When I was a kid, I adored the TV show Bewitched. I watched a lot of TV at the time, but there was something about the combination of the traditional family dynamic my life lacked and literal magic that just did it for me. Samantha was beautiful and charming, the mod-style clothes and furniture were delightful, and Endora was the mom I always wanted. Whatever the reasons, though, while the other kids were watching The Babysitter’s Club, nine-year-old Belle thought this 1960s sitcom was the bees knees.
Years ago, I excitedly bought the boxed set of Bewitched. I still watch it when I’m working on various sewing projects and love it just as much. As an adult, however, I’ve spent a bit of time cultivating a head canon to support my suspension of disbelief and explain why Samantha would ever want to be with a man like Darrin. Clearly, this was an elaborate social experiment on her part; to live life as a mortal woman, unequal in the eyes of society to her unattractive, boring, and controlling husband. Sure, Darrin was successful, but Samantha was a witch. She didn’t even need money. Why else would she marry him, if not for research? In the new millennium, Samantha was definitely on a beach somewhere with the immortal Endora, Tabitha, and Adam, enjoying her freedom and decidedly not missing her late husband.
Maybe I was being too hard on Darrin, considering the time period, but I always took particular issue with his ban on Samantha’s magic. This was an integral part of his wife’s being, one that undoubtedly made her life easier. As an ad man, even Darrin appreciated the occasional nose twitch if it meant helping him get that account. What was so wrong with Samantha using her powers to clean the kitchen or visit Paris? Must life truly be more difficult so her husband could feel like the conquering hero when he earned enough money to provide her with these luxuries? I don’t have a lot of feminist soap boxes, but as much as I love this show, it remained the source of one of them… until quite recently.
It’s been almost 60 years since Bewitched first aired. Today, many of Samantha’s most impressive and hilarious tricks are simply outsourced or automated. Where Samantha twitched her nose and the house was clean, even middle class families employ cleaning services and own Roombas. While Samantha had to employ last minute spellcasting to prepare dinner for unexpected guests, we modern folks just use an extra couple of meal subscription servings. Endora can fill a room with furniture with a simple point, just to see how it looks, but we accomplish the same by downloading a free app. Darrin explained more than once that he forbade Samantha from taking shortcuts, because he wanted her to appreciate what could be accomplished with hard work, either his or hers. I used to think him a self-righteous tyrant for such reasoning, but here we are in 2023 with every comfort available to us at the press of a button and it has ruined us.
For years, when Jake has found himself frustrated with the state of the world, he’s told me that everyone needs to spend at least one summer building fence. For the longest time, I just took this as another of Jake’s Aging Rancher Quotes, but I’m beginning to think he was right. As a society, we see little to no value in work. It’s something to be outsourced, automated, and avoided at all costs. We don’t cut our lawns, cook our meals, clean our homes, care for our children, walk our pets, maintain our vehicles, fix our clothing, spend time with family and friends in person. Video streaming sites recommend our next watch and have even developed algorithms to randomly select for us. Spotify and Pandora even choose our next listen. We live for our next vacation… once it’s been mapped out for us by travel websites and all-inclusive resorts, that is. We are entertained at all times. Still, as a people, we report being the most unhappy we’ve been in decades.
When I became a mother, I was inundated with warnings of how difficult, exhausting, and trying life would be with twins. One of my horrible labor and delivery nurses even told me that we could not do it without help. Naturally, I panicked and had a breakdown… you know, exactly what a new mother needs after the most terrifying week of her life. When we got home, my aunts were there, folding and putting the girls’ clothes away, while I showered, shaved my legs, cut my bangs, and just generally reclaimed a sense of humanity after a week in the hospital. Though their intentions were good, they were eager to leave by the time I got done. It was clear that, without a mother, and with the majority of Jake’s family hours away, we were on our own… and that was actually okay. In fact, as my aunts pulled out of the driveway, I quickly realized that the old cliché of just wanting someone to do my laundry was not going to apply to me. While I appreciated the sentiment and effort, I’m just too particular about my housekeeping and graciously accepting as someone does my chores incorrectly was not going to make my life easier. So, I pulled up a chair and refolded and reorganized my girls’ drawers to my satisfaction… and I was happy.
Since then, Jake and I have heard countless couples talk about how hard parenting is, with only a couple claiming the difficulty lies in a lack of time, something we felt as well, when I was working. These people love their children, so their complaints are always paired with the same disclaimers I read in poetic mommy blogs. “This ‘motherhood thing’ is the most difficult and rewarding job you’ll ever have…” Yet, here I am with three under two, simultaneously receiving comments from some strangers about how they pity me and others about how they miss these years. So what is it? Are Boomers looking through rose-colored glasses? Has parenting become even harder? Considering the average couple now has less than two children, along with our modern technology, I’m not sure how that’s possible. My Baby Brezza sure says differently, as I make a warm bottle Keurig-style with the literal press of a button.
It’s not just parenting, though. Everyone around me constantly laments the pain of “adulting,” as though life has become more difficult. Y’all, Millennials made a damn word to whine about being an adult! Just as the generations that came before us, we spent our entire childhoods eager to grow up, only to complain once we got here. In the case of Millennials, however, we seem to be truly miserable, despite life being so much easier at nearly every income level. I can pick up a week’s worth of groceries without even getting out of the car. While I wait, I can download my favorite books or listen to literally any song or artist I choose. When I get home, I can put my children down for a nap with a handy-dandy sound machine right there to soothe them. While they sleep, I can watch any show I like, without planning my day around it, while working on a cross stitch pattern I downloaded online, marking off each row with an app on my laptop. If one of the girls cries, I just check their $25 security camera to make sure everything’s okay, so I don’t have to risk waking both of them. At any point, I can realize I need batteries or cotton swabs or dish soap, order it online and have it the next day. Life is so easy today. We have everything handed to us, just as we always dreamt and all we do is cry about it!
So, what’s missing from this generation that every other enjoyed before us? Hard work. With my staying home to care for our three under two, Jake and I don’t have the option to outsource. As I’ve written before, I struggle to understand how so many people in the same income bracket afford meal subscriptions, cleaning ladies, and lawncare, but I’m starting to feel that we’re the ones at an advantage. While it might have been nice to pay someone to dig up, repair, and rebury the septic system, Jake is justifiably proud of himself for doing so. I would love to send off my mother’s crate of family photos to be digitized, but that’s financially never going to be possible. So, I took advantage of modern technology and bought a quick scanner that auto crops. I’ll record each individual memory and reminisce, myself. It’ll take more time and effort, but when it’s all said and done, I’m going to take so much more pride in my childhood family albums.
At this point, I’m beginning to think I wouldn’t pay anyone to clean my house, do my dishes, or fold my laundry if I could. By doing it myself, I know where everything is, how clean it actually is, and although I do get to listen to audiobooks while I do chores, I get more value out of my downtime when they’re done. It took effort and excellent time management for Jake and I to get the garden planted this year, but when we’ve been successful at growing our food in the past, it’s been so fulfilling, in addition to saving us money. I could have ordered Christmas stockings and baby blankets for my children, but I love knowing that I sewed them myself, even if it wasn’t necessarily cheaper. Sure, we pick and choose, just like anyone. I paid someone to make Jake’s custom Wahoo board for our wooden anniversary last year, just as I paid for the girls’ individually carved music boxes for their first birthday. We simply can’t do everything and I feel no shame in admitting that. However, I think I might be done fretting over the fact that we’re unable to afford these so-called luxuries when so many who can seem so unhappy, regardless.
Growing up, I longed for the ease Samantha’s powers brought her, while despising Darrin for insisting she deny herself. Here we are, though, all of us modern day witches, discontent, unfulfilled, and bored, as we watch someone else carry out the minutia of our days. I’m certainly not suggesting we scrap all of the ease technology has brought us or forgo all of life’s pleasures. I have the newest Samsung smartphone. I carry a Fossil purse. Jake and I average one rodeo-related vacation every year or two. I, most assuredly, did not replace my own roof… but I did paint every room in my house. Jake did build the 360° shelves in all of our bedrooms. At the time, we’d have loved to hire someone else to do so, but perhaps we were mistaken in that desire. I look around at our home, satisfied that we’re raising our children in something we have, to some extent, built ourselves. It feels good. It’s possible that our new phones, designer handbags, and vacations would mean more to us if they weren’t one of many. Maybe, just maybe, Darrin Stephens had a point. Maybe leisure shouldn’t be our greatest aspiration. Perhaps, the real joy in life is building it for yourself.