“Parenthood” and what’s wrong with it
There’s a new series on NBC: Parenthood, based on the 1989 movie of the same name. The movie has one of my favorite lines of all time, uttered by a then-barely known actor named Keanu Reeves:
You know, Mrs. Buckman, you need a license to buy a dog, to drive a car – hell, you even need a license to catch a fish. But they’ll let any butt-reaming asshole be a father.
Based on the strength of this line, the fact that Lauren Graham starred, and for another reason I’ll get to in a minute, I decided one day to watch the show. I’ve seen three episodes now and I think I’m done.
Now, the third reason that I decided to watch it: Because I don’t know what normal parents are like.
I’ve spent a lot of time and energy making a place for myself, as a person and as a parent, where I am surrounded by supportive and loving people who don’t tell me constantly that I’m a weird freak side-show who doesn’t think like everyone else. Mostly this is a personal bubble I’ve created, but partly it’s the community I’ve chosen. Cambridge, Mass., is NOT the median average for any damned thing in the country.
This is, for the most part, incredible and good, especially since I was lucky (smart?) enough to get people who will tell me if I’m being stupid. Constant and unthinking agreement is good for no one.
But it also means that I’m pretty well isolated from what I think of as “mainstream” American parenting. I honestly get baffled about things that clearly everyone else thinks are normal and usual. And, more importantly, I get blindsided by attacks form people — mostly my family — who think I’m being “weird” in some instance where I thought I was right in tune with normal practices. (Honestly, I didn’t think anyone thought of Teddy Grahams as a healthy snack on par with a piece of fruit. They are cookies, right?)
Since every preview seemed to make the show out to be the Greatest Hits of American Parenting Anxiety, it seemed like a good place to go to find out what other, normal, parents think.
And wow was I right. It lined up all the big issues in the first episode: single moms, deadbeat dads, money concerns, a child with Asperger’s/Autism, not becoming your father, teens acting out, parental competitiveness, the working mom dilemma, etc. etc. I was slightly irritated by the heavy handed script, but stuck to it for three episodes. It was an interesting view on what people thought about parenting — or at least, what Hollywood thought people thought about parenting.
For example, The Husband spent a lot of time yelling at Peter Krause for his crappy reaction to his son’s diagnosis with Aspergers. I thought, while he was jerky, he was actually less jerky than most dads seem to actually be in a similar situation. (I have had two moms recently tell me that when their kids got diagnosed with some problem, their husbands reacted with violent denial and refusal to admit the problem.)
Then, in the third episode, came something that made me want to scream. The Asperger’s kid gets kicked out of school, which is silly but a plot point so I’ll forgive it, and Peter Krause and his wife decide to get him into “the best private school” for Asperger’s kids. They pull strings and camp out in people’s offices and finally talk to the head of the school and she says that there are no spots this year, but come back in September.
The parents then spend four or five minutes demanding that this woman “just spend five minutes with Max! Just five minutes and you’ll see how special he is!” They badger and beg and bully until she agrees and spends five minutes with Max and calls in the final minutes of the episode to say that YES, Max gets in! It was the emotional high point of the episode, the triumphant end that had everyone in the family cheering, was supposed to make the audience cheer, too!
It made me so angry I wanted to spit.
What about all the people who followed the rules and waited on the waiting list so that they could get their kid in? What about all the parents who paid the ungodly tuition with the knowledge that the 3d grade class would have a 5-to-1 ration and now, because they squeezed Max in, it will be 6-to-1? Is Max really that special special special of a snowflake that they will bend the rules? Or is it just that these parents were bullies and jerks?
This is what’s wrong with Parenthood and parenthood. The rules don’t apply to MY kid. MY kid is special. MY kid deserves to have the rules bent, broken, ignored, just this once, just for MY kid. All the other kids need to conform, but you need to make an exception, just this once, for MY kid.
And I’ll bet you that at some point there will be an episode where Max’s parents go to the mat with the school to fight for small class sizes because too many kids are getting in.
I know that it’s vital for parents to advocate for their kids. But bullying your way into a school just because it’s the best school, the one with the best status and reputation, and not thinking of the larger issues, not thinking about other kids, not considering how a wider advocacy will actually help more kids and be better for your kid in the long run….. that’s what is wrong.