I used to enjoy watching TV. I used to love reading. And I used to enjoy an occasional night at the movies.
Until I had a baby.
This isn’t your standard rant about never having time for these things. I still stay up late reading under the covers and sit down in front of the TV as soon as my daughter is tucked in. But some of the joy has been sucked out of 90% of entertainment:
Every sad story starts or ends with a mother.
It makes sense, right? Every human’s story starts with a mother. Writers are humans drawing from personal experiences to create compelling stories.
In the past few months, I’ve read books about mothers who failed in big, obvious ways: they murdered their children, neglected them in the face of a drug addiction, or simply left. In one book, a mother burned her house down, daughters inside. I’ve also read books about children who feel their mothers failed in less obvious ways: they were too ambitious. Too smothering. They kept secrets. They played favorites.
I noticed this after starting Sing, Unburied, Sing (a wonderful book you should absolutely read) and realizing just a few pages in that this was another Failed Mother Story. It dawned on me that most of the conflicts in the books I read—fiction and nonfiction— stem from mothers. If even a fraction of the fiction stories are pulled from real life, that’s a lot of mothers who failed in some way. And these are just the talented storytellers who won book deals—think of all the untold stories of failed mothers.
What I’m taking from this: pretty much every mother fails.
What I’m really taking from this: I will fail.
I can’t handle suffering the way I used to.
I was completely on board to watch The Handmaid’s Tale when it debuted. I was a fan of the book and intrigued by how relevant the story feels today. But I couldn’t make it past the first episode, where Elizabeth Moss watches helplessly as strange men take her daughter away from her. I was in tears—not the good kind, the verging-on-panic attack kind—folding laundry in front of my TV. I never watched it again.
I did make it through Stranger Things, and I won’t deny my eyes were covered for a lot of it. Not because of a scary monster—because I couldn’t watch Winona Ryder’s compassionate-mom face as her son suffered. I couldn’t bear to hear one of the characters ache for his daughter who died. I couldn’t stomach a flashback where a mom has her child taken away from her.
And don’t even get me started on Disney. I’ve written about Moana, Finding Nemo needs no explanation, and I’m sure Donald Glover will do an excellent job as Simba but you can guarantee I will be burying my face in my hands during the stampede (unless Beyonce is on screen.)
When everything’s good with mom, the pressure is real.
As a teenager, Gilmore Girls was great. As a mom, it stresses me out: How can my daughter and I have a Lorelai/Rory relationship? Do I even want that? Is Rory addicted to caffeine? Is it Lorelai’s fault? Why doesn’t my town have a troubadour?
I start an episode and get so lost in my thoughts that Rory has a different boyfriend by the time I come out of my fog.
Even my fallback, YA, has been ruined.
When I’m stressed (see: turbulent airplane rides) I always turn to fluffy, romantic, young adult fiction. I’m not talking Hunger Games— I’m talking the book equivalent of She’s All That, where the worst thing that happens is that the boy doesn’t realize he likes you until after prom. But I can’t even enjoy those anymore because I find myself empathizing more with the parents than the teens. Why are you accepting a ride on a Vespa’s stranger in Rome? I think, biting my nails. Your mother is right, this is a terrible idea.
There’s a lesson here, I think: There are better things to do than watch TV. You will fail, but I hope not spectacularly. And most importantly, if you’re out on the road, feeling lonely and so cold, all you have to do is call my name and I’ll be there, on the next train.