It’s official: I’ve written the longest novel I’m ever allowed to write. Because printing one copy (double-sided, 1.5-spaced) takes exactly as much paper as will fit in my printer’s paper tray. It’s printing right now, and my printer—while proving to be a trooper overall—has taken to taking troubling little breaks between pages.
Anyway, I would like to take this opportunity to say what a great show Trading Spouses: Meet Your New Mommy is. (I watch a lot of TV when B is out of town.) I watched an episode Wednesday night in which a down-home, under-appreciated Montana mom swapped places with a rich, swimwear model/life coach mom from Westchester County, New York. Of course the clip shown in all the ads was the part where Montana Mom’s teenage son tells the camera, “My new mom is hot.”
But the more interesting part of the show came when Westchester County Mom tried to life-coach her new kids. The boys, 18 and 20, thought the surveys WC Mom asked them to fill out were bullshit, and ignored them. But Tianna, the 15-year-old girl, really hoped WC Mom could help her family: “We have serious problems communicating,” she told her new mother. “I mean, we communicate, but, like, in the wrong ways.”
By this point WC Mom had analyzed Tianna’s survey and said, “I really think that if you did 40 minutes of cardio three times a week, you’d be much happier.”
Tianna gave her a weak smile. Way to communicate, WC Mom.
It was a more tragic and genuine moment than the shooting of the most innocent Law & Order: SVU victim. And it was rivaled by what was going on in the Westchester County mansion, where Montana Mom was trying to win over her new preteen daughter. Coltish and teenyboppery, the new daughter freaked out when Montana Mom paraded around in her real mother’s stilettos and said her favorite store catered to “anorexics.” She came across as someone who would probably grow up to be as superficial (yet sorta well-meaning) as her mother, but for now, like Tianna, she was fiercely real, a little girl who loved to play dress-up and loved her mom unconditionally.
Meanwhile in Montana, even the horny boys were missing their mother. One of them had decided to build her an aquatic garden as a gesture of appreciation. And so the show proves a sometimes disturbing truth about family life: You will always be nostalgic for what you are used to, whether it prioritizes sit-ups over mental health or necessitates that you give up wake-up calls from a swimsuit model.
It’s kind of comforting to know that my kids will seek my approval no matter how much I fuck them up. And, conversely, no matter how good I am to them, they’ll think I’m a little boring, a little embarrassing.
But the show’s biggest accomplishment is showing how every family in the world has its own culture. Sure, they play it up by swapping trailer park moms with Malibu moms, Christian with pagan (though I missed that infamous episode), white with black. But issues as seemingly small as whether the family eats in front of the TV or at the dining room table can cause huge blow-ups. Because if you’re used to one, the other seems strange and blasphemous and invasive. Even as I write this, I’m thinking, “Well, of course the family that eats in the dining room is right” because that’s what I grew up doing.
I tried to imagine whom Fox would swap me with, if B and I had kids. At first I thought, maybe somebody who was really unethical, because B and I spend a lot of time trying to do the right thing. But then, duh, I realized that we’d be The Lesbians, so they’d pair us with some Bible-thumping family, and I’d get really pissed off because that mom would try to teach our kids that their mommies were sinners, and she’d get really pissed off because I’d try to teach her kids that the Bible is overrated.
I don’t know if they’ve done such an episode yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time. They’ll probably choose some really cool lesbians, though, so GLAAD doesn’t freak out. We’re still in what someone referred to as the Sidney Poitier stage. So maybe Fox is not ready to have me—with the guilt trips and passive-aggressive perfectionism I will inevitably inflict on my kids—to represent lesbian motherhood.