I have viewed My Octopus Teacher, Netflix’s latest documentary, twice. Note that’s double the amount of times an Octopus has sex.
I watched it on my own and then again with the kids. Not only was it filmed in South Africa by South Africans and that the kelp Forest was not far from our favourite secret beach we visited when we lived in Cape Town, but it was a beautiful, breathtaking documentary underpinned by a unique and (spoiler alert) ultimately tragic love story.
But there is another layer that intrigued me. The reason I shed tears at the end, like so many of you.
I am sure there are many dramatic examples of nature reflecting the female-mother struggles we humans face, but for me this story has got to be the most heartbreaking.
There is this utterly amazing, shape-shifting, magical, mythical, intelligent, independent, quick-witted, strong creature who is also emotional, craving companionship, gentle, playful and yes, also vulnerable.
She can change colour, change texture, change form, mimic her predators’ predators, swim fast, fit in tiny crevices. Hell, she can regenerate limbs for crying out loud. Yet with all of her super powers, ultimately her sole purpose is to reproduce and in doing so, she literally gives her life. Sound familiar?
For the female Octopus, the act of mating and hatching her clutch of eggs takes every inch of strength from her. It literally kills her. Whist her life cycle is, as Craig Foster puts it, live fast and die young, ours is a lot longer and less literal. We don’t die after birthing our young, but it sometimes feels like a part of us does. And if we are not careful, we can find ourselves, just like her, becoming weaker and wasting away, giving too much of ourselves. I touch on this aspect of us moms losing ourselves in motherhood in one of my previous blogs, Mom-Me.
Why would a creature with such superpowers succumb to a fate like that? Perhaps you have to be “out of this world” to hatch up to half a million eggs”? A quick google search offers this up as a plausible explanation.
Women change to become what society, culture, parents and partners want us to be. We flex and morph from strong independence to hapless fragility depending on what type of partner we want, life circumstances and our own characteristics and behaviours. We change from daughter to partner to mother. We care for children. We carve careers. We are meant to be home. We are meant to be at work. We are strong. Then soft. We are naughty. Then nice. We are perfect. Then prickly.
Mark Manson’s account of Simone de Beauvoir articulates this octopus analogy best.
My Teacher Octopus was a touching, yet tragic account that left me pondering the purpose of her life, and mine for days and weeks. When I find myself lost in the why’s of life’s lessons , I try to reframe. I am always wishing I had more superpowers; that I could have more arms when I am carrying all the kids stuff from place to place or picking up their stuff from room to room, that I could morph into different forms. It would make motherhood so much easier if I could be the best chef, coach, psychiatrist, teacher, doctor, dentist, music producer and throw a Mary Poppins in there too. Hell, this is all theoretical, so add in that I could shape shift into Hedi Klum as well. There are plenty more though – take a look at this Huffpost.com article on 5 superpowers moms would want to have. See I am not alone in this thinking.
Buy here’s the thing, maybe if we could do all of that, if we did have all those superpowers, then perhaps that would mean we only get to live for one year, without being able to being a part of raising our rugrats.
Perhaps the best superpower we human Moms have is being able to care for our children for the rest of our hopefully very long and fruitful lives. Ultimately, we are needed.
And let’s not forget the other tragedy here… sex only once in your life?
I’d say us human females have the best superpowers of all.
P.S Don’t take my word for it, there are lists;