Listicles / Screentime!

7 Moments when I began identifying with the parents in pop culture


Boyhood Arquette

When I think of the film “Boyhood,” I tend to remember it as a movie about a single mom of two kids (one of whom had that boyhood). Not that I related to her particular struggles. I have a loving husband, and my kids are still rather wee.

But I watched it on a trans-Atlantic overnight flight while nursing an 18-month-old for eight hours straight, no interruptions, not even pee-breaks (that sweet boy was nearly weaned before we ascended to 10,000+ feet and he transformed into a sleep-nursing boob anchor). So, I guess the mom character just spoke to me. I wanted to reach through my tiny airline personal screen and hug Patricia Arquette. Then pour us both bourbons on ice.

Since then, I’ve noticed this sort of thing happening more often. And it can be downright jarring to look back at beloved icons of my younger years and suddenly glimpse them as self-indulgent ingenues/rascals. In addition to “Boyhood,” here are:

7 (more) moments when I began identifying with the parents

1. “Mama, she’s ah-ah-alwaaays cleaning!” -Joni Mitchell, “Let the Wind Carry Me”

Well, no shit, Joni. Someone has to do that in order for all to not be filth. Maybe if you weren’t so busy dawdling in the draft to help out a bit, she’d be more accepting of your green eye shadow and platform shoes.

2. “I just respect him, you know. He’s smart. He’s like… he’s an adult I can look up to… Finally.” -Claire Danes as Angela Chase in “My So-Called Life”

Here’s what Angela Chase says to her folks about a subversive (and, turns out, dead-beat) substitute lit teacher in that legendary cult mini-series on adolescent angst that was “My So-Called Life.”

Angela was too into Angela to even notice the affront to her parents, and back then, I was right there with her. But in my first re-watch since age 12, I was stunned at how relatable Graham and Patty Chase were. Graham meets the sub and vouches for him, because, well, he’s “cool.”

Patty’s response? “Cool is not what substitutes are… Maybe he’s a narc.”

See, now, that’s funny. C’mon, Angela-of-the-rolly-eyes-and-stabby-thoughts, Mom and Dad are not so bad. So they over-try! So what? Would it kill you to not mentally murder them?


3. “Yes, Nanny.” -All the Muppet babies

Ok. So, Nanny has her sh*t way more together than I do. She gets results without losing her temper. She listens, and she always helps the Muppet babies resolve their own conflicts. (Except for when she lets them think her neighbor, Officer Carruthers, will arrest them if they wake him.)

Then again, maybe she’s calm because she’s almost never around. I admire her non-helicopter ways. And those purple shoes with the green-striped knee socks.

4. “I’m not gonna live up to those mothers on TV.” -Didi Pickles, “Rug Rats”

BettyDidiSpeaking of absentee parenting, the old folks in “Rug Rats” took not monitoring their offspring to an impressive new level. I’ve occasionally wondered where to get one of those circular infant enclosure thingies.

I’m especially impressed by Didi’s friend Betty DeVille. Remember her? The former pro-wrestler who always wore Venus symbol shirts? She would kick your ass at roller derby. Wait a minute… Betty DeVille: Ready DeKill! See? Built-in derby name.

5. “Get the hell out of my house.” -David Sedaris’ mother, to her kids

I’ve always suspected that Sedaris exaggerated the character of his mother in his essays for comic effect. I mean, there’s no way she put cigarette cartons their Easter baskets. After that many kids, who would bother assembling Easter baskets for their smoker teens? And did she really invite in his teachers — when they came by to discuss his nervous behavior — for mid-afternoon cocktails?

Then again, she was a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) of six total. I’m not saying I would go as far as to actually lock my kids out of the house in the snow for hours so I could day-drink and watch TV…

No, wait. If I had five small-to-smallish kids cooped up inside with me for five snow-days straight, I would probably definitely do that. (And that’s why I’m not planning five+ kids.)

6. “Mother’s tired; she needs a rest.” -Madness, “Our House (in the Middle of our Street)”

I’ve never gotten up early to iron my husband’s shirt, and I’m not so house-proud. But I am tired, and I do need a rest.

7. “Golly, I’d hate to have a kid like me.” -Calvin, “Calvin and HobbesCalvindinnerpic

As a kid, I never realized Calvin’s mom was a SAHM. Nor did I notice she had interests (or at tried to, anyway). She grew plants, she read, she wrote (maybe those were bills), she even knitted once. But the most common momly activity I see Calvin interrupt is (bless her heart): cooking. The woman is always at work in the kitchen. Either she loves it, or she’s in perpetual search of some way to disguise veggies in order to sneak nutrients into Calvin. Her precociously destructive son not only doesn’t appreciate, but thoroughly scorns her efforts. (Through Calvin’s eyes, her culinary creations invariably look like green, probably radioactive, glop.)

When he and his stuffed-but-real tiger aren’t flooding the bathroom, pelting neighbors with water balloons, building disturbing snowmen, or breaking something important, he’s masterfully orchestrating parent guilt. When Dad’s too busy to give him a horsey ride:

“You know, it won’t be long before I’m all grown up. …You’ll look back and say, ‘…It’s hard to remember when he was small enough that I could give him horsey rides.’ But those days will be lost forever.”

Except that Calvin will never grow up. He’s written as a perpetual six-year-old. Poor Calvin’s parents.

Still, I also never noticed how much they love the little scamp. How nurturing they are when he’s sad, how relieved when he’s recovered from danger.

As Calvin’s dad put it, sometimes, “being a parent is wanting to hug and strangle your kid at the same time.”

Now I get why his creator, Bill Watterson, retired early.

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