Friday, November 4, 2016

This Is Us

            The other day, my wife told me we needed to watch a new TV show together. This is significant, as it will be just the fourth show we’ve watched together this century. Other than The West Wing, Glee and Friday Night Lights, we’ve missed out on this “golden age” of dramatic television. We heard great things about Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Wire, The Sopranos and Homeland to name just a few, but have found ourselves feeling lucky if we’re able to catch an inning of a baseball game or the opening skit of Saturday Night Live.
            The reason for this is very simple: We had our first child in January 2002, and have spent the past 15 years absorbed in that work. It has been the No. 1 priority in our lives, and will remain so for as long as they’re beneath our roof. Even now, as I write these words, I sit in a Starbucks on a Friday evening while our younger daughter plays laser tag at a friend’s birthday party. Sure, it’s prime date-night time or, at the very least, DVR-watching time. But an 11-year-old and 14-year-old need you to make dinner, wash the clothes, clean the house, enforce the technology time and chauffeur them everywhere. We’re Uber-parents, all right, but we work for free.
            The show my wife selected is called This Is Us, and from what I hear lots of people are watching it. After just two episodes, I’m not sure if it’s a bit too melodramatic for me, but I can definitely connect with its depiction of ordinary life in extraordinary ways. The average day of parenting consists of more ordinary moments than I can name, but when viewed through a wide-angle lens it is extraordinary enough to take your breath away.
            Take this past Halloween, for instance. I had to work until 6, and when I got home the girls had decided not to go trick-or-treating but to focus instead on giving candy to the little ones in our neighborhood. Then they changed their minds, painted their faces, and headed into the neighborhood with bags. Then the older one, Katie, changed her mind again after two houses, and they came back with about four pieces of candy. Chelsea, our younger one, held a canvas trick-or-treating bag that had the year and name of every costume she’d every worn written in marker, from Boots the Monkey to Glinda from Wicked. It was kind of sad and depressing to see them bail out on the only thing they’d ever done on Halloween night, but we made the best of it and spent time together until Katie headed up to her room to clean her fish tank.
            Sometime toward the end of the tank cleaning, we heard Katie start to cry. She had filled the tank with water that was too warm, and it had killed the Betta fish. She’d fed and cared for her fish every day for the two months since we’d been given a tank and she had bought the fish, and now this. So at 8:30 on Halloween, I found myself holding a spade in our backyard, digging a hole for Polly the fish. No one else wanted to see me do it, but flushing had been declared out of bounds. So it was just me and Polly, in the darkness of Halloween. I tucked her into the ground, patted the dirt and headed back inside.
            This is us. There’s nothing all that unusual about our domestic life, but at the same time we are making our way through these days together, and when families do this they carry a resiliency and poetry that is hard to believe sometimes. As parents, it feels like we’re in the trenches so much of the time, but at the same time we’re also helping lead a parade of pride and progress.
            We negotiate phone time, beg for clothes to be put away, celebrate improved math scores, discuss friendship choices and encourage their development of identity. We love them madly, but we parent with maddening inconsistency at times, and we find ourselves mad at each other and ourselves when yet another day goes by without any couple time. We bury the fish, tuck away their trick-or-treat bags, and give them a hug. We tell them we love them, and they whisper “Love you too” before we close the door.
             One of these days, Amy and I will watch another episode of this show. The free time will surface eventually, and we’ll cuddle up together. As we watch, we’ll notice the parallels between life and art. We’ve missed a lot of good TV over the years, that’s for sure. But we’ve been busy – writing our own story. 

1 comment:

Karen Ann said...

Well, during all that parenting we did make room for the Sopranos, and now our adult children are watching the same series and love it as well as we did. If you grew up on island, it's a must see.. you'll recognize behaviors, neighborhoods, attitudes so similar to what we experienced... it's hilarious and it's sobering all at the same time.