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.
I have a tendency to to imagine the worst case scenario. It’s a gift and a curse. A gift because if the bad thing ever happens, I’ll be ready. A curse because… well, I spend a lot of my time imagining the worst case scenario.
For instance, I know exactly where to go if there’s an Atlantic Tsunami, assuming a 50-foot wave (which is the highest most geologists think may happen.) You never even thought about an Atlantis Tsunami, did you? Much less checked elevation maps to determine where to go and how long it would take you to get there. (My condo, in case you’re curious, if above the high water mark. But if I am at the park I need to run like hell.)
You can imagine what I do with global warming scenarios, terrorist attack case studies, and the Peak Oil theory. My bookshelf looks like a disaster preparedness library.
What’s this got to do with anything? Well, there’s a remake of Andromeda Strain on tonight. And I really want to watch it.
But I also want to sleep some time in the next month. And plagues are the one thing that you really can’t mitigate against. Well, not without tons of money and a fortress-like retreat in the Green Mountains stocked with food, water, supplies, etc. for a year or three. Since I don’t have those things, it’s pretty much ‘put your head between your knees and kiss your ass goodbye.’
I’m different from other people.
So, like every other spoiled rotten upper middle class child in North America, my kid has lots of stuffed animals. Lots of them. Lots and lots and lots of them. I’ve got a basket three feet long, three feet wide, and two feet deep that I keep full of her stuffed animals. And that’s after some serious culling — I gave away or donated about two-thirds of her menagerie one day in a fit of … well, just a fit.
But the ones she’s got left have started to develop little personalities and story lines. This is all my doing — I make up stories about anything and everything. I tell The Child stories about the people in the planes overhead and about the ladies walking their dogs on the bike path and about the imaginary fairies who live in the community garden and, lately, about her stuffed animals.
There’s Night-Night Bunny. He’s a slouchy white rabbit with long droopy ears and a floppy body. She often puts a tiny Red Sox hat on him and loops a set of purple Mardi Gras beads around his neck. So, pretty quickly, he became a famous if eccentric closing pitcher for the Sox, a veteran knuckleballer with a narrow shoulders, a lazy slouch, and reputation for keeping cool under pressure. He’s so good, in fact, that the ball club ignore reports that he likes to party at the clubs on Landsdowne St. wearing women’s clothing occasionally.
Then there’s Diamond Jim Bunny, railroad magnate, epicure, glutton, and New York City dandy. (He’s got a huge carrot embroidered on one foot, so carrot > carat > diamond > Diamond Bunny > Diamond Jim Bunny. This is much funnier if you know anything about Diamond Jim Brady.)
She’s got a teddy bear wearing a Burberry plaid jumper that we’ve named Catalin (after the girl who gave it to her). Catalina speaks in a Cockney accent and is a chav. A Manchester United fan, likes Dr. Who.
Her toy frog is named Dauphin. (For non geeks, that’s French for ‘prince’. Get it?) Her toy dinosaur is an archeopteryx named Bunker. (Archeopteryx, archie, archie bunker….)
I worry sometimes that I’m squashing her imagination for making up all this stuff about her toys rather than letting her make it up herself. Then I worry that I’ve lost my tiny little mind.
I don’t have Tivo, but I have a tivo-like-program on my computer which, for our purposes I’ll just call not!Tivo.
I don’t think of myself as a big TV watcher — thanks to my not!Tivo, I basically only watch what I think is good enough to record. I have had this machine for years and have built up a complex and layered programming guide. Record all episodes of Nigella, even reruns, but record new episodes of Good Eats instead, if there’s a conflict. Record Time Team if it ever comes on again. Record The Closer only on Tuesday nights at 11, please, but keep it until I watch it. Record any episode, ever, of Jamie at Home but go ahead and delete it if you need space. Discovery has a new show about climate change, record that at 2 a.m. so it doesn’t conflict with anything else and then never record it again.
It’s complicated and shifting but it usually nets me about 6 hours each week of TV, much of it cooking or nature shows. Then, this horrible thing happened and it’s all gone. I lost several hours of already-recorded stuff — Torchwood, Masterpiece Theater, the special post-Super Bowl episode of House — and that was annoying. But the complex web of stuff set to record was completely wiped out.
Trying to reconstruct it from scratch has been a slow, tedious, and frustrating process. There were things in there that I had set years ago on the off chance that they might show again — BBC’s aforementioned Time Team, for instance, or Hell Boy: Blood and Iron. (Yes, I’m a big fat geek.) And because of a quirk in the programming, I can’t set it to record that unless it’s on TV again. Which it hasn’t been, which is why it’s been on my “to record” list for five years, and now I’m going to have to go out and spend money to rent the flipping thing.
I would like to say that this has made me reconsider my TV watching, re-evaluate it in the light of parenthood, come to some grand conclusion about society, media, the fate of story telling in a post-TV world. That would be the good thing, the thoughtful thing, the Cantabridgian thing. But mostly it’s made me pissed off that I missed the House ep where we find out Wilson is dating Cut-Throat Bitch.