We have all heard the expression – “life imitating art” or “art imitating life” – well, sometimes my life is like a TV show. My hands down favorite show, maybe of all time, starring the amazingly talented Patricia Heaton as the mom (Frankie). This is the kind of show that I will stop everything I am doing to grab my wine, sink down in my couch cushions and watch because I can’t wait to see what element of my life they will exploit next.
The Middle is a show about the Heck’s, a middle class family with three kids, living in the middle of the country, the parents approaching middle age. So, we don’t live in the middle of the country, but the rest of it…if the shoe fits.
Let me first say that if I had ever watched this show at any other point earlier in my life, I would have waved my hand dismissively at it and scoffed that it was clearly over dramatized comedy, exaggerated, made only for TV, as no mother would ever do any of the things Frankie does, kids don’t act that way, and good lord, why can’t they clean up all of that LAUNDRY?
Well, now, in my forties with two “middle aged” kids myself, I precariously teeter on the edge of laughing and crying at the same time while I watch, because I have had many Frankie moments. My husband has actually said some of the things the Dad says to their fictional kids. Our house (while perhaps a bit cleaner than theirs…) has as many broken appliances, piles of stuff, and mismatched chairs as their dining room table has. (But OK, we don’t use lawn chairs inside the house.)
Case in point: One episode features their ailing dishwasher. In order to make the dishwasher work, they have to simultaneously run the hair dryer, turn on the microwave, shove a broom into the door, (after duct taping it closed) then leave the room because of the deafening noise. They wait until the piles of dishes in the sink approach monumental proportions because it’s so labor intensive. Crazy, you think?
Well, my washing machine has a malfunctioning dial, (yup, my machine is from the late 90’s…) which makes the load of laundry get stuck at various points in the cycle. I have to set the kitchen timer, and go down to the basement to actually move the dial to the next stage of the cycle. If I forget, the clothes will soak endlessly, (one day I turned a dress from white to blue…) or worse yet, the clothes spin for all eternity until there is not a drop of water left in them. I actually ruined one of my bathroom rugs which ended up being shredded to pieces because I forgot all about it and went to the grocery store. The rug was a shell of its former self with tufts of green fuzz and chunks of the rubber backing all over the washing machine.
I know. Why don’t we fix it? How could I possibly live like that? In the year 2014, washing machines should be able to finish a load of laundry on their OWN! Well, I’ll tell you why. I have a husband who works long hours, when I remember to tell him (read: nag him) about things like this, it falls into a certain priority, usually low on the list, behind things like fixing other broken appliances, driving our children around, or sleeping – not to mention that would require him to have the time to figure out what was wrong, find the part, go to the store and buy said part, replace the part, troubleshoot if it doesn’t work, etc. etc. – and so we simply keep existing.
One episode featured Frankie frantically cleaning the house for an upcoming event. She was standing on the kitchen countertops brandishing a broom and yelling at all of her kids and her husband that they were of no help to her. (I may have done this once or twice. I may or may not have stood on the countertop.) She then leans over the kitchen window and asks in irritation: “My god, who would leave a BAND AID on the window?” She proceeds to angrily pull it off, and the window falls out of the frame onto the grass. Now, thank the dear lord, this has NOT happened to me, but you want to know what? It could. It is not out of the realm of possibility.
Another episode featured her two sons attempting to make dinner, so naturally they turned on the oven. When she comes home and sees smoke pouring out of it, she yells: ” OH my GOD! Did you turn on the OVEN?” They say: “YES!” She shouts: “OH NO! Aunt Edie’s QUILT is in there! Don’t you know the OVEN is for quilt storage? NOT FOR COOKING!” Of course it is!
Her kids alternate between telling her they need poster board for a project at 11 PM the night before it is due, and asking her to help them make a giant brownie in the shape of Texas for their social studies project. (Insert large glass of your favorite alcoholic beverage here.) My personal favorite was when Frankie discovered that her youngest son Brick was supposed to have kept a journal for the entire school year, but naturally, he didn’t. Called in by the teacher two days before school ends, she then keeps Brick up late at night trying to recreate what happened the day after Halloween so he can move on to the 5th grade. These things are not actually all that funny to me, they’re horrifying, because they HAPPEN to parents like us. We have LIVED THIS. Maybe not in those exact iterations, but close enough to hit home. My kids howl and laugh while they watch the show, but they know. They know.
Don’t get me wrong, I am immensely grateful for my house, my kids, my husband, and my (upper?) middle class life. I am happy to laugh along with the Heck family, relish the victories, conquer the set backs, shove the quilt in the oven and peel the band aids off the window. What makes it so real, so funny, and so watchable, is that Frankie is human, and it reminds me that I am human too. The message comes across loud and clear that we have each other, one way or another we’ll muddle through. Just don’t forget about your rug in the spin cycle.