… the musings of a thirty-something, married, Southern teen librarian turned Stay-At-Home-Mom with a 14-year-old's sense of humor, an awkward spirit, and a stubborn, mouthy, redheaded country boy to accompany her through life.
Having grown up the fat, frumpy, awkward girl from a dysfunctional home, it has essentially been my life’s goal to be a cliché Basic White Girl. I jest, but sprung from an unstable foundation, I have genuinely always aspired to be an unremarkable suburbanite. At first, I aimed to be the working mom with an ideal career for a family. When life… shifted those plans, my new ideal became the stay-at-home mom and wife, who returns to work as a teacher or librarian, when her children reach school age. I want to spend my thirties and forties sitting in school drop-off lines, chaperoning field trips, having family game nights, hosting fantastic slumber parties, and embarking on family road trips, all without pretense.
While I’m well on my way to this hard-won life, there are a few trends that will forever expose me for the convert I ultimately am. I do love me some printed leggings, Converse shoes, Friends reruns, avocado toast, and romance novels; however I consider Starbucks and iPhones to be for shmucks, bestsellers virtually unreadable, reality television completely unwatchable, social media an utter waste of time, and wine reminiscent of Mass. Most of all, what keeps me on the outside of all Basic White Girl social circles, is my absolute hatred for HGTV.
Aside from a handful of shows about families with over a dozen children, I’ve never been a fan of reality TV – a fact that will forever contribute to my inability to converse with my family at holiday celebrations. It’s not an elitist viewpoint, by any means. I watch plenty of trash television. I just prefer even slightly better acting and production values. While I wouldn’t cite that as a main reason for my HGTV loathing, it is a contributing factor. The disasters are just so telegraphed, the drama so rehearsed, and even a cursory Google search on the experiences of those who’ve actually been on the show will reveal that the “makeovers” are falsified in many ways. This is an issue with all reality TV, though. It’s not unique to HGTV. However…
HGTV is fantasy fuel, but these things are fantasies for a reason. Living in spaces as formal, as loud, as stuffed to the brim with furniture would be overwhelming for most people. A couple of statement rooms and pieces, like a green kitchen, a deep blue velvet reading chair, or a plant corner, are enough of a “pop” for the average human, without lowering resale value. Of course, no one wants to watch a show where an average looking home is transformed into a slightly less average home with the addition of a single colorful accent wall, a patterned rug, or some new light fixtures. Unless you’re Pee Wee Herman, though, that’s likely going to be enough for your senses. I just don’t have the suspension of disbelief to look at the after photos of an HGTV room without a headache coming on at the very idea of spending every day there.
On the same topic, a common criticism of HGTV is the careers and corresponding budgets of their chosen contestants. Why does no one have a real job? Why is the budget always $900k?!? Is living in the state with the third lowest cost of living blinding me to real finances? No, actually. I just checked and it’s not. The average cost of a home in the United States is $354,649. The average in my state is $181,574. Jake and I paid $210,000 for a flip from 1980 with 2,300 square feet, counting the converted garage. It sits on 1.13 acres and has no HOA, because we’re not communists. Were we contestants with our budget on House Hunters, we’d be looking for garage apartments in Flint, Michigan.
Everyone’s house looks the same.
Somehow, while simultaneously looking down on average home décor, HGTV also manages to define the concept. When I was a kid, my mother refused to paint any room in the house any color other than white, insisting that it “makes the room smaller.” When I asked how that was possible, she conceded that while the room would still be the same size, colored walls would create the appearance of a smaller space. In hindsight, I understand her reasoning. It was the 90s, after all, and the average person knew very little about decorating and color theory.
In our modern world, this is no longer the case, as anyone who’s ever shopped for curtains or throw pillows can see from the targeted ads directing them to numerous interior design articles Yet, somehow, everyone’s living room is still painted a ridiculous shade of white called “gilded linen,” accented with “minimalist” furniture and light fixtures of wicker, bamboo, and rattan. The entire house is fitted with light colored wood, subway tile, shiplap, or marble, depending on the year it was decorated. The “eye-catching” features comprise a couple of plants, a gold-trimmed mirror, a neutral patterned rug, a wall of crosses and/or a sign declaring this .13 acre dwelling to be a “Farmhouse“. Chip and Joanna Gaines seem like lovely people, really, but my stars have they leached all the color from the world.
While the above accurately describes the varying degrees of Farmhouse Chic in the quintessential suburban/rural home, the trendy urban dwelling is positively bursting with retro 70’s colors and mod style art and furniture. Bonus points are awarded based on the number of thrifted, antique, or locally commissioned finds. Emerald green velvets, tropical patterned wallpaper à la my parents’ prom backdrop, yellow gold light fixtures, and so muchwicker positively overwhelms the senses in these homes. One can’t decide if they should look at the vaguely pornographic statuary, the funky red velvet sofa, or the geometrically patterned accent wall.
None of these individual trends are bad things. A white room with light-colored wood can feel airy and light. A thrifted retro chair and brightly colored shelf or desk can draw the eye to a nice reading corner or home office space. The problem arises when normal folks in normal homes attempt to perfectly copy the spaces they see on HGTV shows, forgetting that humans will actually be occupying these showrooms. Perhaps in some cases, this look is truly what these individuals love, and it’s just not to my taste. I know people who detest color and others who abhor what they consider the mundane. If that’s the case, more power to them! I have seen so many variations of both of these extremes, though, from people who’ve visited Waco or the art museum one too many times, that I’d wager in many cases, it has more to do with getting the “right” look than the right look for them, whatever that might be… and I blame HGTV.
The choices are often impractical.
A researcher at heart and once by trade, I have actually taken quite a bit of care to avoid biased searches for this post, keeping my inquiries as general as possible, such as “interior design trends HGTV.” Still, I’ve found numerous examples of recommendations that are just completely and utterly pointless and/or impractical. The pointless ranges from a wall of clocks, to a fake mantel, to mounted decorative wooden doors, to words on the wall, my foremost detested popular décor since the first time I read the words “live, laugh, love.”
While I can ascribe what I see as pointless to a matter of personal taste, I simply cannot forgive the impractical, such as a chalkboard wall anywhere but a children’s space. Who is going to take the time to clear those shelves and counters to etch out cutesy diner drawings and phrases? How quickly is it going to get smudged? How thoroughly is it going to have to be cleaned to avoid that 1980s second grade classroom look? Who is going to dust all those knickknacks on that open shelf? What books are in those decorative stacks? Is that giant fig real? If so, what are the care instructions? If not, does it look fake up close? Why is the fireplace in the middle of the room, taking up so much space? Is it functional? If so, how does the room not fill with smoke when there are no doors? If not, why isn’t this space being occupied by something more useful or, at the very least, less structurally permanent?
Jake and I moved to our almost rural suburb of Cherokee, on the outskirts of the county, five and a half years ago. Do you know how many brick houses were painted whitein 2017? Zero, because we live in a state known for it’s wind andred dirt.
What in the actual Hell, y’all? How do people not realize that these homes are going to be pink in five years? No amount of power washing is going to fix that and you can’t unpaint brick.
Why, oh why, would anyone want marble countertops? They’re more costly. They stain and are prone to etching if exposed to acid. They’re not especially heat resistant. They need to be sealed annually. There are arguably better options, but according to my research, right behind painted brick, marble is the trend of 2022, along with subway tiles. Just as with the chevron printed walls of 2010 and the grey on grey of 2015, these fads will also fade, only this time, it’ll be far more expensive to remodel.
Trendiness is expensive.
As you can see, the issues I have with HGTV all fall under the umbrella of their constant promotion of trendiness. I got a few of my examples for this post from an article titled Interior Designers Forecast 2022 Design Trends. It opens with a paragraph on the environmental impact of fleeting interior design choices and the importance of developing a long lasting personal style, before going on to push in vogue furniture, “more marble,” and even tiny homes. Other HGTV articles recommend contemporary furnishings, brightly colored chandeliers, and gold-touched wallpaper. Unless these things specifically appeal to you, they are going to get old fast, as they become just as dated as the Tuscan style décor of the early 2000s. They aren’t going to be cheap to replace, either.
When Jake and I bought our home, open floorplans were all the rage and had been for quite some time. While this is still a prominent layout in new construction, in a post-Covid world, people often find themselves working from home alongside their spouse and children. In time, open floorplans might become less popular… and that’s okay with me. Jake and I love the spacious feel of our great room, just as we love our granite countertops. We’ve no desire to erect walls or install marble to keep up with the times.
If you love your loud dining room wallpaper and furniture as much as I love the papasan chair in my red reading space full of plants, everyone else can go kick rocks. If you’re prying off your shiplap to put up subway tile, because you’ve heard that shiplap is on it’s way out, you need to turn off the TV. While it can be fun to play around with throw pillows, floor lamps, and wall art, as HGTV does encourage, the larger furniture purchases and makeovers really should be built around genuine personal preference. While I’ve seen numerous homeowners pushed to make pricey, fleeting, or impractical decisions, I have never seen personal taste come before modern style on any HGTV show… and as much I detest it, I’ve watched a lot of HGTV these last few years, which brings me to my final point.
HGTV gives me wartime flashbacks.
While all of the above reasons for my HGTV hatred are true, I’ll admit that I do possess a certain level of bias that has thrown that general distaste into flat-out loathing. Folks, I confess that I cannot watch HGTV without having flashbacks to Covid-19 infertility appointments. That chipper over voice plays, those preppy Urban White People costumes flash across the screen, someone says the words “open concept”… and suddenly I’m sitting alone in a waiting room, next to a chair with an ‘X’ taped on it, wearing a medical mask, Googling adoption horror stories to take my mind off the news.
There’s something about HGTV that is just so totally innocuous, that it has apparently been endorsed by the American Medical Association for it’s calming effect on anxious, primarily female, patients… because I rarely see it playing in any gender neutral office, such as the dentist. I get it. There’s simply nothing truly objectionable about the programming, in a broader sense. What could possibly be less threatening than home décor? Most certainly, in a year when every news story was about the number of deaths in various cities, it was the obvious choice. I suppose it worked in my favor, after all, that this experience didn’t ruin something I truly enjoy, like reruns of Friends or Bewitched… because even before it gave me flashbacks to one of the most difficult times in my life, I hated HGTV.
Jake and I met in the summer of 2015, at 30 and 27. He was working as a fluid engineer an hour away, in an oil town. I was living in the suburbs, working as a half time librarian and enjoying a break from substitute teaching during the financially leaner summer months. We met online, during a time when the stigma had lifted just enough to make it ubiquitous, but not quite so much that everyone had become utterly jaded and exhausted by the entire process. Compared to the modern woes shared by my single friends, it seems 2015 was something of a Golden Age for online dating, when the majority of people approached it with some genuine sense of purpose. After all, if you were going to risk a coworker finding your profile, you were at least going to try to meet someone.
From the beginning, things with Jake were… uncomplicated. Essentially strangers, there was no immediate “spark” or “love at first sight” moment between us, because we weren’t the leads in a paranormal romance novel. I thought he was funny and had pretty eyes. I liked his beard. He thought I was cute and smart. We talked long enough for the restaurant to close for lunch and he texted within the next couple of hours to tell me he had a good time. We didn’t kiss until our sixth date, what with him having been my literal second of most things and eventual first of quite a few. He met my parents on my birthday and I met his on Halloween. I said I love you at four months and he immediately said it back. We first slept together after eight months, when we went skiing in New Mexico. That was the same weekend we hypothetically discussed marriage. By one year, we were making serious plans and that Thanksgiving, I had a ring. A week later, we’d set a date.
Just kidding… I was totally a prude.
We were married just shy of two years after that first date and bought our home a year later. Aside from the election year of back-to-back pandemic IVF cycles, followed by that time I almost died in childbirth, our relationship has gone pretty smoothly.
We’re genuinely happy.
We are each other’s best friends.
There is no one I’d rather see every single day, beyond my baby girls andmy Gramma.
Still, quite often, he drives me absolutely mad.
As a former 23-year-old divorcee from a terrifying relationship, I can honestly say that I have never considered leaving Jake. I know what a bad marriage looks like and this ain’t it. That doesn’t mean we don’t fight. We met as whole people. We weren’t clueless youngsters from a Nicholas Sparks novel, embarking on an adventure together, with no idea what lay before us. We were grown adults possessing clearly set ideas about how the world works and the best way to approach it. We were and are both stubborn, opinionated, insufferable know-it-alls… and sometimes we clash.
Indeed, we do take pride in it.
Last night was just such a time. There’s no need to share the details of the fight, as I’m usually a firm believer that one shouldn’t air their dirty laundry in public, but I can assure you, Jake was in the wrong. I was the victim of course… though there may have been a throw pillow hurled in his direction, before I tearfully left to take a walk around the neighborhood. As I walked, pregnant and hormonal, I thought of all of Jake’s flaws. He’s stubborn, pushy, has the pride of ten men, and may or may not be a robot completely incapable of human emotion. Then I thought of all of my flaws. I’m often neurotic and high-strung, stressing out easily over inconsequential details. I, admittedly, have a flare for the dramatic and cry easily. Then, I acknowledged that combined, these flaws… actually complement each other quite well. Where I’m unsure and anxious, Jake is confident to the point of arrogance. In the midst of my stress, he’s always there with that Texan drawl, assuring me that “It’ll be alright”. While he takes few things too seriously, I highlight their urgency, sometimes quite necessarily. While he sits stoic, I rant about the injustice of the world. Despite our flaws, despite the fact that other people often wonder how, we do still fit. He is the string to my kite and remembering that, I began to think of all the reasons I love my husband.
He’s hardworking. When Jake left oil, at my request, he started at the literal bottom working on sewer lines for the City of Cherokee. He made eleven dollars an hour, at a time when I was making more than double that, despite having a bachelor’s degree in hydrology and several years of oilfield experience. He took call shifts and worked all-nighters and never once complained or acted like it was beneath him. He spent his weekends helping his parents on the ranch. Even now, he spends a good deal of his time off doing chores around the house, helping me fulfill whatever grand new vision I’ve formed. He is truly the hardest working individual I’ve ever met.
He’s ambitious. Five years after taking his $11 per hour position, Jake has a lengthy title that, summed up, means he’s the stormwater manager for the entire city. He spends his days explaining to engineers why their building permits were denied and rebuffing their attempts to resolve the whole “misunderstanding” with a sexist joke and a good ol’ boy handshake. He draws up plans, gives presentations, prepares for audits, and fights for budget items. Were I still working as a librarian, he would officially be making more money, just as I wagered he would five years ago. There have even been talks of him eventually becoming the director of public works. He will always strive for more. In the process, he’ll always take care of his family.
He’s responsible. One of my requirements when dating, was to find someone who didn’t need me to be the grown up in the relationship. I didn’t want to have to budget someone else’s money and time, pick up after them, or nag them to do household chores. Sticker charts are for children, not adult men. While Jake and I sometimes disagree about which chores take priority, idle is not a word one could use to describe him. He is always working on some project, digging drains in our yard, tilling the garden, filling in holes the dogs dug, installing a closet kit or building shelves for the girls’ new bedroom. Not once in our marriage have I ever felt like he consistently failed to do his share.
He’s even-tempered. On our third date, Jake and I met at a Fourth of July festival. He was at least thirty minutes late with no prior explanation, because his cell phone had died. I had seriously considered going home, but with no other holiday plans, I decided to stick around at least until it bordered on truly pathetic. When he arrived, I was flustered and awkward, having worried I’d been stood up again, so I forgot the blanket I’d brought to lay out until we were halfway to the other side of the park. I expected Jake to be annoyed at having to turn back, but he seemed entirely unphased. Growing up in a volatile household, this was a balm to the senses I’d never deliberately sought. Since the beginning, Jake has been cool-headed, rarely raising his voice or even getting angry. This stoicism occasionally presents itself as a lack of emotion or feeling overall, but day-to-day, it’s quite comforting to know that this marriage only includes one irrational partner.
He’s funny. I’d met stoic, even-tempered men before Jake, but they all seemed to take themselves too seriously. Jake takes nothing seriously. While that sometimes drives me a little crazy, it works to my benefit as well. The man is nearly impossible to offend. I’ve only managed it once, when he came out dressed for his family’s Thanksgiving in a rodeo vest and cowboy hat. I’d never attended a holiday with him, so I didn’t realize this was how everyone in his family of cowboys and rodeo performers dressed for nice gatherings. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have offered to put on my Buzz Lightyear costume. Yet, in five years, that’s the only time I’ve hurt his feelings. As obnoxious as his borderline arrogance can be, Jake is confident enough for the most self-deprecating of jokes. He can laugh at himself, which makes it sting a lot less when he laughs at my own blunders and antics. I, myself, am not typically known for my gravity, which makes for a delightful marriage. Jake and I don’t even drive with the radio on, instead opting to talk and joke until we laugh ourselves sick. Being married to him is just fun. I love that my girls will witness that.
He’s a fantastic dad. Growing up, my parents loved me. They just weren’t very good at it. As a result, I’ve sometimes doubted my ability to be the mom I hope to be, but I have not for a moment doubted Jake as a father. He’s never shied away from feedings, tantrums, or dirty diapers. Since I’ve been pregnant, I’ve struggled in the mornings, only recently able to get up with him. He’s taken on getting the girls fed and settled in their play yard before he leaves work for several months now. It’s not just the duties of parenthood at which he excels, though. It’s also the joys. Jake comes home for lunch every single day, cheerfully getting the girls up from their nap and helping to feed them, often taking the lead depending on how I feel or if I’m working on something else. When he comes home, it’s clear he can’t wait to see his little ladies, letting them crawl all over him, stealing his hat, badge, and phone. He loves being a father and he’s really good at it.
He’s masculine, without being chauvinistic. When I was dating, I made a lot of exaggerative jokes about requiring a classically masculine man. A Real Man was Louis from Interview With a Vampire, crying one tear every thousand years. If he wasn’t a better shot than I was, he wasn’t a Real Man. Real Men didn’t drive sedans, but pickups. I’m sure I could search the early days of this blog for more examples. This was all hyperbole, of course. I’ve met some great guys who fit none of these descriptors. Manicured, well-pressed men just never did it for me. The catch, however, was that the men I described often came with antiquated, even downright offensive ideas of gender roles… until I met Jake. Jake cooks the majority of our meals. He never balks at changing a dirty diaper or cleaning a toilet. When I was working full time, he respected a career that most men I’d met openly mocked and we split the household chores 50/50. He’s not exactly one for flowery words, but now that I’m home, he frequently mentions how much we all benefit. He doesn’t belittle my contribution as a stay-at-home mom, make me qualify my time, or attempt to control our finances. I’ve also still never seen him cry and he’s a better shot than I am. Oh, and he drives a pickup.
He has never, not once, asked me to change. My entire life, I’ve never quite felt like I belong. It’s difficult to say that without unintentional Breakfast Club emphasis, but I mean it without drama or angst. I’ve always operated on a slightly different frequency than everyone else, often unamused by popular comedy or overly interested in odd topics. I like to be around people, but get anxious around too many. I’m a homebody, but I never stop talking. I prefer crafts to sports, but frequently roll my eyes at what passes for art. I’m too conservative for liberal circles, too liberal for conservative circles, and too opinionated to keep my mouth shut. I’ve zero interest in the personality tests that attempt to make me feel better about such attributes and will overzealously cite studies about how they’re complete and utter hogwash. I’m too quiet at times, too loud at others. I always choose the wrong moment to share that anecdote about Pablo Escobar’s hippo menagerie taking over Columbia.
In the last seven years, though, I’ve realized that all of this is okay. I don’t need to fit in with the mean girls of my twenties. I don’t have to pretend to possess a political bent when I don’t. It doesn’t actually matter if I bring up the legalization of marijuana with the wrong audience. Jake has never once asked me to change anything about myself. From my weight, to my hair, to my volume, to my beliefs, to my interests, to my poise, to my temperament. Jake has never criticized me or been embarrassed by my awkwardness or clumsiness. He’s never asked me to be anything other than exactly who I am, so the least I can do, is offer him the same courtesy and love him, flaws and all.
From the time Jake and I started dating, I knew that we would always have some interests we just don’t share. Jake listens to political podcasts throughout the day. I love reading so much that I have an audiobook playing in my earbuds nearly constantly. He likes to work outside. I like to do crafts. He likes playing video games. I like watching the nostalgic TV shows of my youth… which are objectively bad. For example…
1999’s Roswell tells the story of Liz, a high school sophomore who works at the alien themed restaurant her parents own in Roswell, New Mexico, alongside her best friend Maria. In episode one, Liz’s and Maria’s lives are forever changed when Liz is shot and healed by Max, a 16-year-old alien played by 26-year-old Jason Behr. Seriously, if y’all thought Riverdale was bad, just check out some of these early 00’s shows.
Everyone complains about unrealistic physical standards for teenage girls, but this was what they told us high school sophomore boys should look like in the year 2000.
I’ll only briefly mention Roswell’s primary lovers, Max and Liz, the16-year-old “soulmates,” when discussing it’s greatest transgressions. Today, media seems to understand that most teenagers are too young to make lifelong commitments to one another, particularly when the basis of their relationship is life-threatening drama. While half of us in the South might still be divorced by 25, the cinematic era of Noah and Ally has mostly passed. However, in the year 2000, it was just beginning and Max and Liz were pretty standard representatives. Also not entirely unique, the level of romance from Max defined unattainable as he literally risked his life for Liz on loop, professed his undying love in flowery, swoon-worthy language, and even refused to accept her rejection of him, because he knew she loved him. What can I say? We all thought low-level stalking was hot in the early 00s.
It was Maria and Michael who fans insisted provided the most realistic depiction of high school dating. If that’s true, millennials all needed massive amounts of therapy. Only recently have I noticed how absolutely horrible this 22-year-old teenage boy is to his romantic interest. Maria repeatedly risks her car, her relationship with her mother, her job, her academic standing, and her heart for Michael and he walks all over her. Nearly every episode features Michael telling Maria that he doesn’t care about her or their relationship, as she begs for his affection and support for the first two seasons. Only in the final season does Michael gain any modicum of decency as a boyfriend and Maria isn’t the only one who thinks it’s too little too late. Of all the criticisms I’ve seen of unhealthy romance in young adult media, I honestly think this one is the worst depictions.
As much as I adore Roswell, despite it’s damaging relationships, I must admit that the real failing is in the terribly inconsistent and indecisive writing. First and foremost, there’s a confusing amount of longingly staring through windows for a show with a “they’re among us” primary plot… as in so much that you’re not really sure if you’re watching a science fiction show at all, sometimes. Additionally, there’s definitely an element of “Where are their parents?!?!”, specifically with Max and Isabel, who play siblings who were adopted by the perfect upper-middle class family and Liz, whose parents own and literally live in the restaurant that serves as their hangout. These teenagers take off for days and even weeks at a time, with little to no explanation, and no one notices. While there is a weak effort to address this by assigning Maria a free-spirited former teen mother who somewhat “gets” her daughter’s behavior and Michael being an emancipated minor, parents in Roswell only really exist to further the storyline. I cannot understand why these shows still star teenage characters. Why not tell the same story starring characters the age of the actors portraying them, in their late teens and early twenties? They’d still be relatable, but the parents that are so lazily written out would no longer be an obstacle.
There’s also the origins and powers of the aliens to address. Historically, the alleged spaceship crash occurred in 1947, which Roswell acknowledges by stating that the four aliens were incubated in a form of cocoon for 42 years before emerging as six-year-olds, who were discovered walking naked and alone in the dessert. It’s quickly noted, though, as a major and recurring plot point, that the aliens don’t have human blood and any sampling of their DNA risks exposure. I’m not a social worker, but I’m pretty sure any child found abandoned in the dessert is undergoing extensive medical testing to verify health and potentially track down parents. Yet Max, Isabel, and Michael have gone ten years without a single blood draw.
As for their powers, it’s explained that the aliens can “manipulate molecular structures.” Well, isn’t that… insanely broad. Despite these seemingly limitless powers, we see the aliens struggle constantly, even declaring that they don’t all have certain abilities, such as healing wounds, which would fall decidedly under manipulating molecular structures. Ultimately, it’s revealed that the aliens are actually alien/human hybrids who have been engineered to use the full capacity of the human brain and that that’s where the powers originate. I’ll ignore the flawed science there and note that later in the show, we find out that with the help of a mysterious structure called the Granolith, the aliens can actually time travel or even return to their home planet where even humans can apparently survive just fine. The scope of these alien powers fluctuates endlessly throughout the show, with some new ones developing while old ones are simultaneously forgotten. For example, two characters rob a store without bothering to change anything about their appearance, which would not only fall under manipulation of molecular structures, but also buying a wig.
Overall, the plots of Roswell are just inconsistent and baffling, with the local police acting as the first enemy, before the sheriff joins the team when the FBI becomes the primary enemy until they… just lose interest? The main villain then shifts to an alien race serving the ruler of the alien’s home planet, who they defeat… with essentially no trouble at all.
A major and unresolved plot point occurs in season two, when Liz finds out from Future Max that she must end her relationship with him before Tess leaves, leading to the destruction of the world in 2014, Liz feigns cheating to turn Max away from her… even though Tess ultimately leaves anyway, pregnant with his child, after she betrays the group and the world is… fine. Perhaps the enemies Tess helped kill so easily were the only real threat and simply took their sweet time attacking over the course of 14 years.
In season three, with other aliens as a whole conveniently a threat of the past, Max searches for a way to retrieve his son and faces a much less impressive variety of villains, such as an old lady who wants him to heal her husband, municipal law enforcement, and eventually the FBI, a seemingly far less threatening force at this point in the show.
Roswell isjust generally all over the place, fraught with manufactured and often inconclusive drama, starring actors who are of a completely inappropriate age for the roles they play… and I love it. I have no idea how many times I’ve seen this show, but maintain every confidence that the number will triple over the course of my life. I know it’s crap and I just don’t care. Thirty-four-year old Belle might not obsess over this show as much as 12-year-old Belle did, but it will forever maintain a place in my heart as one of the only real bits of solace I had during middle school.
1999, what a time to be alive. Gilmore Girls also premiered the year I started the sixth grade and quickly became one of my mother’s and my favorite shows. Lorelai Gilmore was the star of this dramedy about a mother who had her 16-year-old daughter, Rory, when she, herself, was 16. As the only child of an upper-middle class family, Lorelai felt stifled and railroaded toward a life she didn’t want. To gain her independence, she ran away to a small, quirky Connecticut village, taking her one-year-old daughter with her, maintaining as little contact as possible with her parents. That is, until the pilot episode, when she needs money for Rory’s tuition to attend a prestigious private school. Antics and tantrums ensue.
This show has a cult-like following and I’m not gonna mince words here… it is toxic as fuck. Not even in my Roswellian obsessed middle school days have I ever been as aggressive in my love of fiction. So, while I once thought it would be fun to participate in this surprisingly active fandom…
… I no longer do.
My inclusion of Gilmore Girls on this list would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge how poorly it’s aged, from the occasionally homophobic and fat-shaming humor to the “Not Like Other Girls” stereotype. While other girls starved themselves to fit into skimpy tops, listened to Avril Levigne, and obsessed over romantic comedies,Lorelai and Rory ate junk food, wore quirky but trendy outfits, listened to The Bangles, and watched classics like The Godfather. While this garners criticism from newer fans, it’s important to consider what it was liketo actually be a young woman in the early 2000’s. It sucked. There was a much more particular mold that women were expected to fit. They were supposed to be blonde, overly tanned, scantily clad, adorably stupid, and very hungry. Watching fair-skinned brunettes wear tasteful but fashionable clothing, discuss classic literature alongside obscure pop culture, and eat whatever they wanted actually was progressive in a time when Abercrombie & Fitch literally sold clothing through nudity.
Another modern critique of Gilmore Girls is Rory’s love interests, particularly Dean, her first boyfriend, who is universally loathed by new fans. In the year 1999, though, Dean was the perfect boyfriend, according to the creators of the show. He was handsome in that Classic White Boy way, understood Rory’s humor and intellect, was protective and attentive, and absolutely adored her. Today, Dean doesn’t quite hold up. What was considered protective 20 years ago, now comes across as controlling, while attentive and adoring is easily interpreted as domineering and obsessive. Even Rory’s second boyfriend, Jess, who embodied the Broody Bad Boy stereotype is often seen as abusive, because we just had much lower standards back then. In fact, many fans hate all of Rory’s love interests, including the Old Money Charmer, who I personally still adore, because what’s not to love about money and charm? What can I say? We were all a little broken in the early 00s and had whopping consent issues.
All in all, I think the above criticisms are valid, though often taken far too seriously by newer fans for a twenty-year-old WB dramedy. Gilmore Girls was never intended to be looked at through a 2022 microscope. Emily Gilmore wasn’t written as a thinly veiled version of The Grandmother from Flowers in the Attic. Lorelai wasn’t the star of Netflix’s The Maid. Rory wasn’t Anna Karenina, though it is a bit prophetic that she claims this was her favorite novel. No, this show was simply meant to be cozy fun and that’s how I choose to take it… despite it’s other issues, because aging isn’t the reason I include Gilmore Girls on a list I’ve labeled as “crap.” No, it’s earned this title from me for the glaring writing flaws. While Gilmore Girls has an undeniably cozy and charming aesthetic, it is honestly one of the most inconsistently written shows I have ever watched. From major plot points to characterization, it’s obvious that the writers of this series were just flying by the seat of their pants for the full seven seasons.
I’ll start with money, which most TV shows address poorly. In Gilmore Girls, however, money is central to the plot of the show, as Lorelai has eschewed her parents’ privileged lifestyle to raise her daughter as a single mom… where she owns her own home in a town that would have exorbitant property taxes for all the festivals it holds. Additionally, Lorelai simply doesn’t live her life as a single mom, ordering take-out nightly, taking impromptu road trips, and going on wild shopping sprees. Only when it’s plot-relevant is Lorelai impeded by her finances, such as when she needs tuition for Rory or her house has a termite problem. Throughout the rest of the series, she has plenty of money for All the Things, despite the entire premise of the show being her escape from wealth and her insistence on being a strong, independent, single mom.
I’m not sure if I’d consider characterization inconsistencies a secondary issue, simply because they’re so egregious in Gilmore Girls. In the beginning of the show, we’re introduced to Dean, the smart, witty new boy in town, who understands all of Rory’s obscure references, enjoys her books, and can build a car… who by season three isn’t sure if he can get into junior college. Lorelai’s eventual love interest, Luke, goes from the title of casual acquaintance in season one to Rory’s lifelong father figure by season six. He starts out as a health nut and an avid fisherman, who hates red meat, but eventually claims he’s disgusted by vegan food and has never had lobster. Lorelai opens the show having spent the last 16 years doing everything she could to be a different kind of mother than Emily, but cuts Rory out of her life completely when she decides to take a semester off from college. Luke’s sister and Jess’s mother is described as a neglectful addict in the beginning of the series, but is later portrayed as just a quirky flake who loves her son. Even Sookie begins the show as the klutzy chef, but seems to get her bearings by the end of the first season, because she never struggles with her recurring injuries again.
It’s not just money and character inconsistencies that plague Gilmore Girls, but entire plot points that are just… dropped, such as when Rory joins a sorority at school and it’s never again mentioned. When Lorelai discovers that her boyfriend is suing her father, it’s a big enough deal to end the relationship, but we never hear about it again. An entire episode centers around Jess visiting his dad in California, but after the proposed spinoff is ultimately nixed, we never get a resolution to that incredibly dull storyline we had to endure. Jackson takes on Taylor to become town selectman, wins, and Taylor has the title again after just a few episodes. When Rory takes time off from Yale and is magically able to graduate on time, she demands and receives a writing job at the Stamford-Eagle Gazette and never again mentions it.
Beyond the financial, character, and plot inconsistencies, Gilmore Girls is a cozy story starring some pretty crummy people. Emily gets all the grief from modern fans and she certainly has her flaws, but Lorelai isn’t exactly a better human. Her relationship with Rory is arguably no greater than Emily’s with Lorelai, as she fosters extreme co-dependency and refuses to act as the adult in the relationship. Furthermore, despite constantly complaining about her mother’s controlling and manipulative nature, she spends most of a season refusing to speak to her daughter, even to share her engagement with her, because Rory hasn’t made the exact choices in life Lorelai wanted. Rory, who starts off a little sassy and very driven, goes on to cheat on or with every boyfriend she ever has and ultimately defines entitlement. And yet… I fully intend to start another rewatch this fall, as I cozy up and enjoy the fake fall leaves of Calif-Connecticut. For all its flaws, there’s just something about Gilmore Girls that keeps me coming back, be it the aesthetic or the What Not to Do guide to motherhood.
Smallville first aired when I was 14, just one year younger than Clark Kent, high school freshman.
Had anyone working for the WB ever actually met a teenager?
Smallville had a pretty simple premise, as a Superman origin story focusing on Clark Kent’s teenage years. As in all Superman renditions, Clark is written as a gawky, awkward teenage boy, who lives and works on his parents’ Kansas farm. Unique to Smallville, however, Clark is played by a literal construction worker/male model, making this description less than believable. While his co-stars are standard fare for the early 00’s WB, meaning far too attractive and stylish, they’re also more appropriately cast for their roles. Simply put, while his classmates walk the halls of Smallville High looking like Seventeen magazine models, Clark Kent looks more like a substitute teacher or the foreman of a construction crew.
Jake and I have actually been making our way through Smallville since the summer of 2020 and it’s been a fun, if absurd, ride. Even for a superhero show, Smallville, while entertaining, is nonsensical in basically every way, such as overall characterization, the teen romances, Clark maintaining his Secret, and everything about the properties of WB kryptonite.
The characters of Smallville aren’t particularly distinctive for an early 00s teen show, initially comprised of beautiful, stylish teens who are, for some reason, considered unpopular. Clark begins his freshman year alongside friends, Chloe and Pete. Chloe is obviously Smallville’s resident Lois Lane until the creators decide to write in the actual Lois Lane in season four. She’s passionate about journalism to the point that she will destroy every relationship she has to get a story for the high school paper, The Torch, over which she seems to have absolute control. It makes perfect sense that Chloe would be in charge of the school paper, though, because she has a ridiculous number of vague professional connections, including someone at the medical examiner’s office, the mental institution, and multiple sources at the Daily Planet. It helps that she has advanced computer programming skills and can hack into literally any database without getting caught, at the age of 15. For the first three seasons, Chloe is in love with Clark, because that’s why female side characters existed in the early 00s. By far her most annoying trait, however, is her complete inability to speak in normal human sentences. Literally every line she has is such an overblown attempt to sound clever that you wonder if she’s ever actually heard people talk.
“Your online horoscope suggests that you try not to flaunt your excitement which I know will be hard since you’ve been waiting for this date since, like your first growth spurt.”
“Clark Kent at the keyboard? Have I been downsized in the bureaucratic world of superheroes?”
“Canary, you are caught in a virtual cage and you don’t even know it, but I can help you fly the coop.”
This goes on for entire episodes. As for Pete, it’s been 20 years and he did not age well. While Chloe eventually has an entire in-depth backstory, having little to do with Clark, Pete’s character revolves solely around protecting Clark’s secret… even though he sucks at it, taking every chance and excuse he gets to try to out Clark. Regardless, it’s not a good look in 2022 to have such a cliché Token Black Character as Pete Ross. Considering other POC characters, such as Jesse from Roswell, Lane from Gilmore Girls, Skills from One Tree Hill, and Gunn from Angel, it wasn’t a great look for 2001, either.
A Superman origin story would be incomplete without Lex Luthor, of course, and Michael Rosenbaum is still considered by many to have portrayed him best of all. Smallville didn’t only present a young, handsome, successful Lex Luthor, but a sympathetic one. Lex starts out as a something of a local benefactor, befriending Clark, his family, and even his friends out of genuine kindness and interest, despite their continual distrust in him because of his father, the initial villain of the story. At times, it comes off as creepy that he’s 26 and hanging out with a bunch of teenagers, but it wasn’t intended as such when the show was written. Over the seasons, Lex starts to feel hurt, then angry, and even betrayed by Clark for refusing to confide in him and the two have a falling out amidst Lex’s gradual rise to arch-nemesis. If there is any reason to watch this campy show, it is Lex Luthor’s descent into madness and, for a teen show, the WB does not disappoint in how very evil he becomes, from trying to kill Johnathan Kent, to essentially having groomed Lana to be his lover, to committing war crimes.
Finally, there are Clark’s love interests, Lana and then Lois. Lana is Clark’s first love in Smallville and she is absolutely insufferable. I’ll give this show credit for the fact that the majority of the relationships are relatively healthy… except for Clark and Lana who spend far more time having angsty conversations about why they can’t be together than they ever actually spend together. This is primarily because Lana demands that Clark share all of his secrets with her from the very beginning, eventually even teaming up with Lex to investigate him, despite being quite secretive herself. As the show goes on, Lana gets progressively worse, as do the storylines surrounding her, from her sleeping with a teacher, to becoming a witch, to hooking up with Lex. Despite the writers’ insistence that she’s a deep, interesting, sympathetic character, she’s continually proven to be quite the opposite as the show goes on, eventually going toe-to-toe with Lex in corruption.
On the bright side, though Lois definitely fits the Mysterious Gorgeous Bitch trope of the early 00s, when compared to Lana, she’s America’s sweetheart. Lois isn’t a bad character, so much as she’s a bit too abrasive for the iconic role. In the early 00s, strong women were often written as physically beautiful, but closed-off and overtly rude. This is definitely on display in Smallville as Lois repeatedly mocks and insults Clark, despite his and his family’s every kindness. The animosity doesn’t destroy the chemistry between the two, but it’s also never been the case for Lois in any other version of Superman, to be this hateful to Clark, when she just considered Clark to be somewhat dorky, at worst.
Perhaps one of the biggest failings of the writing in Smallville is around Clark’s “secret.” I use quotes, because eventually everyone in Clark’s life knows about his powers, and if they don’t, they should, because he uses them in public constantly. In nearly every episode of this show, there’s a scene where Clark uses his super speed on a public street, yet when his cousin Kara does the same, he throws a tantrum about the importance of subtlety. The only characters kept in the dark for any real length of time are Lana, Lex, and Lois, solely for purposes of plot and overwrought drama. Even guest stars are frequently let in on this secret that isn’t, to the point that there is just no way that it’s not public knowledge by the end of season three.
Finally, the biggest flaw in Smallville: Kryptonite. It’s comic book canon that Kryptonite comes in multiple forms and Clark is impacted in a variety of ways. The problemis that there’s so much Kryptonite in Smallville and it’s affects vary so wildly. For the first several seasons, this show is pretty Monster of the Week with a new kid at school developing miraculous powers that are usually only dangerous because they’re being used in the wrong way. There are two students who can control bugs, one who can turn people into mannequins, another who can freeze people, a young Amy Adams who can suck the fat out of people until they die, several with various forms of telekinesis, a reporter who can turn into water, a few different seductresses… and the list continues. For some reason, however, the Luthors are the only individuals in the world who are interested in studying and experimenting with this magic rock, even though it’s all over town. You’d think that would pose a problem for Clark. Well, sometimes it does… and a lot of times it doesn’t, like when he can’t see it’s in the same room with him yet, while other times, it’s just too hard to roll away from it. Different kinds of Kryptonite require different levels of exposure too, as red Kryptonite appears to be topical, while silver has to be embedded in the skin. The aliens of Roswell have more consistent powers than Clark’s and everyone else’s response to Kryptonite. It’s just a persistent and glaring plot hole in every other episode.
Despite all these issues, Smallville seems to have been the beginning of the the current superhero TV saga and, as consistently ridiculous as it is, there’s something comforting about its camp. Like many shows of the time, it of course ran for far too long, so it may be another two years before Jake and I finish it, but we have both enjoyed it, even if it’s half in mockery.
One Tree Hill
One Tree Hill started my sophomore year of high school and ended my first year of grad school. It told the story of two brothers in their junior year, who shared only a father, Dan. Lucas, was raised by his father’s high school sweetheart, Karen, who he abandoned when he discovered she was pregnant, and his brother Keith. Dan immediately impregnated another woman, Deb, who came from money and could help him become the wealthy businessman he was in the show. Naturally, he married Deb and raised his second son, Nathan while neglecting Lucas. The two grew up as rivals in the town of Tree Hill, only for their relationship to come to a head when they found themselves on the same high school basketball team.
Y’all, the only thing I hated more than sports in high school were the popular kids who bullied me. I have no idea why I enjoyed this show. I think I felt some kinship toward Haley, Luke’s nerdy best friend, though she was far more poised and adorable than I have ever been. Perhaps it was just the depiction of the outcasts becoming accepted that I enjoyed, because in One Tree Hill, even the losers were eventually included to some degree. There was also the romantic element, which received far more screen time than the basketball plot, since everyone slept with everyone in this incestuous little town. I was particularly invested in the love story of Nathan and Haley, who married and had a baby as teenagers, the pinnacle of early 00’s Don’t Try This At Home teenage girl fantasies. Despite my enduring affection for this terrible show, basically every single thing about it is beyond problematic.
I’ve mentioned the relationships of both Roswell and Gilmore Girls, intentionally avoiding the word “toxic,” as I consider it hyperbolic and overused… unless one is describing the Gilmore Girls fandom. That being said, basically every relationship in One Tree Hill, outside of Nathan’s and Haley’s could only be described as toxic. Lucas opens the show utterly obsessed with Peyton, Nathan’s girlfriend and the absolute embodiment of the Mysterious Gorgeous Bitch trope. In Peyton’s case, the mystery for her atrocious personality was the fact that her mother had died while she was young, her father worked out of town, and her boyfriend was absolutely horrible to her. She wasn’t alone in this title, however. Nope. That moniker was shared with Lucas’s other romantic partner, Brooke, Peyton’s best friend.
This is what teenage girls were supposed to look like in 2004.
Throughout several seasons of the show, Lucas plays Peyton and Brooke off of one-another, frequently cheating on Brooke with Peyton, yet never concerned with the fact that he and his brother are wiener buddies twice over… because the teenagers in this town are apparently in the porn industry. Literally every relationship depicted in this show is horribly unhealthy and sets a terrible example for teenage girls. Even Nathan and Haley are only a dim light in the dark when she kisses another guy before going on tour with him. Yes, Haley goes on tour, because aside from the toxic relationships, the plot points in this show are ludicrous.
It’s been awhile since my last rewatch of One Tree Hill, but I do recall that over the course of this show, the following storylines take place:
Nathan becomes an emancipated minor to escape his insane parents and marries Haley at 16.
Haley leaves Nathan to go on tour with Chris Keller, played by up-and-coming singer Tyler Hilton, who played Elvis in Walk the Line, but otherwise never made it.
Bullied teen, Jimmy, from the first few episodes brings a gun to school and holds a classroom full of students hostage, eventually shooting himself alone in a hall with Dan and Keith. Dan takes advantage of the opportunity to shoot his brother and blames Jimmy.
Peyton meets the brother she’s never heard of, but discovers he’s really an obsessed stalker who wants to rape her.
Nathan gets involved with small town gangsters who are really into betting on high school basketball (is that even a thing?) and gets caught throwing games.
Haley gets pregnant and intends to renew her vows with Nathan, but gets in a car accident on the way and nearly dies.
A witness comes forward and puts Dan in prison for the murder of Keith.
Four years pass and we find Nathan in a wheelchair after getting in a fight at a bar and ruining his chances at playing professional basketball for a team that just signed him.
Nathan and Haley’s crazy nanny tries to seduce Nathan and takes Dan hostage, posing as a nurse.
I’ll stop there, even though there are way more ridiculous plot points to note, because I want to mention one of the biggest issues that makes this show complete trash, and that is the insane level of success that every single character reaches after college. While the first four seasons of One Tree Hill tell the story of the characters’ junior and senior year of high school, even writers for the WB/CW seemed to realize that these actors were just getting too old for these roles. So, instead of writing a story where everyone went to college together, they chose to skip ahead four years to age 22, wheneveryone has their shit together.
I don’t know where you folks were at 22, but I was married to a psychopath and substitute teaching while working at a rec center for minimum wage, driving around with my valuables in my trunk so my ex wouldn’t pawn them. I certainly wasn’t married to an almost professional basketball player, down on his luck but still rolling in it from his sign-on deal, raising an adorable four-year-old, and reaching troubled teens with my love of literature. I knew zero published authors working as a high school basketball coach for their love of the game. I also didn’t have any friends who’d started luxury clothing lines or become successful sportscasters. I certainly didn’t know any22-year-old record producers/club owners the year I graduated college. I’d buy the plot point that a stoner’s dog ate Dan’s heart before I’d buy that anyone is that successful right out of college…
No really, I’m not making this up.
… and still, I find myself trying to figure out if I can finish Roswell in time to start One Tree Hill with enough time to start Gilmore Girls in the fall, while Jake and I continue to truck along on Smallville, because there’s just something so comforting about the shows I watched as a teenager, no matter how ridiculous. Perhaps it’s the stress of soaring gas prices and inflation and the threat of a world war that leads me to seek solace in pure nostalgia. Perhaps I just take comfort in the fact that Jake will never impregnate my alien rival… I’ll never not know who the father of my baby is… my former best friend won’t attempt to assassinate my father… and a dog will probably never eat my heart… but what can I say? When it comes to 00s shows, I just have terrible taste.
It’s that time of year, y’all: The Holidays. I love the last quarter of the year… exhaustively. I don’t even know that it’s accurate to limit my affection to the holidays. I just love fall and winter, as a whole. When everyone else is overwhelmed or depressed because Christmas is over, I’ve still got neutral winter decorations up and a list of non-Christmas seasonal movies from Frozen to The Thing to The Shining to Little Women. When an ice storm inevitably blows through, I’ll sit cozily inside drinking hot chocolate, secure in the knowledge that the generator will keep me that way. Now that life is returning to normal after the utter trauma that was 2020 and I don’t have to spend this time of year isolated and wondering if I’ll ever be a mom, I am even more enthusiastic. In fact, I scheduled our Christmas card photoshoot in September and am thrilled to send out the most basic middle class white people card ever! Oh, the things that excite infertility survivors. Now, to dress my family…
Still donning my postpartum twin mama body, I’m not thrilled with the way I look in any of my old dresses. I’ve been searching for something in my style that’s a bit more forgiving in the mid-section, while simultaneously trying to find clothes for Jake and the girls that coordinate. While my girls look cute in literally everything, I can’t seem to feel that way about my own body, so I’ve purchased a good half dozen items from Amazon in the hopes that at least one of them won’t make me cry.
Oh, to see myself through the same lens as my precious Violet, who literally looks exactly like me. Ideally, I could go to one of my favorite mid-range/budget stores and try things on in person, but I’ve tried, y’all, and I’ve come to a simple conclusion: all clothes are jammies now!
I’ve never been one to require sharp lines and stiff collars to look put together. I barely style my hair. My iron is strictly used for crafting. In the full year I spent trying to wear heels, I looked like a newborn giraffe learning to walk every single time. I’m also aware that our standards for dress changed during the height of the pandemic. I’ve mentioned how I, myself, forgot how to apply makeup after spending the year 2020 in athletic shorts, tank tops, and a founding father’s ponytail. As we approach our “new normal,” though…
– raise your hand if you’re weary of that phrase –
… it would be nice if we could bridge the gap between Life As We Knew It and The End Times. Covid-19 is here to stay and even if I’m alone in my line of thinking, I’m ready to resume dressing like a member of civilized society, instead of an Olsen Twin pajama party guest. I don’t feel like I’m setting the bar too incredibly high in my flats and simple dresses, either. I wear a lot of comfy cardigans, y’all. However, literally every store I’ve visited, from Target and Ross to Old Navy and Kohl’s has exclusively dealt in jammy-jams.
Throughout my adulthood, there has consistently been one or two trends targeting comfort over style, like maxi dresses and jeggings. I concede that these have their place, but it’s not just comfy pants and oversized crop tops anymore. Even the dresses are made of sweatpants material and old nightgowns.
It’s not just the baggy cuts, either. It’s the fabrics and the prints. I recognize a matronly nightgown when I see it, folks. I wore a lot of them to sleepovers in high school… because I was cool. Call it a maxi dress all you want, but whereas the same print might look feminine and cheery on a sundress, when you use classic florals without clean lines, it’s a nightgown.
It seems that pandemic trends have bled into the worst of 90s fashion, too. Instead of bringing back the tailored styles of blazers and pleated skirts, à la Cher Horowitz and Ashley Banks, or the bright youthful colors of Romy and Michelle, we’ve brought back the grunge of the cast of Clerks. Is there a way to wear earth-toned stripes and not look like you just rolled out of bed and smoked a bowl? Sure! It’s not with baggy drawstring-waisted cargo pants, though. Can lots of denim work? I frequently visit cowboy country, so I’m gonna say yes. Is there a time and a place for camouflage? Of course! It’s in a deer stand. Is there a way to wear tie-dye without looking like a 90’s mom at a theme park? I just Googled it and I’m going to have to say no. If that’s your thing, though, go for it, but perhaps choose a tie-dyed shirt, some fitted jeans, and brightly colored Converse, instead of a dress made of old sweats.
There’s a reason the models above are all hot, y’all. It’s because when normal people dress like the mannequins at Target and Old Navy and Kohl’s in 2021, they look like they’re about to take a nap, go work in the yard, or sell you a dime bag. The exact same prints and fabricslook just fine when they’re not so shapeless or paired with something equally baggy and ratty.
Look! I even found something flattering in tie-dye and there is a way to wear plaid without looking like Jay and Silent Bob. I’m afraid you’re on your own for camouflage.
I have never been one for fashion. Keeping up with trends is not only expensive, but as you can tell, I rarely find them to my taste. My wardrobe could be called a “capsule wardrobe,” not because of the modern minimalist movement, but because I’m cheap and grew up in a hoarder’s household, so I like to throw things away. I buy basic styles that I appreciate and find flattering, regardless of what’s in style, and anyone who doesn’t like it can go kick rocks. If I follow only one rule of fashion, it’s that loose on top requires fitted on bottom and vice versa. Modern trends, however, seem to have thrown this classic concept out the window to the point that we may as well all be wearing Snuggies on our nights out. I can’t find simple, flattering pieces anymore. You’d think that, even during this time of athleisure and 90s grunge, I’d be able to find some soft A-line t-shirt dresses or cute cotton fit-and-flares, but no! My only options are the costumes from She’s All That, before she gets hot.
I suppose, if I don’t want to look like an extra from Mall Rats, I have no choice but to buy the same three dresses in every color on Amazon until I like my body enough to wear all of the cute clothes I bought before we all collectively decided to let ourselves go. With as low as I rank fashion in my priorities, of all the reasons I am so ready for this pandemic to end, I never thought it would be one of them or that I’d scorn pajamas to this extent.
When I was little, the 1986 film The Worst Witch was one of my favorite Halloween movies. I could never catch it when it was on TV, though, and eventually forgot all about it, replacing it with cinematic classics such as Halloweentown and Twitches, both of which could probably win Oscars when compared with the former. Several years ago, I remembered this old favorite of mine, bought it on DVD, and now watch it a weird number of times throughout the month of October… and sometimes, like… March. My husband must occasionally wonder if he did, in fact, marry an awkward, chubby, 12-year-old, as he comes in the living room to see me singing along to this terrible children’s movie, eating “candy salad” from a ramakin.
While Netflix has recently produced a much more polished version of The Worst Witch, based on the 1970’s book series, in a multi-season TV show, there’s something about Tim Curry passionately singing “Has anyone seen my tambourine?” that can’t be beat. Don’t you worry, though! You don’t have to buy this gem on Amazon. It’s free on YouTube, in its entirety, and it is worth every penny. Here are my thoughts, 25 years after my first magical viewing.
Why does Mildred get all of the blame when she and Maud make the wrong potion? Maud was the one caught trying to sneak her spell book in, so she could cheat. Both girls were equally cavalier about the amount of each ingredient used. Why was Mildred the only one sent to Miss Cackle’s office?
As a kid, I really empathized with Mildred, but as an adult, I realize she’s kind of a mess. She insists that she tries and can’t help the fact that things always go wrong, but she also admits to blatantly ignoring simple instructions, like gathering pondweed at midnight. How hard is it to read a clock, Mildred? These problems are of your own making…
… and yet, nothing excuses an educator speaking to a student like this: “Oh dear, Mildred. Oh Mildred, oh dear. You must be the worst witch in the entire school.”
Seriously?!?! She’s twelve. The conversation even ends with a playful “Was I nasty enough for you?” You mean when you told her that she ranked last in thewhole school, because she made a potion incorrectly? How much room for error is allowed? Is not the punishment for failing a test a bad grade? This wasn’t even supposed to be the cruel teacher! Speaking of which…
… when Mildred and Maud are gossiping about Miss Hardbroom and she appears in their room to yell at only Mildred, did she curse her name like Lord Voldemort or is she always watching this child? That’s disturbing and I don’t think she should be allowed within 300 yards of a school.
I understand that the girls are awarded their cats in order of excellence, meaning the lowest performers get their cats last, but they still get cats. I don’t actually think this is a bad system. We coddle weakness too much, today. There’s nothing wrong with rewarding high performers. That being said, who was in charge of procuring the cats and why couldn’t they find enough black ones? Black kittens are literally some of the easiest to find, because they’re the least popular. Even if they couldn’t find a black cat for the lowest performer, why couldn’t they change the color in a world where humans can be turned into animals?
Ethel Hallow is one of the villains of this story. She’s a bully and deserves the criticism she gets for it. That being said, much of Mildred’s distaste for her is voiced in regards to her successes, getting upset at how often she does well in class or is chosen first for games. “Just like her to be the first one to get her kitten to ride.” Well, Mildred, if you actually made the effort you keep claiming you’re making in a high-pitched whine, perhaps you’d be more successful in school, too.
These villains are fabulous. I love that they plot their evil moves in song and dance, while wearing multi-colored robes, that match their hair. Once again, I am Team Villain.
Miss Hardbroom is clearly the Severus Snape of this tale and just like Snape, she never redeems herself. “Ethel Hallow shows promise, Mildred Hubble, anything but. Mark my words, Mildred Hubble will never graduate as a witch from this academy!” “That’s very good. Who’s that? Oh. Mildred Hubble. Four.” What are the professional standards for educators in the wizarding world?!?! What does the interview process look like? Do they require teachers to hold vendettas against their least favorite students? Just as the Dursley’s made me cautious of British CPS, this school needs some serious oversight. Why doesn’t Miss Cackle take this awful woman down a peg and remind her that her role is to support Mildred and build her up? Then again, why didn’t Dumbledore intervene in Snape’s abuse?
How did Mildred think ketchup was blood? She might not be the worst witch, but she also might be the dumbest.
Mildred didn’t just scream in terror at the sight of ketchup, she screamed literally 21 times when Ethel came out of the bathroom wearing a mask. Why do these witches scare more easily than humans?
Why wasn’t Mildred suspicious of Ethel for being so generous as to loan her a broom? I kind of want to put another check in the dumbest witch column, especially with the pointed and sinister comment “It’ll take very good care of you”. It wasn’t just Mildred, though. No one raised a brow to the school bully loaning a costly piece of equipment to the spaz who bested her in front of the whole school. Now that I mention it, are there not school brooms? My schools always had optional communal equipment, even if it wasn’t as high of quality as something you might buy personally. Hogwarts had school brooms and I have a hard time believing that an almost 400 years old international academy for witches wouldn’t. Is there a school-wide conspiracy to humiliate Mildred?
Why do these girls want huge, sexy noses if no one else in their world has them? This seems like an offensive stereotype of witches, when even the young and attractive ones, like Miss Spellbinder and Miss Cackle’s niece, Donna, don’t have them.
What fucking crossroads demon did Tim Curry make a bargain with and how many years are left in his deal? This man is a household name and has starred, almost exclusively, in movies that can only be described as fabulously terrible. You have not lived until you see Tim Curry’s disturbingly sensual music video cutaway from The Worst Witch, as he flies around in a cape singing about how gremlins are going to mess up every cassette from London to Idaho.
“Oh Miss Hardbroom, your girls? … I love it, Miss Hardroom. Let’s get this show on the road.” Iwant to give the writers the benefit of the doubt, here, and assume they were going for flirty towards Miss Hardbroom, a consenting adult, but the Grand Wizard might be a sex trafficker.
“I was a fool to trust you! You abominable child, Mildred! Get out of my sight!” “Go to bed without supper and I’ll see you in my office, tomorrow at noon.” “If these are the witches of the future, I hate to think what the future will bring. What is this generation coming to? I’ve got to split. I’ve got another gig.”
It was a performance put on by children. It’s like a flashback to my years of softball… and basketball… and volleyball… and just gym class.
Why does “turn these witches into snails” turn witches in to snails, but “Ethel Hallow is now a frog” turns Ethel Hallow into a pig? Why does no one believe the former, when they saw the latter? I don’t understand the rules of magic in this world.
Why would Ethel confess to Maud, Mildred’s best friend, that she bewitched her broom, humiliating not just Mildred, but the entire school, in front of their Celebrity Rockstar King? Furthermore, why wasn’t she expelled for this, when Mildred is repeatedly threatened with expulsion for innocuous mistakes? Are there actual guidelines for expulsion or is this just the 80s?
“Once in a purple moon, there is a special young witch, who shines above the rest. Often, she goes unnoticed, because she’s out of step. I have seen this girl trying to fly. Oh, yes, I have. I’ve watched her at play and seen how her friends treated her. The best witch isn’t always the girl who comes out on top of tests. A true witch has witchcraft in her at all times… and this is what you have, Mildred Hubble.”
I… I don’t even know where to begin, folks. First of all, these are bold words from a man who cut his visit short, blowing off a feast that was prepared for him and dismissing an entire generation, because a child made a mistake in what amounted to a school play. Second, on what is he basing his praise of Mildred? He’s never even met her, which brings me to my third point. When was he watching her?!?! The Grand Wizard visits for the first time on Halloween night, but he’s “watched her at play and seen how her friends treat her”? I once had a man show up on my doorstep in a hoodie at 9:00 at night and tell me that he was a Mormon and wanted to come inside and speak to me about Jesus Christ… and I didn’t piece together the fact that that probably wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up for years. Y’all, even I could tell that the Grand Wizard is 100% buying children.
“Now, Mildred, have you made any plans for this unexpected holiday?” “No, Grand Wizard. I suppose I’d better practice my flying.” “Would you like to practice with me?” “With you?!?” “Oh, absolutely.” ::he said seductively::
I, like everyone else, was determined to be productive when Covid-19 hit my country and the lockdown was implemented, in various stages. I was going to do yoga and all sorts of crafts and read all the books and workout and write and, and, and…
I did do some of those things. I walked a lot and on those walks, I listened to audiobooks. I hand-painted a cartoon portrait of my dogs in a bathtub. I painted and decorated the hall bathroom. I… bought a yoga mat and blocks. Mostly… I watched a lot of TV shows, old and new, good and bad. Here are my thoughts, limited to very mild spoilers only.
Lizzie McGuire: I loved this show as a young teen. It was less about relating to Lizzie, herself, and more about wishing I could relate to her very wholesome experiences, at school and at home. As an adult, I realize that this was a pretty sugarcoated version of the middle school years, though, and I’m thrilled that the reboot fell through. Duff wanted an “honest” depiction of life in your 30’s, claiming that the original show portrayed an honest depiction of middle school and I call shenanigans on that. Not once did one of Lizzie’s classmates fear pregnancy, because she swallowed after her first blowie… and that’s a big part of the appeal for me. Even today, I retroactively envy Lizzie’s home life, with her supportive parents and annoying, poorly disciplined little brother. It’s delightful to see that this is one of those shows you can watch as an adult and realize you now relate to the parents just as much as you once did the kids. They weren’t written as clueless or naïve and I’d say this is still a wonderfully hokey watch, that I can’t wait to share with my girls.
The Mandalorian: I’m not gonna lie. I far prefer Star Trek to Star Wars and have picked many a fight with my husband over who would win in a battle, Spock or Obi Wan… because I am cool. The newest installments to the latter have left me cold and viciously hating Rey, because women can be strong and independent, without being ungrateful assholes. So, I had little interest in The Mandalorian, beyond the cuteness of Baby Yoda, but my husband was really excited about it, as were my library teens… and Baby Yoda was still the primary appeal for me. I watched every episode of this series and I couldn’t tell you much about the plot, past “save the child.” One of my teens recently told me that the reason he loves it so much, is that it’s the closest thing to Firefly that isn’t Firefly. I disagree. Sure, the setting is similar, but the heroes aren’t warm or funny or even attractive and the villains are relatively bland. If you’re a diehard Star Wars fan, you’ll likely love The Mandalorian, but if you can take it or leave it, you’re unlikely to feel any differently about this installment. Baby Yoda is adorable, though.
Once Upon a Time: This Disney/ABC family show is objectively terrible, overall. The CGI sets are laughably bad in the first season and the child actor gets progressively worse as his cuteness wears off. The storylines are engaging and clever in the beginning, but quickly become more about participation trophies and honorary mentions, as the writers work to include every Disney character ever throughout the seasons. Honestly, though, it’s still a really fun watch. It’s nice to enjoy a fantasy story that truly appeals to all ages, including fight scenes and love stories in equal measure, with absolutely no penis. Game of Thrones and True Blood have their appeal, but there is definitely a point where I feel like nurses see less dick. Once Upon a Time is not what I’d call good. It’s campy at times and goes on for far too long. I haven’t finished the show, but I’m absolutely certain that it jumps the shark, probably specifically the one from Finding Nemo, if the reviews are any indication. Still, it keeps me engaged, when I want some harmless drama and excitement… and can stomach the heroes repeatedly releasing the villains and being absolutely shocked when they do something evil, once again.
Big Bang Theory: Originally, BBT was a clever sitcom portraying a demographic often ignored… even if some thought the jokes just made dumb people feel smart. The show truly jumped the shark, however, when all of the relationships and female characters became its central focus. Penny was always a plot device, the Xander, a character to whom the audience could relate, as she asked questions on their behalf. She normalized the nerds and acted as the inevitable love interest. She had a purpose. Bernadette was an entertaining representation of how women can be smart and beautiful, though she received little depth as anything beyond Howard’s gal. Then, Amy Farrah Fowler joined the show, lighting the fuse that was its inevitable explosion. Amy was an offensive stereotype of female intellectuals: frumpy, socially clueless, and boring. She had to “fix” Sheldon, who didn’t need fixing as an asexual character, and refused to respect his boundaries… or those of anyone else on the show. While she did get progressively worse, it wasn’t just her. The jokes became formulaic and the focus entirely shifted, as happens to many sitcoms that run too long. What was once a tale of geeky men exploring their post-college years, became a failed attempt at a nerdy Everybody Loves Raymond with jokes about marriage and parenting dominating the predictable dialogue of literally every single character, including the no-longer-asexual Sheldon… because that’s how sexuality works. If I ever rewatch BBT, I’ll stop before the first wedding and recommend the same.
Friends: David Schwimmer carried this show. Whether you like his character or not, the actor was the best at physical comedy and delivery. From the first episode, Schwimmer sold Ross as the awkward, nerdy, doormat. Did everything about his character age well? No, but neither did a lot of things, so I’m willing to look at Ross through the lens of 1999, too. Not only did I enjoy Ross more, I found myself hating Rachel, especially past the “we were on a break” drama. She left a man at the altar and slept with him after he got engaged, slept with an ex after he groped her friend, was always a terrible employee, slept with her assistant, took advantage of her friends, treated Ross like a sweater she neither wanted to wear nor donate by stringing him along for years and sabotaging his every new relationship, and gave the father of her baby no actual say in his daughter’s well-being while simultaneously expecting him to do all of the husbandly things without the title. I shipped Chandler and Monica at one time, with their friends-to-lovers trope and enjoyed their storyline again, but now realize that Phoebe and Mike were the couple to beat. They had an adorable meet-cute with real chemistry. Mike accepted Phoebe for all of her history and annoying quirks, with zero embarrassment. Best of all, their relationship never had time to drag. Schwimmer might have been the comedic lead, but Paul Rudd was the real romantic MVP.
It’s a Sin: I thought this miniseries had six episodes. When I realized it was only five, I was relieved, because it was absolutely heartbreaking. When it comes to movies and TV, I’m basically a robot. Nothing but dead animals and babies makes me cry. The Notebook?Titanic? Schindler’s List? Nope. That being said, I cried during every episode of It’s a Sin and I mean tears streaming down my face. It’s such a compelling tale of a group of mostly gay friends, living in 1980s London, during the AIDS epidemic. The protagonists aren’t caricatures and neither are the villains, really, as the leads each leave home and make their way to London, where they can live their lives freely… until they start to fall ill, one by one. Surprisingly, religion is rarely addressed as the reason for the stigma against homosexuality (and AIDS by extension), which I appreciated, because it’s not necessarily as historically accurate in the 80’s UK as it would be in the US South. This show infuriated me as a librarian, as the main characters struggled to find any information on the mysterious illness killing people they loved. I’ve never been happier for such an amazing show to end. I have read criticism that the one (seemingly straight) character was the Token Straight Friend, but I consider that to be a horrible way to talk about allies. Plenty of straight people lost friends and loved ones to AIDS and this show did a great job portraying that, as well.
7th Heaven: At 10 years old, I wanted to be Mary Camden. All of my friends were slender, athletic, and had parents who made sure they bathed and their clothes fit. I never could seem to master any of those. I realize now, depressingly enough, that my mother wanted to be Annie Camden: wanted by her husband, respected by her community, with children who looked up to her, able to keep all the balls in the air… and she never could master any of those, herself. So, watching this show as an adult was bittersweet for me, as I recognized how far my mother’s life veered from what she wanted. While 7th Heaven might have hit a soft spot for me, though, it has probably aged worse than anything in the history of time. Every negative thing about the 90s is encapsulated in this show, from the most oppressive purity culture to low-key racism thought progressive. The Camdens controlled their children’s sexuality with an iron first, from first kisses to first times. They knew one black family, a most accurate example of Token Black Characters, as nearly every episode featuring them was themed around race… which was also true for all other non-white character mentions. It also went on for way too long. By season 8, all but a handful of the original actors had given up, and so did I. Nostalgia aside, there’s only so much time I can spend with early 00s churchy people, without having flashbacks of my own.
Roswell: At age 12, I was obsessed with Roswell. I mean that I would be concerned if my child were so fixated on something. I work with teenagers, so that’s saying something. Having reached my adult height by sixth grade and still a few years out from my breast reduction, I remember watching Liz Parker stand in front of her mirror in her matching bra and panties, knowing I could never wear something like that, because the cute stuff didn’t come in my size. If I wanted to be utterly mortified, I could dig up the diaries where I introduced myself with my full name in every entry, just like Liz. Still, I think I’d have preferred to be Isabel, beautiful and in possession of alien powers, with two brother figures who wanted to protect her. Middle school Belle had issues and this show is a lot of what got her through them, so for that reason, Roswell will always have a place in my heart. Objectively speaking, though, it isn’t much different than many early 00s shows, featuring gorgeous actors far too old to play the dramatic and angsty parts assigned. It does, however, lack the clever wit of its more iconic competitors, like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and doesn’t measure up in the sci-fi world to shows like Firefly, with a plot riddled with holes. It’s unsurprising that Roswell never made it past three seasons, but I don’t care, because those came at just the right time for me.
Smallville: I never intended for Smallville to be a good rewatch. I just wanted something mindless and campy and Tom Welling’s Clark Kent seemed like a good fit. I’d argue that this show is, overall, one of the worst in the Superman franchise. For starters, if Tom Welling can pass for 15 in season one, I can pass for Betty White now. Clark is supposed to be this gawky and awkward teenager, but no amount of stumbling or sputtering from Welling makes up for his age and build. Any teenage boy who looked like that would be the crush of every girl and invited to every party… once people realized he wasn’t a substitute teacher. It’s not that Welling does a bad job portraying Clark, it’s just that it’s utterly unconvincing at age 25. The mostly Monster of the Week plot doesn’t really redeem Smallville either. While Michael Rosenbaum is my all time favorite Lex Luthor, we barely get to see his dark side for several seasons and the supporting characters leave something to be desired, especially Lana. I don’t remember hating this character. Chloe annoyed me until she got over her Clark crush and started acting like a real friend, but I loathe Lana. She’s self-absorbed and whiney and thinks everyone in her life owes her their every secret. Regardless of its other flaws, Lana is what makes me not want to watch, as an adult. The rest, however, is more or less what I wanted: mindless, campy fun.
Gilmore Girls: Gilmore Girls has been quite the comfort watch for me, over the years. Lorelai always had money for the things she and Rory needed and wanted, despite the insistence that she had to get by on hard work and grit. If ever that wasn’t true, The Bank of Gilmore was happy to write a check, in exchange for company only. The heroines were effortlessly beautiful, universally loved, and were handed the world on a silver platter that they mocked for its pretention. They were best friends and adored by all men and their snowglobe town. It was the ultimate fantasy. I tried to rewatch in 2020, though, and just couldn’t get over how ungrateful these two were for their obscene privilege. Sure, you have a complicated relationship with your parents… so do a lot of people whose parents aren’t willing to write them checks or buy them lavish gifts. The Poor Little Rich Girl plot just didn’t hold up for me after the last year and Lorelai’s insistence on being a friend, rather than a mom, was extremely grating when I work with teens in this situation, was a teen in this situation, and prepare to have daughters of my own. Perhaps Reddit just ruined this one for me by villainizing literally every character, claiming abuse all around and scrutinizing the entire show through a 2020 lens. Maybe I just need to come back in another time of life, but this one was a surprising pandemic no-go for me.
Stranger Things: Oh, Stranger Things, the leading title in shows that didn’t need subsequent seasons. My favorite thing about ST is the hilariously spot-on portrayal of teenagers and the amazing acting that accomplishes it. I love me some teen dramas, but working with the age group has me hyperaware that they are almost never portrayed as a day younger than 19 and always by actors older than that. ST breaks the mold with its nerdy 80s middle schoolers and unique sci-fi plot… in the first season. Unlike many, I never felt that ST needed a second, and definitely not a third, season. I didn’t need to be introduced to Billy and Max, who completely lifted out of the story. I didn’t need the audience-pandering reveal of a Steve who’s scooping ice cream and a Jonathan with a successful career, when the opposite is totally what would have happened, considering Steve’s privilege and charm and Johnathan’s poverty and general creepiness. I didn’t need a love story between the single mom and the drunken, incompetent chief of police. I didn’t need to watch Genius Elle stumble over the English language for three years. I didn’t need to see Mike’s mom become a cheating whore. Mostly, I didn’t need all of the sci-fi plot explained, in detail, ultimately removing any and all mystery from the storyline. Sometimes, less really is more and I don’t care if I’m entirely alone in saying that ST would have been far better as a miniseries with a dark and open ending.
Vampire Diaries: VD started off alright, for teen angst played by beautiful twenty-somethings, a favorite genre of mine. Admittedly, Ian Somerholder carried the show, only slightly aided when the original vampires arrived in season four, but it was still a fun watch… at first. My earliest problem with VD was that all affection for Elena dissipated by season three, seemingly a trope of vampire dramas, as Sookie Stackhouse suffered the same fate. It made for a rough watch when I loathed the main character everyone loved. VD didn’t even have True Blood’s handy backup of engaging support characters, either… just Damon and occasionally Caroline. As with most CW shows, Vampire Diaries’ greatest sin was that it went on far too long. Nina Dobrev (Elena) wasn’t even in the last two seasons and it wasn’t not the saving grace it sounds, because VD was the TV show that most obviously revealed it was never intended to be binged. I’ve never seen anything more redundant. Even reminding myself that the story was supposed to span eight years, I couldn’t get past the fact that every character died multiple times. I’m not exaggerating. A Google search reveals that the only character who didn’t die was Klaus, who left the show for his own spin-off. By season five, character death had zero impact, because supernatural loopholes would just allow for their return. After that, I wished for the ability to watch at double speed. At least True Blood had Alcide Herveaux.
Bewitched: At age nine, as my parents were growing less and less interested in me, TV was my best friend. Nick at Nite’s Block Party Summer was the best thing ever and Bewitched night was my favorite. I suppose I just never grew out of my desire to live in a world with magic and Bewitched painted a picture of a grown-up existence where that was possible. On my rewatch, I realized the magic is still there. I still love the 60s aesthetic, even knowing the absolute hogwash that was the decade’s representation. I still wish Endora were my mother and consider her way ahead of her time. I still adore the shenanigans that came with a magical, meddling family. I just have one complaint: Darrin Stephens. Darrin was, at best, a bully with no redeeming qualities. Not only did he not allow Samantha to use her magic, due to his own insecurities, he insisted she hide who she truly was, because he was ashamed of her… unless he directly benefited. Their marriage was a wonderful representation of the oppression of the mid-century housewife. I’d like to think that someone magical and immortal was only with him as some form of social experiment. In my mind, 2021 Samantha is as young and hot as ever, raising her two magical children, her late husband nearly forgotten. This conclusion makes for a much better watch, because of all the shows I rewatched during the pandemic, I think this is one I’ll never outgrow.
Mad Men: I got Jake to watch the first episode of this one two years ago, only for him to rage quit, insisting Don Draper was a representation of how men can’t be successful and good. Not until recently could I convince him to try again, after explaining that Don isn’t supposed to be a hero and pointing out that if he can cheer for any of the characters in Game of Thrones, he can get off his soap box. So, I purchased the entire show on Vudu and I’m enjoying it more than I did the first time, as is Jake. Mad Men is generally one of those shows that gets better when you know the ending, as you recognize the growth of the characters through the years, in direct correlation to the shifting political and social times. Not only do I see the intention behind Don’s character changing according to what society thinks he’s supposed to be, but his older counterpart, Roger, goes through later stages of the same, even without a secret identity. In contrast, from episode one, we see Peggy’s battle with who she’s supposed to be and who she wants to be, while Betty and Joan cling to roles they were raised to fill… one with success and the other without. We even get to see how these dilemmas impact their children, growing up in such a volatile decade, all with astounding wit and impeccable taste. I’m definitely not sorry to own Mad Men.
The Office: Jake and I watched The Office for the first time, during the summer of 2019. When my manual laborer landed a promotion placing him in an office setting, though, I insisted we rewatch from episode one, so he could experience the business casual shenanigans in a new perspective. I bought the DVDs on Amazon and The Office has been even more enjoyable the second time. Originally, I found Jim to be somewhat spineless, pining for Pam for years without action, while seeing Pam as a bit cruel for stringing along both him and Roy. This time, I was able to better recognize the nuance, knowing how things ended up for the couple. Not only did the two work together, but Pam’s live-in fiancé also worked downstairs. There’s no scenario where she leaves her fiancé and dates her coworker and everyone is happy. I also figured out what exactly I don’t like about Pam and can get past it as a very human flaw: she is an utter doormat. While I could never relate to being that much of a pushover, that trait makes her transgressions a lot more forgivable. As for Michael, while I love Steve Carrell, I find him to be a much more abhorrent person than I first did. I place intentions higher than most and they still don’t carry that much weight. Holly was just as dorky, while being a much better person, and I’m a bit sad that she doesn’t get someone better.
One downside to keeping my pregnancy a secret from my blog for the first 21 weeks, was missing out on sharing some of the milestones, like the positive pregnancy test, learning both babies were boys, buying a family car, learning both babies wereactually girls, and choosing names.
Y’all, naming humans is hard. I spent six years substitute teaching and have worked in public libraries for ten. I have heard someobjectively terrible names. I have met all of the following:
Merlin Zeus Corona Stetson Talladega Suthern Princess I’munique Imunique (no apostrophe) Sir…
… and my personal favorite Ecstassi, followed closely by my second favorite, Tyranny. Even our own family members have occasionally shown poor judgement choosing names. I have a cousin who gave her daughter a city name, but chose one of the murder capitals of the U.S. That’s far better than Jake’s cousin who named her son after a popular beer and brand of gun, resulting in his family’s refusal to call him by anything other than his initials. To this day, Jake insists we’re naming our first Budweiser Browning, a joke I’ve forbidden him to share with his cousin.
Ridiculous names aside, there are also the ones that just aren’t to our taste, but won’t get a resume thrown in the trash for sounding like a joke. Personally, I hate gender neutral names, traditionally male names for girls, or traditionally female names for boys. While Elliot might give someone pause, when a woman walks into an interview, I find this popular trend harmless enough, but don’t like it, myself. Jake’s name is actually far more common on women and to this day, I think our wedding invitations look like they’re for a lesbian wedding, which is fine, but inaccurate. The same goes for the modern names I liked to call Suburb Names, like Kinley, Zaiden, Amberly, and any other name that wasn’t a name twenty years ago. My own name is the1987 version of these and while I don’t hate it, I’d prefer something more traditional, myself.
That was actually the one thing Jake and I could agree on, traditional baby names. We wanted something classic, preferably not in the top 10, but not too bizarre or hipsterish. For girls, we didn’t want the names shortened to male nicknames, the reason we ultimately vetoed Charlotte. Although we loved Lottie, there’s no telling whether or not she’d be called Charlie or decide for herself that she preferred it one day. Since we both hated that very common nickname and couldn’t decide on anything that sounded good with it for Baby B, we nixed what was once my favorite baby girl name.
Twins threw us for another loop. Not only did we have to name one baby, but two. We wanted classic names that sounded good together, without a theme, meaning no color or flower or jewel names in pairs. That took Violet and Scarlett off the table, though we both loved the latter, we just couldn’t think of anything that sounded good with it.
Jake: “What about Charlotte and Scarlett?” Me: “I want a divorce.”
Rhyming names were absolutely off the table.
At one point, I had a list of over 30 baby names and Jake suddenly seemed to hate all of the names ever, though many were ones he’d agreed on previously. If he did like one, he didn’t like anything I thought went with it. He liked Maeve, but noped all of the one syllable names I suggested for the other baby, like Blair and Pearl. If he liked a longer name, he hated all of the inevitable nicknames, such as Josephine, Susannah, Gwendolyn, Eleanor, or Evelyn. He’d suggest that we not nickname them at all, and I had to insist that that’s not really how that happens. If we chose a long name and didn’t choose a shortened version, ourselves, other people would. No one is going to say Josephine in its entirety, when they can call her Jo… which we both hated.
Having just finished The Mandalorian, I had been calling the babies Mando and Grogu at work, since I hadn’t shared the genders. I began calling them the same at home, just to have some way to refer to them and had started to wonder if that might end up on their birth certificates, as Jake nixed every option. Even if we both liked a name, we often couldn’t come up with a good mate, such as with Alice. I couldn’t quite define what I thought made a good pair, but I think it came down to syllables and time period. Blair and Genevieve just sounded odd together. Jake’s inability to get excited about any names actually started to upset me and make me think that he was angry they were both girls. It became a real source of contention between the two of us.
Me: “Poor Mando and Grogu.” Jake: “Stop calling them that!” Me: “Stop vetoing everything else!”
One name had actually been on the table a year ago, but Jake had decided he didn’t like the nickname I suggested. It was four syllables long and not common enough to have an obvious nickname, but I wanted to choose one for ourselves, knowing that no one was going to consistently say the whole name. Not only was it a classically feminine name not in the top 1000, without being too weird, it was also the name of the town where my family originated. I’d really grown fond of it. When my good friend Sarah, one of the few who knows the names we ultimately chose, suggested an alternative shortening, I looked it up and realized it was actually an official nickname for our uncommon choice. Jake loved it. Now we just needed something that went with it, which likely meant another four syllable name.
Naming twins is exhausting.
For years, I’ve had an old name I loved, that no one has ever liked, as it’s virtually unheard of, today. It’s the name of the heroine in my favorite classic horror novel and I’ve suggested it several times to Jake, always receiving a hard next. It does, however, have four syllables. While the name we’d chosen is more common, they are both classic and Southern, from about the same time period. After tentatively settling on the first name, on the condition that we could come up with a good match, I suggested this one, once again, assuming I’d get the same response. Whether it was to shut me up or because he was actually starting to come around, I’ll never know, but this time Jake was willing to consider it. He asked that I give him a week to think about it, since he didn’t really care for the nickname I suggested and it didn’t have any obvious other one, save for the one from the horror novel and he hated that one. I agreed.
Over the next week, I began to think of our girls by these names and their nicknames. Consistently worried that I’d never grow attached to my babies, out of fear that something would happen before they were born, I was attempting to develop a connection by thinking of them as individual little people… and it was working, despite the fact that we hadn’t officially settled on the names. No more than one week later, I demanded a decision from Jake.
Me: “I’m starting to think of them by these names. I can’t help it. It’s the only way I feel connected to them . So, if you don’t like them, then tell me and we’ll start that fight. Don’t just let me continue thinking of them by names you’re going to veto, though.” Jake: “If I agree to that one, then when we have a boy…?” Me: “I’ll give you preference on boy names. I get veto rights, but you can ultimately choose.” Jake: “Okay. We can do those.”
I don’t even care if I just somehow wore down the most stubborn man alive or if he was afraid I might be serious when I shifted from Mando and Grogu to Elsa and Anna (the more likely scenario). Our babies have names. I ordered customized wooden cutouts of them the next day and since Jake is far too cheap to change his mind after spending that money, they’re official. In the last few months, I’ve been able to connect far more to the little girls growing in my belly, now that I can better think of them as individual humans. Everyone thinks we won’t want more children after twins, because of the stress and expense, but if anything, it’ll be due to the necessity that we name them.
The pandemic hit at an all time low for me. Jake and I had just found out that we were going to have to go through IVF over the summer and I… wasn’t handling it well.
… more than once, I called in late, because I couldn’t pull it together.
Even during the month before Covid-19 hit my state, the only reason I bothered to dress nicely and do my hair and makeup, was that it made me feel more capable and put together, at a time when I desperately needed it. So, when the library closed for an indeterminate amount of time, my sole goal, in regards to appearance, was to maintain my weight and basic hygiene. During those six weeks, my daily uniform consisted of athletic shorts, tank tops, and ponytails… not even cute, perky ponytails, but the Founding Father kind that’s worn at the base of the neck.
Indeed, I did look like a young Mr. Feeny for most of 2020.
When the library reopened, I felt little motivation to achieve more than the bare minimum summer dress code of denim capris and t-shirts… and a mask. Whereas I might have considered applying concealer and mascara before, I saw no point while revealing barely an inch between bangs and mask. Makeup is expensive and we were about to spend tens of thousands of dollars on fertility treatments. Furthermore, customers weren’t even allowed in the building and Jake was just happy that I could get out of bed in the morning. Who was I trying to impress?
I began my first IVF cycle in July and was far more concerned with taking my temperature thirteen times a day than I was with not wearing Crocs to the doctor’s office. Makeup was literally the furthest thing from my mind, at this point in time, and it sort of became habit. Even a year later, no one can see my face, unless it’s during a Zoom call from home, and that usually means a remote program or staff meeting. My teens don’t give two figs how I look, as long as I entertain them with elaborate D&D battles, and my coworkers see me in all my barefaced glory every day, when I’m allowed to remove my mask at my workstation. When customers are allowed in the building, all they can see is eyes.
Humans, circa 2020
Sure, I apply some concealer, when I look especially exhausted… because it has been an exhausting year, but I never see anyone outside of basic grocery shopping and Amazon returns. Jake and I literally entered a restaurant less than five times last year. Date nights consisted of s’mores in the backyard and Netflix. We didn’t even see our families more than once or twice. Halloween came with an ice storm and record-breaking power outages. I didn’t even get to wear a costume, because a) I had an ultrasound and didn’t want to receive bad news while dressed like Darkwing Duck and b) everyone had hunkered down in preparation for the storm, so the library was even more empty than usual, on a pandemic Saturday. Thanksgiving consisted of sweet potato pancakes and turkey sausage with my grandparents on Black Friday, all of us in jammies. New Year’s was just the two of us at home. Christmas was close family only. We were even snowed in on Valentine’s Day and spent the time painting the babies’ room, sewing quilts, and making stuffed waffles.
Now, here I am, fully vaccinated in a state where anyone who wants one can get their Covid-19 vaccine, able to enter the world again and y’all… I’ve forgotten how to apply makeup.
Not having taught myself to use eyeliner until 23, I’ve always been something of a minimalist, when it comes to makeup, only truly investing in decent products in preparation for my wedding at 29. Before that, all of my makeup was from the drugstore and I was fine with it. I’ll never forget marveling over how Jake could choose me, when I met his friends’ wives, who took two hours to get ready for Wal-Mart, when every bit of Maybelline and Revlon I owned was in my purse.
Even now, I only wear Bare Minerals foundation and eyeshadow, buy my mascara and eyeliner in black or brown at Sephora, and almost never wear lipstick. I have clear skin, easy hair, and I’m cheap. I’ve just never felt the desire to spend the time or money on perfecting tips from YouTube tutorials; and although I married a cowboy, who’s used to women with big hair and glitzy jewelry and bright eyeshadow, fortunately for me, he prefers the low maintenance look, along with the attitude and budget that comes with it.
All that being said, I do like to dress in feminine clothing, despite my inability to tell you any trendy brand names or styles. Years after the cancellation of The New Girl, I still tend toward Jessica Day style dresses, long hair, and bangs… though I do cut them myself. Now that I spend my mornings nursing pregnancy headaches, instead of screaming on the bathroom floor, I once again have the energy to dress up in cheap Amazon maternity dresses and accessorize with the jewelry I’ve accumulated over the last 15 years. I even straighten my hair, the one style technique I’ve mastered… before donning my mask.
Now, here we are, able to see our vaccinated friends and family once again, sans masks, according to CDC guidelines. In fact, this weekend, Jake and I are visiting the family ranch for the first time, since we begged for money for fertility treatments last March. I look like a tabloid snapshot of myself! This ranch is located in the land of big hair, turquoise, and people who haven’t been wearing masks for the last year, and I don’t even know how to look human anymore.
I must admit that, after all the ways that Covid-19 has kicked our collective butts, this threw me for a loop. I’ve been alternately praying for normalcy and breaking down because we’ll never see it again, so it never occurred to me how awkward readjusting to it would be, when Earth began to reopen. I have to say, though, it’s a good problem to have and maybe it means there’s an end in sight, if we can start to worry about dressing appropriately and forgetting how to wear makeup.
It’s a Wonderful Life has long been one of my favorite Christmas movies and remains so, as our holiday film selection becomes increasingly over-saturated with emphasis on a depiction of Santa Claus, that no more resembles the historical Saint Nicholas than Disney’s Pocahontas resembles the 17th century twelve-year-old of the Powhatan tribe.*
This is a 12-year-old.
As a religious person, the overwhelming focus on Santa, by others of the Christian faith, baffles me. I don’t even want to do the Santa thing, anymore, because I feel the emphasis has become so skewed in favor of a cartoon character and materialism over the birth of theMessiah. A couple of years ago, I told my grandmother that I wasn’t playing Dirty Santa, at the family party.
Me: “It’s just not fun for me and it’s expensive.”
Grandma: “Well, that’s what Christmas is about, you know… giving each other gifts.”
Me: “No, it’s not. Christmas is about Jesus and family.”
My 82-year-old grandmother told me Christmas is about things, y’all. That should horrify you, even if you’re not religious. Santa can go jump in a lake.
So… I’ve really grown to appreciate the old Christmas movies that aren’t afraid to broach faith, family values, and societal responsibility, like Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Carol, and It’s a Wonderful Life. Despite this, every year, as I watch this favorite Christmas classic, I have some… issues… with George Bailey and the fact that he’s… well, kind of a tool… by the standards of his time and mine. I’d even go so far to state that in 2018, George Bailey would fit several of the prevailing stereotypes of Millennials that I’ve been hearing all of my adult life. For example…
The opening scene of It’s a Wonderful Life, depicts three stars discussing a man on earth who is dangerously close to taking his own life. Ultimately, Clarence AS2 (Angel Second Class, which doesn’t even make sense as far as acronyms go), is assigned to intervene, as we listen to the prayers of George Bailey’s family and friends, one of which clearly declares that “He never thinks about himself.”
Never thinks about himself?!?!? The only truly selfless thing George Bailey does in this movie is to save his brother when he falls through the ice, ultimately losing his hearing in one ear, an action and a consequence he never again mentions. As wondrous as that behavior is from a teenage boy, it’s also the moment little GB peaked. Just a few weeks later, we see him arrive late to his after school job in a drug store, before providing terrible service to the only customers present.
Violet: “Help me down?”
George: ” Help ya down?!?!”
George: “Make up your mind yet?”
Mary: “I’ll take chocolate.”
George: “With coconuts?”
Mary: “I don’t like coconuts.”
George: “Don’t like coconuts? Say brainless, don’t you know where coconuts come from? [pulls out a National Geographic magazine] Look-it here, from Tahiti, the Fiji Islands, Coral Sea.”
Mary: “A new magazine! I never saw it.”
George: “‘Course you never. This is just for us explorers. It just so happens I’ve been nominated for membership in the National Geographic Society.” ::puts coconut on the ice cream, anyway::
Spoiler alert: by “explorers”, he means “men.”
Immediately following this scene, we see George approach his boss, Mr. Gower, who’s just lost his son to the flu epidemic of 1919 and is naturally drunk, devastated, and ill-tempered. Realizing that the impaired pharmacist has mistakenly filled some capsules with poison, George risks his ire to correct him, ultimately taking quite the boxing of his sore ear. We’re lead to believe that this is another truly honorable moment; but I think it’s worth considering the fact that this kid just showed up late to work and treated Mr. Gower’s only customers like dirt, prior to pestering him during his grief. While he might not have deserved to be hit, it was a reprimand appropriate to the times. Furthermore, I work with teenagers and I just don’t consider it a stretch to think that any one of them would speak up if they thought someone was about to poison some children, no matter the consequences. I feel like the average American is only impressed by this “heroism”, because they have such devastatingly low expectations of teens.
As the movie continues, we see George grow into a man… an extraordinarily selfish man, who speaks incessantly about what he wants. Even his last words to his father, for which he shows no remorse, are entitled declarations about how he deserves more.
– “Oh, now Pop, I couldn’t. I couldn’t face being cooped up for the rest of my life in a shabby little office…Oh, I’m sorry Pop, I didn’t mean that, but this business of nickels and dimes and spending all your life trying to figure out how to save three cents on a length of pipe…I’d go crazy. I want to do something big and something important.”
After his father dies and the board votes to keep the Bailey Building and Loan open, in response to George’s passionate defense of the community, they only have one condition: George must stay on and take his father’s place.
– “Let’s get this thing straight. I’m leaving! I’m leaving right now! I’m going to school! This is my last chance! Uncle Billy, here, he’s your man!’
That’s right. George’s first consideration when his father’s legacy, his community, is on the line, is what he wants. The next four years apparently offer little growth, as he tells Mary, the night he calls on her:
– “Now, you listen to me. I don’t want any plastics and I don’t want any ground floors and I don’t want to get married ever, to anyone! You understand that? I want to do what I want to do!”
“He never thinks about himself”? That’s the entire premise of the first half of this movie. All George Bailey does is think about himself, about what he wants, what he deserves, because…
As a millennial, I literally hear about the entitlement of my generation, weekly… but no matter how many participation trophies I received as a kid (because I certainly didn’t earn any legitimate ones), I have never, in my adult life, compared to the entitlement of George Bailey.
In 1940, only 5.5% of men had completed a college degree, compared to 3.8% of women, not because it was a time of equality, but because a college education was so incredibly rare.* That’s eleven years after George sits at his father’s table, in his very nice middle class home, and tells him he’s better than the Bailey Building and Loan, a year when only 68% of American homes had electricity.* Just weeks later, after his father’s death, George even ridicules the man’s failure to have paid for not just his, but his brother’s education.
– “You are right when you say my father was no business man. I know that. Why he ever started this cheap penny-ante building and loan, I’ll never know. but neither you nor anybody else can say anything against his character, because his whole life was… why in the 25 years since he and Uncle Billy started this thing, he never once thought of himself, isn’t that right Uncle Billy? He didn’t save enough money to send Harry to school, let alone me.”
He does so to a room of men who likely went no further than the 8th grade, themselves, because in 1940 less than 25% of Americans had completed high school.* If you’re wondering why all these stats are about 1940, that’s because prior to that year, the surveys weren’t interested in levels of completed schooling, but literacy. A healthy chunk of the country couldn’t read the day ol’ GB haughtily declared he was turning down the position of executive secretary of his own business to go to college.
Yeah. I’m entitled.
It’s not just his demand for a college education that made George Bailey insufferably privileged, by the standards of that time and this one, but his general disdain for his hometown. I get it, he wanted to travel the world, in a day when men were lucky to have jobs at all, but the lack of exoticism in Bedford falls certainly didn’t earn the level of contempt George had for it.
– “It’ll keep him out of Bedford Falls, anyway.”
– “Homesick?!? For Bedford Falls?!?
– “… stay around this measly, crummy old town.”
This “crummy old town” has an indoor swimming pool under the high school gym. The only rundown house is eventually transformed to a glorious Victorian mansion by Mary Bailey, herself, with just a little elbow grease. Even George declares the falls are beautiful in the moonlight, when he tries to petition Violet to climb Mount Bedford. The dystopian version still has a successful library.
The citizens of Bedford Falls aren’t completely without their struggles, of course. George mentions to Sam Wainright that “half the town” was recently put out of business when the tool and machinery works was closed down. Does that stop him from criticizing anyone who works for Mr. Potter, though?
– “In the whole vast configuration of things, I’d say you’re nothing but a scurvy little spider… and that goes for you, too!”
Well, George, not everyone was just handed their father’s business, at 22. Zetus Lapetus, much of this movie took place during The Great Depression! Choosers were literally beggars, which brings me to my final point of our “hero’s” entitlement. George Bailey was 12 in 1919, born in 1907. These years weren’t exactly known for the wealth of choices they provided. Throughout the entirety of It’s a Wonderful Life, however, George is constantly choosing his path. He chose to stay and run the Bailey Building and Loan after his father died. He chose to give his college money to Harry and let him take another job, when he was more than willing to take over. George chose to marry Mary, immediately after stating that it wasn’t what he wanted. He chose not to invest in Sam Wainwright’s business despite the fact that he’d apparently saved two thousand dollars for his travels. That’s thirty thousand dollars, today and ol’ GB chose to forfeit it to keep the Building and Loan open.
In a time of rampant polio and domestic violence and 25% unemployment, George had the luxury to choose his path and each and every time, he was an absolute martyr about it. He didn’t do these things, because he was selfless. He did them because of societal expectation, because of his image, and we know this, by his perpetual bellyaching, because…
When I went on this rant during my bi-weekly teen book club, because that’s the librarian I am, my kids argued that this was the point of the movie and I’ll give them that. However, in the opening scene it’s heavily implied that George Bailey is only presently forgetting how good he has it, as he faces financial ruin and scandal on Christmas Eve. I mean, who wouldn’t see the brown spots on their lawn, in that light? For our “hero”, though, the grass has perpetually been greener. The entire movie highlights his general unhappiness and lack of appreciation.
George Bailey sits in his father’s home, as he’sserved by a maid, and insists he can do better for himself. He somehow begrudgingly both inherits his own business and marries a beautiful women, who’s been in love with him her whole life. He has a respectable excuse to avoid the war and make beautiful babies, yet still finds something to complain about, while other men are dying and losing limbs. All the while, Mary Bailey remodels their home, cares for their children, and runs the USO, without a word of complaint. You the real MVP, Mary Bailey, because if this movie is an accurate indicator of your husband’s daily behavior, I’d have smothered him with a pillow in the first month of marriage. I mean, you could have been a librarian.
Years go by and George Bailey lives in a beautiful home, in a wealthy little town. He’s a respected member of society, by everyone from the town tramp to the bartender to his arch nemesis’s financial adviser. Still, his days are ruined by such inconsequentials as a loose newal cap on the staircase.*
Dude, even Zuzu was like, “Paste it, Daddy.”
Is it that much of a surprise, when things really go sideways and he says:
– “…It’s this old house. I don’t know why we all don’t have pneumonia. Drafty old barn! Might as well be living in a refrigerator… Why do we have to live here in the first place, and stay around this measly, crummy old town…”
– “Wrong? Everything’s wrong. You call this a happy family — why do we have to have all these kids?”
– “What kind of a teacher are you, anyway? What do you mean, sending her home like that, half naked? Do you realize she’ll probably end up with pneumonia, on account of you? Is this the sort of thing we pay taxes for, to have teachers… to have teachers like you… stupid, silly, careless people who send our kids home without any clothes on?”
That last little remark earned him a busted lip, and despite the general disagreement of the community of Bedford Falls, I’d say it was quite well-deserved. It’s at this point, however, that we see George Bailey finally begins to realize how good he has it, and yet… the only hope poor Clarence has of convincing him of this, is a glimpse through the most self-centered lense of all time. Looking into the eyes of his loving wife, adoring children, and loyal friends wasn’t enough to convince George that life was worth living. Nope. Ol’ GB could only see value in his life when someone put a gold star next to his every good deed. His existence was only worth the effort, once it was proven that just by being alive, he changed the world. Folks, if that ain’t a participation trophy…
Jake: “What do you wanna watch?”
Me: “We could watch Rudolph’s Shiny New Year.”
Jake: “I thought we were done with Christmas movies.”
Me: “That’s not a Christmas movie. It’s a New Years movie… and in seven months, we can watch Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July.”
Spoiler alert: He hated it.
Y’all, I love the holidays. I don’t mean that the way normal people do, either. I mean aggressively so. I love the decorations, the music, the holiday movies and episodes of my favorite TV shows. I watch and sing along to The Worst Witch and Hocus Pocus on repeat, starting in late September. I love the garishly themed jewelry and t-shirts and hats that are suddenly acceptable on October first, but I pull them out a week early, regardless.
One of the major concessions of my marriage involved selling my six foot tall hot pink Christmas tree and decor that looked like it was stolen from the set of Babes in Toyland. No one will ever convince me that red and green M&M’s, Reese’s Bells, and Christmas Crunch cereal don’t taste better. I don’t care even a little bit that I look like a kindergarten teacher in my brightly colored Christmas dresses. I love the holidays so much, that I have to fight getting depressed halfway through, because they’re almost over.
I will, however, admit that there is one aspect of the holiday season I loathe entirely…
… and that is the minefield of social contracts.
In my field, anyone who doesn’t consider themselves to be entirely crippled by their own introversion, is labeled an extrovert. This somewhat skewed view means that many of my coworkers consider me to be quite the social butterfly, due to my comfort level socializing with all eleven of them. They’re not entirely wrong, either. I quite enjoy my job. I spend each day with the same handful of people, whose personal stories and worldviews and interests I’ve come to know and respect. I have numerous casual interactions with customers that rarely go deeper than a reader’s advisory discussion on the abusive relationship dynamics present in Nicholas Sparks’ novels. I see the same teenagers at each program, where we discuss who would win in a battle, Doctor Who or The Hulk. Overall, as someone who always scores on the cusp of extroversion and/or introversion, I get exactly the right amount of stimulation in my position… usually.
When I first started at the Cherokee Library, I was completely overwhelmed, socially. I didn’t know my coworkers’ backgrounds, religious views, entertainment interests, political affiliations, or tastes in music. Every night, I went home and turned over literally every interaction in my mind, wondering if I’d said the right thing, left the correct impression, presented myself accurately. I did the same thing after my four day YALSA conference with unfamiliar coworkers and again after my recent game night with some new friends. While I love the comfortable surroundings and regular patrons of my every day social experience, it’s only because I’m in my element. New people and surroundings leave me emotionally spent. In short… extrovert my ass.
So, while I love, love, love the holidays, I think I’ve realized these last few years, is that what I truly enjoy is the build up. I love sitting at home, reciting every word to Hocus Pocus, with the cat. I love watching Thanksgiving episodes of How I Met Your Mother, on my tablet, while Jake plays video games. I love listening to Christmas carols on Pandora, while making peanut brittle in my kitchen. I love showing pictures of my Christmas decorations to my coworkers, and oohing and ahhing over photos of their pets in reindeer antlers. I love driving through Christmas lights with my husband and choosing a real tree together. What I reallylove issprinkling the everyday, homebody familiar, with bright colors and lights and glitter and festivity. The grand finale, though? That stresses me out, primarily due to the aforementioned endless mandatorysocial contracts, such as… Bringing a Dish
On December 22nd of my first Christmas season with Jake, I burst into tears when my three-ingredient peanut butter cookies tasted exactly like three-ingredient peanut butter cookies, and angrily tossed them in the trash.
Jake: “They’re fine. Why don’t you just make another batch and cook them less?”
Me: “Because they aren’t good and all the women in your family will be judging me on what I bring. If I take those after taking Oreo balls to Thanksgiving, they’ll all think I can’t cook.”
Jake: “What was wrong with the Oreo balls?”
Me: “They were a no-bake dessert. They’ll think I’m a just a Pinterest cook and they’ll all hate me, because I can’t make cookies!”
Of course, in the end, there were plenty of desserts, too many in fact, which I knew would be the case, but social norms required I bring something. Being in Someone Else’s Home
Why do I have to offer to help my mother-in-law in the kitchen, when we both know there’s nothing for me to do and little space in which for me to do it? Why does she have to stop what she’s doing to pretend I’m useful and let me spoon butter she’s already melted onto biscuits she’s already made or let me cut the onion, when she’s just going to dice it smaller?
Why is there only bar soap in the bathroom? How many people have used this hand towel? How obvious is it that I dried my hands on the bottoms of my jeans? Will I look rude/weird if I get out my antibacterializer?
If I don’t eat these “appetizers”, am I going to hurt someone’s feelings? Can you call a bar full of cheese an appetizer? Literally, there’s queso, next to a plate full of cream cheese with cranberry sauce, two cheese balls, and a plate of sliced cheese. If I eat this, I won’t poop until Christmas.
Where do I sit? I like the chair that doesn’t require me to sit next to anyone else, but is there some unspoken familial claim to this chair? Am I in Uncle Buck’s Chair? Okay, I’ll sit on the couch by the arm and Jake can sit next to me. Why doesn’t he ever sit down? He’s been pacing for the last 30 minutes. I’m like 80% sure he’s forgotten I’m here. Wait. Is anyone else sitting down? Should I be standing? But… I don’t want to lose my couch corner.
When should I get up to get food? I don’t want to rush the table, but I don’t want to eat after everyone’s had their hands in each dish, during cold and flu season. I want to try everything, but I don’t want to seem gluttonous. I should have gotten a larger plate. There is no way these people don’t think I have an eating disorder.
Zetus lapetus, y’all, I do not get gift giving. I’m 32 years old. I make over $50,000 a year, in one of the cheapest states in the country. If I want something, I can buy it. If I can’t, no one else can, either. So what is the damn point of gift giving? Why do I have to spend $20 to buy a gift for someone that they might like, just so they can spend $20 to buy a gift for me that I, quite frankly, probably won’t like, and pretend that we’ve done some sort of charitable service, when both of us had $20 to spare in the first place? A couple of greedy, materialistic, bitches trading twenties is in no way, symbolic of the gifts the wise men brought to baby Jesus. If anything, we should just all donate that $20 to give Christmas to a family down on their luck or buy toys for children with incarcerated parents or purchase a goat for a family in a third world country or literally any better cause.
If I want to do those things, though, it has to be in addition to trading twenties, which just makes the holidays more costly and stressful. I can understand close family trading gifts, knowing the recipients will enjoy them, but why, oh why do the women in my family draw names for each other’s children and trade advice on what to buy them, when they could just all spend money on their own children, whose interests and wants they already know?!?!
Don’t even get me started on Dirty Santa, where I’m supposed to spend $40 on a gift for no one, so I can stress myself out by over-analyzing the social etiquette of stealing home decor from my mother-in-law or leave in frustration when I contribute a gift I kind of like and open a bowl of decorative wicker balls and a diabetic cookbook. If I refuse to play, I’m anti-social and if I bring a gift I’d truly enjoy, I’m the weird one who brought the Spock Bluetooth speaker to Christmas. If we must all leave with gifts, why can’t we each spend $40 on something for ourselves and open them in a big circle with genuine delight? I don’t understand. Talking to Children
I’m a woman and a librarian, so it’s just assumed that I like children. I don’t. I don’t like babies. They’re fragile and always leaking and it’s inevitable that they’ll start screaming and I won’t be able to find the mother. I don’t like little kids. I don’t have the patience or the sense of humor for them. Why are you still telling me this story that I think is about Spongebob?Why did you choose me to tell? Am I sending off pro-child vibes, because I work very hard to maintain subtle anti-child vibes. Why are you making that face? Was I not supposed to ask that? Ugh, don’t cry and get me in trouble.
Give me tweens and teens any day, but the holidays inevitably mean someone will leave me alone with a small child and I will make them cry or tell them something I shouldn’t or call them “it.” Someone will ask when I’m having children and I’ll either sputter through an awkward, but appropriate, answer or make a wildly inappropriate joke about how Jake keeps putting it in the wrong hole. The build up to the holidays does not necessarily mean associating with children, but the holidays themselves are crawling with them. Yes, yes, Jake and I are planning on having our own children soon, but that’s different, because it has to be or no one would procreate. I’ll figure out children when I must. If I taught myself to crochet from a YouTube video, I can teach myself to parent. Talking to Adults
I love my family. I do… but we do not get each other. I don’t mean that in some sort of coming of age drama way, either. We’re just very different people; or rather, they’re all the same people and I’m very different. My aunts, uncles, and cousins love body humor, the occasional racist joke, maybe something about killing a cat and I just don’t get it.
Me: ::whispering in church:: “What do you want to do for dinner?”
Jake: “I have a big thing of sausage we need to use.”
Me: ::giggling uncontrollably::
Jake: “In church? Really?”
Jake jokes that I’m randomly an 8th grade boy sometimes, likely because I spend so much time with 8th grade boys, but the humor is all relatively innocent and is very rarely gross or cruel. I don’t understand why poop is funny and I understand even less why comparing our former president to a monkey is funny. I was genuinely disgusted by the Christmas ornament my cousin included in our Dirty Santa game last year, featuring Santa doing Mrs. Claus from behind. My humor is very dry and my family rarely even gets that I’m joking. When it’s not, it’s usually comprised of dorky and innocent puns, which they also don’t appreciate.
These people frequently tell me that they can’t have a conversation with me, because I’m too smart… which they think is a compliment. Conversationally, I’m just extremely intellectually curious. I like to theorize about the average age of parents who shake their babies, the effect of commonplace Photoshop on the children we’re “fixing” when they become adults, how technology is contributing to pornography addiction in teens and apparently, none of this is Christmas talk. I have one or two cousins who seemingly enjoy these discussions, but we’re not the norm. Even my fashion sense is completely off base. They’re Miranda Lambert to my Zooey Deschanel. They wear National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation t-shirts, while I rant yearly about how much I hate that movie, in my giant hand-crocheted Christmas tree hat and my Meowy Christmas cat shirt. None of us is wrong. We just don’t really fit… and also, they’re wrong and that movie is stupid.
Jake’s family has been nothing but kind to me, but I am only beginning to understand how to talk to them. Last December 23rd, at his big family Christmas, Jake suggested, on his own, that we eat in the garage, as I was so visibly overwhelmed, because it was just so much people and we have nothing in common. I don’t have kids. I don’t understand the rodeo world. I’ve never castrated a bull and don’t run cattle. I don’t want to look at the dead mountain lion in my brother-in-law’s truck. I am so not playing in the family Thanksgiving basketball game, because that sounds like literal Hell. I will get yelled at and have an asthma attack and/or break a bone.Just last Thanksgiving, Jake’s cousin told a story about the girl on his daughter’s softball team, who he refers to as Shock Collar, because she won’t pay attention. All I could think, is that I was the Shock Collar of my softball team and maybe her parents should put her in piano lessons. Jake, of course, fits in everywhere.
Me: “I wish I fit in with your family as well as you fit in with my family… actually I wish I fit in with my family and much as you fit in with my family.”
Elf on the Shelf and Santa Claus
I have always hated Elf on the Shelf. At best, it was a brilliant marketing ploy, by its creator, who has sold over 11 million book and doll sets, which doesn’t even account for the new line of accessories.* For most people, however, it’s a slightly creepy self-imposed chore of a tradition, which many parents regret ever starting. I knew, when it became popular, that I wouldn’t be purchasing an Elf for my own children. I’m even more certain of that fact 15 years later, as I watch my family and friends scramble around to perform for their children nightly, for the duration of a season that’s supposed to already be plenty magical by nature. Speaking of which…
I used to be one of the masses, the people who thought parents who didn’t play Santa were ridiculous and depriving their children of the magic of Christmas, but as time has gone by, I don’t really understand why we do this. If you’re a religious person, as I am, then why do you need to add magic to the season with a cartoon character? Yes, yes, Saint Nicholas was a real saint, but that means very little unless you’re Catholic. Also, the modern depiction of Santa Claus no more resembles Saint Nicholas than Disney’s Pocahontas does the historical twelve-year-old. We’re not honoring a Saint, anymore… and quite frankly, Protestants never were, because they don’t acknowledge sainthood. We’re revering a caricature, who often overshadows the true Christian value of the season, ironically through the very un-Christ-like means of greed and materialism. If you’re specifically nonreligious, shouldn’t you be opposed to such fairy tales? Isn’t that one of the primary principles of Atheism, that one shouldn’t have faith in what cannot be seen or proven? Doesn’t the modern Santa Claus directly defy both of these belief systems? Isn’t this entirely appropriate conversation for Thanksgiving dinner?!?! Can I please just go home and only talk to my husband and my pets now?!?!