NBC's "Parenthood" has a good track record of art imitating life and one of the show's story lines has been resonating loudly in my wolf pack. I'm been fixated on the scene in the restaurant when patriarch Zeke realizes that his wife Camille's trip to Italy with her art class wasn't something she just needed to "get out of her system," but was in fact, the beginning of a new chapter of their book together. That, or it's going to be the book's end.
Camille's life is the life shared by a generation of women who are now in their late 60s. They were stay-at-home moms who missed the women's movement by a few years but rejoiced in the doors that it opened for their daughters. They drove carpools, kept house, had dinner ready on the table when the breadwinner came home, and were the glue that silently kept the family together. "Just wait til your father gets home," rolled off their lips as the greatest threat they could muster. While my mother was no Camille, Camilles populated my youth and I knew them well. I always wondered what happened to them.
"Parenthood's" Camille recently woke up and found her life about as empty as her big house in the Berkeley hills. Husband Zeke is retired and is happy to spend his days tinkering with old cars and leaky plumbing, but for the past few seasons Camille has been itching to move toward their next chapter. And in the most recent episode, it became clear that she's ready to go there with or without Zeke. She wants to see and paint the world in all its "grandiosity," she told him. It's her "dream," and he is rendered baffled, big-time.
I am still years away from walking in Camille's shoes, but I admit that as my eldest does things like take her SATs and collect college brochures, my mind has been drifting ahead to the time when our house will again be child-free. And while there is a certain tinge of sadness to the looming end of my soccer mom days, I also know that I am looking forward to picking up where I last dropped my Me Time.
Coming to marriage and motherhood as late as I did, I eagerly dropped my Me Time with a thud and never looked back. I fully immersed myself in the lives of my children and kept my demanding career and, for the most part, have loved every insanely busy nanosecond of my life. But I do occasionally wish I had held on to a shred of my Me Time. And I do worry that when I go back to claim it, I won't know where to find it anymore.
Camille's problem is different. She never had a Me Time before her kids came along and Zeke seems fairly incapable of throwing away an empty cereal box without her there to do it for him. For her, the trick will be how to balance fleeing the coop without destroying the nest.
I have faith in this fictional character I've come to admire so. When Zeke reminded her that while she was off in Italy, she missed important family moments -- a granddaughter's painful breakup, a daughter-in-law's political defeat in a run for the mayor's office -- she wisely told him that life goes on, with or without her there, and that in a way it was "liberating" to not be needed so much.
"It's not a bad thing," she assured him. Zeke and I are hoping she's right.