Have you seen the new Tom Cruise film, ‘Top Gun: Maverick’? It landed in a cinema near you on May 27th and is being hailed as one of Tom Cruise’s best films. He plays an ageing test pilot – the same maverick character of the 1986 Top Gun blockbuster, but less gung-ho (he is going to be sixty this July, so hardly surprising). If you are old enough to have seen the 1986 film, I’m guessing you are unlikely to miss this one.
Some of the dialogue struck a chord, as when Maverick’s superior, Rear Admiral Cain, tells him, ‘The future is coming – and you’re not in it!’ I have no problem identifying with this, being on the wrong side of most numbers you might come up with when guessing someone’s age – and I am, I think, okay with that. The future is for generations younger than Tom’s or mine. But when one of our foster children who has just celebrated his thirtieth birthday tells me that he has yet to find his niche, that he doesn’t feel he has a ‘proper’ future ahead of him, then I worry. We have to find ways of helping our children – whether in the care system or adopted or our birth children – to claim a future that holds hope for them. Schools have to think about how they can support those young people whose birth parents, for example, had no aspirations for them and who are struggling to develop a sense of their own identity, never mind knowing where their skills lie and what career path they should be taking. They need to access the self-belief that a nurturing parent or an inspiring teacher holds for them – and gloriously take flight!
There is another line in the film that resonated. Tom Cruise’s Maverick character takes on the training of the Top Gun recruits and at one point he pronounces, ‘Trust your instincts. Don’t think. Just do.’ I occasionally say something very similar to foster carers who have developed a high level of emotional literacy in the course of their fostering careers – and are perhaps dithering over making a particular decision. Sometimes the cognitive brain can be a bit of a liability, and you need to switch it off and go with your gut – or your belly brain, as it’s sometimes known. However, when our children follow suit, a good outcome may be far less assured! The only way your instincts can be trusted is when they have evolved comfortably alongside a safe and mature role model – the way the majority of parents are most of the time with their children. Unfortunately, if your parental figure has mental health issues or is a substance misuser, for example, your instincts are likely to develop in accordance with a heightened need to survive – so you will see danger where others don’t see it, and will respond as if threatened when there is no threat intended. So our children need to be allowed to climb into the cockpit of our brains occasionally to help them make sense of and reflect on their internal world, whether trying to function at school or in the outside world. They need to sit beside us in that recruit’s seat and learn to trust our instincts and follow us, as we help them to fly.
I looked up ‘maverick’ in my ‘big’ dictionary and as well as telling me that a maverick is someone who holds independent views and often refuses to conform, I also found out that in farming (particularly in Texas!) a maverick is an unbranded calf that has become separated from its mother and may be claimed by anyone who finds it and brands it. You will be pleased to know that I have no plans to brand any of our children – but the claiming bit resonated with me and I could see an analogy with fostering. And as foster carers and adopters don’t we all end up being mavericks of one sort or another as we advocate for our children against the various systems that they find themselves falling foul of?
Whatever the case, you might want to go and see the film with your children – if they are of that age (12 or over!) where Top Gun and Tom Cruise appeal.
Martha and Rachel