Monday, October 6, 2008

Visions of Sitcoms Dancing in my Head

Monday, March 24, 2008
10:52:27 PM CDT
Feeling Quiet
Hearing Yet another rerun of the Gummi Bears

June Cleaver Always Wore White

And all the other myths of motherhood

To a child growing up in the 70’s motherhood appeared to be a magical experience. Television was the newest technological advance and programming began to air in color for the first time in history. Sitcoms often portrayed mothers as all knowing, well kept and mild mannered. It was their primary function to tend to the children and home while making the husband as comfortable as possible after his long day at the office. Sitcom moms did this with ease. Labor and delivery was fast and relatively painless while the father nervously paced and chain smoked in the waiting room. Child rearing was simplistic and through little effort the children were kind, polite and always opened doors for the elderly. Cleaning house was a breeze during baby naps and dinner was effortlessly staged on the table waiting for dad to come home and join the family for a nice quite dinner. These images inspired many young girls growing up in this era to believe that motherhood was an effortless adventure. We were destined for a rude awakening.

Little Ricky and the Babaloo

The most frequently aired episodes of “I Love Lucy” included the season of Lucy’s pregnancy and delivery. Regardless of what sort of trouble Lucy seemed to find her way into during the hour, she always appeared fresh and flawless. Her hair was always done up neatly in a French twist and her dress was always neatly pressed. Lucy never appeared to suffer morning sickness, exhaustion or swollen ankles. The episode of Little Ricky’s birth, a much anticipated episode back in the 50’s, portrays everyone around the expectant mother being uneasy while Lucy remains calm and comfortable. When “the time has come” to deliver the baby she is quickly whisked back to the delivery room to give birth a mere 10 minutes after the onset of labor. Having a baby couldn’t get any easier, until you pepper it with a dash of reality and a lot of pain.

I was under the impression that once I became pregnant the sun would come out to shine, the birds would sing sweetly and I would develop this “glow” that would permeate my soul with a happiness that infected others around me. I’ve since come to the conclusion that only a man could have come up with this idea and that man, whoever he may be, should be found, quartered and drawn upon capture. Pregnancy may change a woman, but that’s not always a good thing. Happiness for me came not from the life within my womb, but the comfort of the cold toilet bowl against my throbbing head as I wretched in agony with morning sickness. The only “glow”that emanated from me was the blood rushing from my head after the torrid love affair with said toilet bowl and if the birds dare attempted to sing I would have been forced to take them out along with the insensitive man that put me in that position in the first place. I did however discover that my personality was infectious, so infectious in fact that it sent droves of family members running for the nearest exit sign when I entered a room faster than small forest animals could run from a burning bush.

The idea of looking fresh, well kept and neatly pressed flew right out the door after the first three months of pregnancy. Questions such as “Honey, how do I look?” are quickly replaced with “Hey, are my shoes on the right feet?” Neatly pressed is quickly replaced with wash and wear and “fashionably late” is replaced with “You’re lucky I crawled out of bed in the first place”.

Labor and delivery didn’t prove much relief from my plight either. Television sitcoms fail to inform you that giving birth is like forcing a bowling bowl through a hole the size of a golf ball at ramming speed. Regardless of what modern medical technology tells you, there’s no amount of drugs you can get your hands on that will speed this process along to its finality in 20 minutes or less let alone completely alleviate the pain that comes from delivering your own personal “Rosemary’s Baby”.

Meet the Flintstones

Wilma was always a diligent wife. Somehow she managed to keep the cave sparkling with little Pebbles in tow. Always ready for unexpected company with fresh cactus juice and marble cake, she set the example for female viewers everywhere on how a wife was suppose to behave. Fred would charge through the door after work and Wilma was prepared for her hot-head husband’s arrival. Dinner was on the stove ready to go even before he said, “I’m starving, where’s my dinner?” Even if she had to deal with a crooked fiancĂ©e trying to take her mother to the cleaners, or get the latest “do” at the hair salon, she somehow managed to find enough time in the day to make the elaborate family dinner happen without the help of a maid or a microwave. Wilma was so versed in multi-tasking it seemed that undertaking a job outside the home could help occupy her tiresome hours of loneliness throughout the day as she often did when Fred got fired or quit to start his own business adventure.

As a wife and a mother, I can’t remember the last time I felt bored. If I had to speculate on this issue, I’d pin it down to when I was a kid enduring episodes of “Love, American Style” so I wouldn't miss the opening of “The Monkees”. My house is considered clean on days when you’re not tripping on books and dirty clothes strewed on the floor. My family considers itself lucky if dinner is ready by 7 o’clock and didn’t come from a take-out box. Any guest brave enough to come calling unannounced understands that the family assumes no liability risks from the visit. It’s not that I’ve grown lazy or simply don’t care about our home’s appearance. I just haven’t found a way to bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and still have the energy to never let my husband forget he’s a man before the baby wakes up for her next feeding.

“Mom always says don’t play ball in the house!”

Carol Brady was blessed with six children who seemed to live well together despite sharing only two rooms and one bathroom between them. Whenever trouble knocked on their door, the Brady kids always seemed to ban together and work things out. Even when Jan decided she wanted to be an only child, each Brady kid worked hard to give her the space she needed. All of this accomplished with little interaction from Carol or Mike.

When I made the decision to have another child, I was under the impression that it would give my oldest daughter someone to play with. She would never be lonely or bored and certainly having another child wouldn’t be so bad with an older sister there to help look after them just as Wally did for the Beaver. If ever there was trouble, big sister would swoop to the rescue when mom wasn’t around.

Reality painted a whole new portrait of family for me. The first difficult task was trying to convince my oldest daughter that we had to bring the baby home from the hospital in the first place. Sure, it was a neat idea at the time, but now that she’s here and screaming in my ear, can’t we just leave her here with the rest of those screaming babies? Dreams of unity and serenity were quickly squashed during the “she’s touching me!” arguments, and sibling bonding time is only attempted when you’re curious enough to find out who comes out of the room alive afterwards. There will be no potato sack races for fear of the youngest one’s screaming protests regarding inequality. No camping trips scheduled because the oldest doesn’t like bugs andvisions of polite children can be seen swirling down the toilet bowl as both children knock over an elder lady in an attempt to be the first child through the door of our local family restaurant. To this day I hang my head in shame when I think about that poor granny with her leggings dangling in the air proclaiming, “Did anyone get the license of the Mack truck that just plowed me over?”

Motherhood may be a rewarding experience, but it certainly isn’t effortless. Regardless of what sitcoms may have taught me, the reality of life has a way of turning the channel to the CBS evening news with Walter Cronkite. I haven’t quite figured out how those sitcom moms raised such polite, well adjusted children while maintaining a respectable level of sanity, but I know that letting go and learning to laugh at the stress keeps my children alive another day. I once read a sign that said, “Raising children is like being pecked to death by chickens”. Perhaps it’s a quote from the secret diary of June Cleaver.

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