If you haven’t seen The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon, I highly recommend that you do so. It’s a witty and fun romp through some truly great period costumes. It’s probably best to go into the 1950s-era comedy — which is nominated for two Golden Globes Awards, including Best TV Series — about an Upper West Side Jewish woman and her family knowing little about it beforehand.
But, SPOILER ALERT: The show begins with Midge Maisel’s husband leaving her unexpectedly. (Sorry! There was no way I could write this piece without that information!) In the aftermath of his exit, Midge decides to become a stand-up comedienne (who doesn’t love sticking an “enne” at the end of words?).
We could get into a nitpicky argument about how the language used by the characters is not what people would ever say in that time period (like “like”). Or how an overtly Jewish comedy should, ideally, have an overtly Jewish cast (there are Jewish cast members, but the incandescent Midge is played by non-Jew Rachel Brosnahan). I’m happy to argue about that anytime, so let’s do it next time we run into each other. Let’s move on.
My main bone to pick is a little more personal. Full disclosure: I haven’t finished watching the entire season (I mean, I have six kids and one television, give me a break!). But I want to discuss Midge as a mother — which means we actually have very little to discuss. Because apart from brief cameos at her son’s fourth birthday party or measuring what she sees as her baby’s inordinately large head, Midge seems to have very, very little to do with her children in this show.
This bothers me tremendously — and that’s maybe because I feel there’s a lot I actually do really get about Midge. You see, aside from being beautiful and uproariously funny, Midge and I have other stuff in common, too — like how, when my ex-husband and I parted ways, I, like Midge, moved back in with my parents.
Like Midge, I stuck my old Pyrex dish in some closet somewhere because it had nowhere else to go. Like Midge, I occasionally regressed in moments of vulnerability and lay on my old childhood bed thinking, “What now?” And, like Midge, I went back to work — in my case as a journalist rather than as a stand-up comedian or a makeup saleswoman (the latter actually would have been stand-up comedy, since simply putting on eyeliner is something I find incredibly taxing and big of me).
But Midge’s apparent utter lack of concern for her children is something startling — even to me, and I’m writing as someone who similarly delegated childcare to my own parents after my divorce. Midge’s happiness and sense of self seem to derive almost entirely from her escape from the expected roles of a 1950s housewife and mother. Her kids seem kind of like that Pyrex dish: something that doesn’t really fit into the new life and needs to be stored somewhere.
I completely relate to her intoxication with the idea of herself as being free from a marriage that, unbeknownst to her, constrained her. However, I don’t get the thing with the kids. And I’m glad I don’t get it.
What bothers me is that the show seems to implicitly convey an age-old idea that has dogged us women for generations: the idea that loving and caring for kids is just not sexy. And by sexy, I don’t only mean provoking ideas of intimacy — I also mean fun, fun-loving, and vibrant with energy. You know, the stuff that makes life worth living.
In the show, being in the spotlight is intoxicating for Midge, and being with her children is a chore. Believe me, as a mom of six, I have been through my share of chore-ish child-related moments. I actually live through those moments pretty much daily. (I’d lump explaining “Yes, it’s bedtime, even though it’s light out because now it’s Daylight Savings Time” with super-fun tasks like checking the expiration dates on the stuff in my fridge.)
When I had my sixth kid, my sister gave me a great gift in the hospital: a book entitled, Are We Having Fun Yet?: The 16 Secrets of Happy Parenting by a woman named Kay Willis, mother of 10 children. Her punchline is that raising children — in the macro, if not micro sense — is supposed to be about having fun.
“You are the most important gift you will ever give your children,” Willis wrote.
She’s right — and I realize that’s what irks me about this otherwise smart, delightful show.
As I watch Midge cavort and preen and smile in the spotlight, I can relate — I love when I get attention for my wit, as opposed to my uncanny speed when I take three kids to a public restroom. But I wish we saw more of the joy in Midge’s life as a mother. Because that, to me, is the true punchline of what being a Jewish mother is all about: the kvelling, the naches, and that inescapable feeling that joy derived from your children is the finest vintage of joy given to us in this lifetime.