, that’s more than OK. It’s freaking awesome.

Seriously. J.C. Wiatt is my hero.

This article was originally published on Apr 10, 2013

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