Tomorrow, May 1, is D-Day for high school seniors. All those who have been put through brutal application and acceptance processes, these kids who have a new appreciation for the concept of a “wait list,” will have to make up their minds. By tomorrow, they’ve got to fill out paperwork and mail deposits into the colleges of their choice. This is it.
I’m hearing from family and friends how hard it is to balance feelings of pride and delight against the sadness of upcoming loss as their kids make these sometimes tough decisions. I spoke on the phone last night with my sister-in-law who lives in Virginia. Her daughter — my niece — has decided to start school next September in California. A beloved friend in San Diego is coming to terms with her son’s decision to head to Boston. The silver lining is that we’ll have more opportunities to visit, but that doesn’t ease her heartache at having her son leave home in such a definitive way. And I am struggling with the implications of one of my kids’ decision to attend boarding school in New Hampshire in the fall. Distance. Life as we know it is about the change dramatically.
My sister-in-law, my friend, I — we are all members of the tail end of the Baby Boom. We have all made choices to curtail professional ambitions so that we’ve been able to have more time with our growing children. Sociologists and gender analysts in a few decades will surely have a field day when they pick apart our lives. I shudder to think what they will conclude. Here on the ground, in the moment, what I see is a desire for deep connection with family. A friend has told me since her kids were born that her greatest accomplishment will be if her kids want to come home for Thanksgiving when they are grown. I think she speaks for an entire generation.
I don’t know if our desire for proximity and reciprocity among our growing children is good or bad. Don’t know if it’s mostly about us or our kids. Do we want something for them that we didn’t have? Is this deep-seated desire yet another manifestation of the narcissism of our generation?
NBC has tapped into these complicated feelings with its new drama Parenthood. The show airs Tuesdays at 10 PM Eastern Time. It chronicles the ins and outs of the Braverman clan — two aging Early Boomer parents, their four mid-life Late Boomer kids, and their six growing grandchildren. Each episode is studded with scenes in which adult children gather to celebrate even the smallest extended family happenings. The camera lovingly films the extended clan gathered at a local park to cheer on one of the kid’s baseball games. It shows the entire family in a public pool as the youngest member successfully swims for the first time. The Bravermans all grapple with demons. None is perfect. But none suffers alone. They share their imperfections, seeking each others’ advice in person and on the phone. They take comfort in their ability to drop by each others’ homes and offices. Their lives are tightly braided together, and the show’s writers demonstrate again and again that this mostly brings the characters deep satisfaction.
I have come to think of Parenthood as family porn. We Late Boomers who feed our children slow food at family suppers want more time with the people we have raised to adulthood. And just as they are heading off to have their own adventures like so many tufts on a dandelion, we crave stories about families who choose to live in proximity. The cameras filming Parenthood linger over the faces of siblings who choose to babysit each others’ children and attend their birthday parties. We grew up watching Dynasty and Dallas, night time soap operas about the evil machinations of family members hell-bent on destroying each others’ lives. Now we are hungry for shows that allow us to fantasize about the essential goodness of kin and connection. If we can’t have our own family suppers, at least we can watch the Bravermans enjoying theirs.