I have a full-time job, a two-year-old, and a big-ass bone to pick with Claire Huxtable.
First, let me say that I’m not here to reignite the work-outside-the-home moms vs. work-at-home moms debate. For one, I think “The Mommy Wars” are a bullshit card played by the evening news when they run out of don’t-sext-while-you-huff-what’s-this-MyPlace-nonsense stories. For another thing, we know that all parents (mommies and daddies alike) work for other people and for their kids: everyone’s tired, everyone feels guilty, and everyone judges everyone else for sport. Everyone longs for that elusive round of applause.
But I will confess that the past month has kicked my ass around the block. I find myself routinely setting the alarm for 4:ooam to squeeze in the gym trip, work deadlines, endless meetings, office jazz, child-rearing, family time, writing, drinking, and Mad Men viewing I need to do. I am a ball of nerves and tension and decidedly self-indulgent first-world-problem pity. I need somewhere to direct my exhausted rage. Who told me I could have it all? 80s TV working moms. Who told me that all bad days would end with my husband massaging my feet, doing an awkward shuffle to some old school jazz, and pouring wine down my gullet? 80s TV working moms. Who told me that I need never worry because Charles is, in fact, in charge? 80s TV working moms.
Sitcoms had prepared me for the foibles and guilt of working motherhood…but had promised me that all of this comedy came with some very specific day-to-day perks (I mean, outside of the obvious, “Hey! A human to love who will grow up to be President!” thing). I have been sold a bill of goods by an imaginary cohort of role models. And I. Want. Answers.
For your consideration, the most unforgivable lies my sitcom moms told me.
Claire Huxtable (The Cosby Show) As MamaPop’s own JiveTurkey so astutely observed about Mrs. Huxtable of 1980s TV super hit The Cosby Show: “We were supposed to believe that a woman in her 40s had FIVE CHILDREN…and still had time to earn a law degree and actively practice her profession? Oh, and she married a doctor somewhere in there too. Wait — who the @#! wrote this show? Amy Chua?” My complaint with Claire, the greatest super mom of my generation: she promised me my husband would worship me for my incredible balancing act. She swore, implicitly, that my sacrifice would not just be noted—it would be serenaded by Placido Effing Domingo. I actually didn’t see Mrs. Huxtable as without trials and tribulations: do you know how much mental energy it would take to browbeat son-in-law Elton every time he implied that you couldn’t open a jar of Ragu? But I did see Mrs. H getting serious perks. Serious perks I expected and never received.
You know what my husband does when I have a rough day? Slow claps and tells me I am “the greatest hero in American history.” And the closest I get to a Dr. Cliff Huxtable Seduction Shuffle? My co-parent asking me, after the table next to use orders a plate of steamed oysters, if I would like a pot of steamy muscles.
Roseanne Conner (Roseanne) When Roseanne Barr debuted her sitcom in 1988, there was no other mom on TV quite like her: blue collar, smart-mouthed, imperfect, and constantly annoyed. I adored her. Her sitcom prepared me well for life’s hurdles: missing your Wayne Newton concert, finding out Tim Curry stole your life savings, and a George Clooney substitute punching your sister. But her sitcom also gave me false hope that with working motherhood comes a winning lottery ticket and Martin Mull constantly at your house. Still waiting. Feeling more than a little misled.
Angela Bower (Who’s the Boss?) Sure, your alcoholic mother is verbally abusive. But you taught me that when someone is mean to you, you get to verbally abuse Tony Danza. This has not played out well for me.
Ellen Powell (Charles In Charge) ”I’m Ellen Powell! A mom-on-the-go with one-half of the cast of Zapped living in my basement to deal with bullying, sex ed, and homework help — anything stressful that crops up. I loathe interviewing people so I bought a house from another impossibly breezy sitcom mom who, you know, just left the cast of Happy Days and 1/8 of the Eight Is Enough family to work for me. I come home everyday to watch a 19-year-old college boy wash my dishes.” Eff you, Mrs. P.
Kate Tanner (A.L.F.) Yes, life as a working mom is complicated. But if you slave away, love your children, and marry beneath you, eventually an alien will move into your home and offer you sex.
Thelma Crowley (Mama’s Family) Thelma Crowley (aka “Mama”) gave me a taste of what the future may hold after I retire from working motherhood. It’s entirely possible that my child may move back in with me as an adult, bringing interchangeable grandchildren with her. And thanks to Mama, I will be prepared should one of those kids be named “Bubba.”
But where is my visit from stranded motorist and “Ghostbusters” singer Ray Parker Jr., Thelma? I’ve been laying tacks on the road outside my house for years and, so far, I’ve only caught Rockwell.
Elyse Keaton (Family Ties) When I found out I was pregnant, all of my anxieties originated with super-chill architect and mom Mrs. Keaton: ”What if my daughter grows up to be a Republican?” “What if I go into labor on the air during a PBS pledge drive?” “What if my daughter gets locked in the basement with a neighbor boy and becomes a Furry?” I knew from years of faithful Ties viewing that I could tackle any such problem that came my way. Because, if I did, my daughter and I would be chosen to star in a frozen food commercial. So far, no dice.
Maggie Seaver (Growing Pains) As you may recall, Maggie Seaver going back to the newsroom was a major plot point on Growing Pains. She was terrified to leave her kids, worried that she wouldn’t be taken seriously by her new colleagues, and concerned about leaving Alan Thicke at home alone with her best hair products (rightly so). I found comfort in the reality of her struggle and I aspired to one day be like Maggie: professionally bound to publicly insult Kirk Cameron for being a close-minded douchebag. Hey wait…
In retrospect, I would have been better served by using my own amazing working mother as a role model. She worked an incredibly demanding job, had three kids, and somehow left me with the memory that she was always there, even thought I suspect that was physically impossible. But I still want Scott Baio to live in my basement. Is that so wrong?