As I write this, the anniversary of my mom’s death is tomorrow. I’m approaching the date with sadness obviously, but nowhere near the numbed out pain I felt saying good-bye 2 years ago. Nor is this moment as hard as waiting for the milestones of that first year to pass.
But the spring weeks between Mother’s Day – June 6th will always be raw. I will always remember the last time we spoke on the phone, and the stupid cheery orange pashmina I bought her for her birthday on May 24th that I took back several weeks later. The anxious plane ride from NYC to Pittsburgh I took with my younger sister when we knew it was the very end. Celebrating my son’s birthday while sitting shiva.
Though I’m doing fine — trying to be present and feel grateful for my husband and children and other blessings, there is still a major Judi shaped hole in my life. Her loss forced an adjustment and a rebuilding that is ongoing. As Oprah-ish as it sounds, I’ve drawn strength from myself since she died. But erasing her from the picture has had a major impact on how things look and feel in our family.
That context set the stage for my recent epic partaking of “Parenthood.” While recovering from a surgery last month, I surrendered to my bed for a week or so of pure Netflixism. I was secretly thrilled to have the excuse to watch TV all day without feeling guilty – even if I had to sacrifice a body part in order to enjoy that freedom.
I really had no idea of the emotional assault that was “Parenthood,” a familiar seeming primetime NBC drama that looked and smelled like the “Thirty-something” of my youth smushed together with “Friday Night Lights.” Lots of familiar, good-looking television actors and a Bob Dylan theme song to boot. How had I missed this?
Jesus “Parenthood,” you had me at the opening shot of Adam Braverman (NATE FISHER!) taking a jog, and subsequent scenes in the pilot of Max, his son, struggling to be like the other kids while not fitting in at Little League and at school. Duh. I pretty much started crying right there and never once looked back as I went deep into Braverman country.
The show is basically Family Porn. Watching is a form of fantasy, because as difficult the issues they present are (autism, cheating, stay at home dad/mom boredom, black mold, infertility, adoption, PTSD, addiction, cancer, aging parents), everyone faces their problems with so much grace, self-knowledge and skill at solving things in 44 minutes that you can relax and enjoy the emotional ride.
Sure, Sarah is flaky and charming and talks over Adam until Adam reassuringly tells her how it’s going to go down. Crosby is hilarious but screws up again! OMG Julia is so controlling in her pencil skirts. But they talk things out in person and don’t get resentful. They bring each other lattes like that’s a normal thing to do and the lattes don’t get cold in traffic from Berkeley to San Francisco. They get together ALL THE TIME and Camille never seems bitter about all the dishes. The couples have amazing marriages mostly. The siblings don’t seem to judge each other. The children all brush their teeth when asked. Most of the men can fix things (despite the last name they are obviously not Jewish). The women have great hair and nice selections of layered necklaces.
As I obsessively watched the show, condensing six seasons into six weeks, it felt like my job. I literally could not stop pressing “Next Episode” and felt like a sneaky junkie at times watching during the day when I should have been doing important things. I cried, on average like 4 times an episode. I laughed when Adam got “The Fever” and felt so frustrated for Kristina because of Max and his Asperger’s, but was also annoyed that she never seemed to get a babysitter that wasn’t family. I wondered if Kristina was a robot. I wished Mr. Cyr, the high school English teacher had been my boyfriend. I loved the Max/Hank storyline even though it was hard to watch.
Of course I knew it was manipulative to play sad music while someone was going through chemo and I knew it was manipulative to play sad music when someone was being mean to a kid with Asbergers but I cried my heart out anyway. I cried for all of the baseball games my mom wouldn’t attend (not that either of my kids play baseball) and I cried that my relationship with my dad wasn’t as easy as Sarah and Julia’s with Zeek, and that my marriage didn’t feature the same obvious gloss and excellent communication that these couples had.
But I got over it. Because it’s TV and is supposed to elicit these feelings – that’s kind of the whole point. As a viewer you’re supposed to project your deficits onto a fictional family that seriously has it together. It can be cathartic to go on that kind of journey and to binge on something this obvious, but at the end of the day The Bravermans aren’t real and I can’t really hug or squeeze any of them or have them bring me a latte. Whether or not I have similar issues in my own life, they will never be written as concisely or acted as well as these professionals can convey them. The characters can feel real and I can feel connected to their joys and struggles, but at the end of the binge, they are still crafted by a pen and shaped by a director.
I thought I would be devastated when I finished watching last week, but I was satisfied with their treatment of the aging parents storyline and how the finale tied things up with a lovely flash forward montage to a sad song.
No spoilers, but The Bravermans are going to be ok, and so am I. It makes sense why watching this particular show during this period of time felt so compulsively important. I was clearly getting something under my belt before this two-year anniversary tomorrow, trying to make sense of things that don’t make sense once more, processing.
I loved my time with the Bravermans but I’m feeling free now to read books again, do some writing, or hang out with my own perfect/imperfect family.
This post originally appeared on Mallory Kasdan.