So, here we are.
If this time of isolation has taught me anything, it’s that there is very little I actually control. It’s a forced social science experiment with no clear hypothesis. The only thing I can I count on is the peanut butter jar sitting topless on the counter, multiple lunches involving melted cheese, one or both children calling me “The Worst,” and my long awaited glass of wine at 6:00.
In the first two weeks of social distancing, we cycled through all the stages of grief in 10 hours or less, ate dinner, and adjourned to the couch to watch Love Is Blind.
Love is Blind is a reality dating show on Netflix hosted by former 98 Degrees singer Nick Lachey. It starts off with a group of singles engaging in multiple rounds of blind speed dating. The “dates” take place in pods where the couple can talk but not see each other, with the end goal of getting engaged, blindly. After the proposal(s), the engaged couples are whisked away to Mexico for an awkward group vacation before moving into the same Atlanta condo complex, like an urban commune with a former boyband pop star as your charismatic cult leader. The show ends with a series of Vegas-style weddings where the betrothed either seal the deal or pull a Julia Roberts in The Runaway Bride.
This is not quality television. It is utter trash and as addicting as Cool Ranch Doritos. But my family agrees that Love is Blind saved us from ourselves.
We would start talking about it before lunch: “Do you think Jessica will ditch Mark when she realizes he’s short? When Amber says she is an Ex-Tank Mechanic, what does that mean exactly? Do you think GG is on drugs or just naturally spacey?” Even on the days that deteriorated into screaming fights and rivers of tears, someone would ask: “But we’re still watching Love is Blind, right?” Especially on those days.
But as much as I cherished those blissfully harmonious 45 minutes of all of us on the couch, the mom guilt would haunt me the next day like a rum punch hangover. I knew that a show that included F-bombs, sexual situations, discussions regarding penis size, excessive drinking, and one drunk person feeding wine to her dog was not going to get the thumbs up from Common Sense Media. Yet still, I didn’t want it to end. I only allowed one episode a night so we could stretch out the bonding experience.
Pre-pandemic, we never watched TV together. We are not big TV people in general. I think this is because as a kid, my sister Maureen and I were only allowed to watch one show, and that was Little House on the Prairie. My mom has relaxed with age, but in my childhood years she gave off some serious Church Lady vibes. Her favorite word was inappropriate, and in her mind, LHOTP was the only appropriate material on television.
Yet even prairie life could get too racy. Maureen and I would wait with bated breath for the episode title to flash across the screen, praying it wouldn’t say “Sylvia.” “Sylvia” was the one episode we were forbidden to watch, because it was about the most developed girl at school getting raped by the blacksmith disguised as a mime. Maybe the ratings were low and they needed a storyline more titillating than Pa’s wheat crop getting trashed in a hail storm.
Ironically, the whole rape-pregnancy portion of the storyline went straight over our heads. I think the only thing we took away from the Sylvia episode was if your boobs get too big you should secure them with the prairie version of surgical tape, and if you see a mime, run like hell.
My mother’s Inappropriate List was not TV-exclusive: Dirty Dancing. Salt ’n Pepa. Three’s Company. Al Bundy. Madonna (her “Like a Prayer” video specifically, but also just Madonna in general). Bikinis. Thongs. Cleavage. Tampons. Talking about tampons or anything suggestive of genitalia. My Two Dads. Eyeliner. Co-ed parties. Sweet Valley High books. General Hospital. Nudity of any kind, with the exception of the communal dressing room at Loehmann’s. MTV. Strapless dresses. Cursing. Back talk, aka “being fresh.” Double ear piercings. Sex before marriage. Talking about sex, thinking about sex, any show or movie with with sexual undertones, or God forbid, people actually having sex. Oh, and mime rapists.
To this day, the word inappropriate gives me a sinking feeling in my stomach – it feels laced with judgement and shame. Even if someone is referring to a behavior as inappropriate, it still feels like an attack on your personhood. It insinuates a lack of some kind: morals, sophistication, the ability to make good choices. If someone says the length of your skirt is inappropriate, your skirt is not the one who suddenly feels like a slut.
So I was surprised to learn that while the modern definition of the noun appropriate is “not proper,” the word’s Latin etymology is appropriatus: “to make one’s own.” Another dictionary defined inappropriate as “not suitable for a particular occasion.”
To this I say: Who the hell is an expert in knowing what is suitable for the occasion of a global pandemic? No one. So we have no choice but to clumsily yet compassionately make this quarantine our own.
Allow me to digress with a random story: After graduating from college, my friends and I spent three weeks backpacking through Europe. One of our stops was the Swiss town Interlaken, which was stunning but linguistically challenging. We wrongly assumed the primary language was German, when it is actually something called Alemannic Swiss German. Anyway, we were clueless. If a menu didn’t have pictures, we were screwed. While out to dinner one night, we were psyched to discover that our waitress spoke a tiny bit of English. But every time we pointed to something on the menu and asked, “What/how is this?” she would answer in a singsongy voice: “I don’t know whazz good for you, I just know whazz good for me!”
I think we ended up with some raw ground beef and an entire fish that still had eyeballs. But for some reason, 20 years later, her voice is still burned on my brain. Anytime I find myself in a social media shame spiral of comparing myself to more qualified moms, I say to myself: “I don’t know whazz good for you, I just know whazz good for me!” It’s an odd mantra, but it reminds me that my family is its own weird little organism, and comparing it to someone else’s weird little organism is pointless. It’s like comparing a donkey to a goat. They look the same (to me) but they are actually two totally different animals. Or do I mean a mule? Whatever.
I read a fantastic article in The Atlantic by Mary Katherine Ham called “It’s Okay To Be a Different Kind of Parent in a Pandemic.” She points out that family bonding is one of the five tenets of resilient parenting. Some of my closest friends bond with their families over board games, baking, or Titanic documentaries. But board games turn Phil and Emma into hostile competitors. Baking stresses me out and documentaries give Phoebe nightmares. So if trash TV is where we bond, then trash TV it is.
In the spirit of embracing what works for your family, Ham asks: “What kind of mom are you? Once you’ve decided what kind of mom or dad you are, do something small everyday to put that identity into practice.”
What kind of mom am I? Damned if I know. So, I asked my family members, because I am brave like that:
Emma: “I’d say you used to be more strict but now you are like average like half strict half not.”
Phil: “A hot mom.”
Phoebe: “You’re fun when you’re drunk.”
Hot, drunk and inconsistent.
I refused to accept this as my bottom line, and sought out additional non-reliable sources by googling “What Kind Of Mom Am I.” I stumbled upon a Myers Briggs website that categorizes your parenting style by your personality type. As an INFJ, my assessment actually rang true: The INFJ mother dislikes mundane chores and feels confused by discipline. She has a unique sense of humor which provides a deeper connection and doesn’t like to treat her children as if they are outside some adult circle.
When I read this to Emma, she replied: “That’s freakishly accurate.”
It’s true that even when I taught third grade, I never spoke to children using a “kid voice,” because I sucked at it. It’s also true that I am confused by discipline (and a bunch of other things, like compasses, the donkey/goat/mule conundrum, and how to change a duvet cover) because I tend to punish as a Pavlovian response to something my mother deemed “inappropriate.”
This time of intense togetherness is teaching me to let go of old voices and learn to trust my instincts. I can marinate in perceived failure or I can embrace the quirky uniqueness of my own little tribe. I am finding that when I commit to this, the veil of comparison is lifted and I am free to celebrate the quirky uniqueness of others as well. I don’t know whazz good for you!! I just know whazz good for me!
I am not using this time to teach my kids Russian or whittle a pan flute out of fallen branches from our yard. But we have a lot of dance parties, and have almost perfected the lift from Dirty Dancing. I no longer try to sensor Emma’s music, because when my 14 year-old daughter asks if she can DJ some Childish Gambino on a sunset drive to nowhere, I will always say yes. Even when one of his songs is “F*ck Your Blog.”
Will my “way of doing things” lead to raising crass, amoral people? Crass…maybe. But amoral? I don’t think so. During one the final episodes of Love Is Blind, when trainwreck contestant Jessica (the one who gets drunk with her dog),walked down the aisle alone and flowerless without one family member in attendance, Phoebe shouted: “I know she’s the worst but someone get that girl some flowers! And how are her friends just sitting there? Walk a lonely sister down the aisle!”
So, I feel like that’s something.