Off and Running (Better Late Than Never)

This post was originally published on on October 7, 2010. Republished here with permission.

Off_and_RunningDuring my two weeks in New England, I recorded the PBS POV showing of Off and Running. I finally got a chance to watch it the other night. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not as well-made a film as Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy. The pacing was off, and it somehow seemed more scattered. Perhaps it was more interested in artsy shots as opposed to what might showcase the actual subject better.

Off and Running is about Avery, a Black teenager who was adopted at birth by a Jewish lesbian, Travis. Later, Travis meets the Jewish lesbian mother of a Puerto-Rican/Black boy, and they merge their families, also adopting a Korean boy. Avery contacts her birthmother, and the movie explores the fallout from that event. Avery’s birthmother does write her, and she learns that she has 3 older brothers and 1 younger sister who live with her birthmother. Avery’s birthmother hasn’t told them about her, but, in her letter, she writes that she will do so “this weekend”.

Avery doesn’t hear anything back again.

I think the entire film can be summed up in one quote, from Travis, “[Avery’s acting] like something really traumatic happened to her, but I don’t think anything did.”

Now, I don’t buy into adoption itself being traumatic for a baby. But I do believe that realizing that adoption means losing another family is traumatic. Avery has gotten to the point where she’s asking “who am I?” and “what does it mean to ‘feel Black’?”. She realizes that she lost her birth family. Upon learning that she has 4 siblings who were not placed for adoption, she had to feel rejected by her birthmother. Then, when her birthmother stops writing, she feels rejected again. At the same time, one of her mothers, Travis, is passive-aggressively against her contacting her birthmother. Her other mother understands academically, but we don’t really see her understanding the emotions that Avery is feeling.

Avery feels rejected and misunderstood by all of the mothers in her life. Her older brother, who has been her sounding board and confidant, has gone away to college, leaving her to figure out this adoption stuff all on her own. Has she been through “something really traumatic”? Absolutely. As a mother, I don’t understand how her mothers can’t see this.

Avery essentially falls apart, stops going to school, stops sleeping at home, stops focusing on running. She hits her low when she becomes pregnant, then chooses to abort. The movie ends just as Avery starts getting her life back together.

Once again, this seems to be a textbook case of what not to do when you’re an adoptive parent. I have to applaud the family for allowing such access to their lives, and I hope that Avery has somehow gained something from the experience.

Photo Credit: Off and Running media kit

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