You know what’s funny? It’s not most sitcoms (ba-da-bum!). What’s funny is that after the last time I wrote about the CBS TV sitcom “The Middle,” my friend Sally wrote to agree with me, and also to wonder how it was that I even managed to sit down for an 8pm show. Sally and I both have young children, and yes, watching a show that starts at 8, which is the boys’ basic bedtime, is tough (and no, we don’t have a DVR. Yet. It’s on my list. Thanks in advance for that suggestion).
But it’s not impossible. And that small effort is part of a larger determination to not let my life, or my husband’s, be run over by small feet and sticky fingers.
And that brings me to my report on last week’s episode of “The Middle,” which totally let me down. I was so high on the Hecks a few weeks back, when Mike, the dad, stepped up to the plate and told another dad that, in fact, it was his job to tell his mean tween daughter that her manipulations and deceit were bad form. It would have been so typical-sitcom if he’d laughed it off, but he didn’t; he took the other guy to task. Go Mike, I thought.
But the other night, Mike and Frankie Heck dropped the ball. I won’t belabor the recap, because I don’t want anyone to think I’m a TV junkie (as if) or obsessed with this particular show in a way that would be unseemly (I mean it’s not HBO or anything!). But here’s what happened: the Heck parents realized that they were doing way too much for their three kids, at the expense of their own comfort and pleasure. They only ever ordered the kind of pizza the kids liked, they ran around on their lunch hours getting supplies for school projects, they lived without first-rights access to their own TV remote, for heaven’s sake! So they decided to take back their house and their lives, getting pizza with pineapples and watching what they wanted, kids be damned.
It was way over the top, natch, especially when Frankie rid the family room of any trace of her children and refused to drive her youngest to the library. And also naturally, they gave up soon enough, specifically when they realized that not driving their bookworm kid to the library meant he was spending too much time online, and had already made plans to meet in the park “a guy he was chatting with online.” Uh, oh. Bad parents. Bad!
It was funny, sure, a little bit. But when Frankie, the mom, after capitulating once again, tells a random mom with a baby that she should start now to not give her baby every little thing he ask for, to not subsume herself in his needs (“It’s too late for me, but you can do it!”), I felt so… let down.
She missed the point, the show missed the point. You can drive your son to the library and make a point of buying the polka-dot umbrella for your daughter’s dance routine without giving up your own life. Mike and Frankie compel their eldest to babysit one night so they can go to see a cheesy 80s cover band at a local bar mid-week. And why shouldn’t they? Why is the choice — bear with me, I’m talking now about all of us in the real world now, not just these fictional TV people — between doing everything for our kids and never doing anything for our kids?
Which brings me back to my friend Sally and the modern-day wonder of my husband and me sitting down at 8pm every so often because, damn it, we want to watch a show. We get the bath/books/bed routine done ahead of time, and shoo the little darlings off to their beds by 7:59. The little guy usually falls asleep pretty soon after, and I don’t care if the older guy stays up puttering in his room for a while (what he actually does in there is the subject of another post; when I check in later I try to piece his routine together with clues like an overturned piggy bank, scribbled notes taped to the walls, and which books are face-down on the floor around his bed), as long as he’s not in my hair. Hey kid, after bedtime, unless you’re sick, I’m clocked out (as much as parents ever clock out).
At 8pm, the remote is mine. Minus the remote, which hadn’t been invented yet, this is how my parents rolled. They did an awful lot for us — you know, like paying the mortgage on time, feeding and clothing us, and extras like driving us to dance lessons and dates and taking us to really high-class resorts in the Catskills with actual running water and ice cream for dessert. But their parental self-sacrifice did not include cooking to order for us or doing our homework (though my dad was aces at helping with big projects, like the shampoo he helped my sister make for a science fair, or the Inca terrace-farming project he all but created for me).
Listen, I’ll certainly order half the pizza plain, but the rest is going to have something totally icky on it, like eggplant.