Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Parenthood: TV Drama or Reality TV?

When I heard there was a new TV drama starting up called "Parenthood" all I really thought was "oh, cool, Lauren Graham from Gilmore Girls is back on TV, I'll have to check it out!". I actually managed to catch the first episode (total fluke) and as the plot was laid out, it became apparent that one of the story lines was going to be about a family "coming to grips" (see me doing air quotes with my fingers sarcastically) with their son being diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome. I was tempted to turn it off and never watch it again, my feeling being that I ride this Autism roller coaster every damn day and I don't need to watch it during my time to relax. But the siren song of Lauren Graham lured me in (and the ever sexy Peter Krause) so I decided to give it a few shows before I made the call.

Funny enough, the character with Asperger Syndrome is named Max. Go figure. I've been asked if I see any similarities between what is being portrayed on the show and my personal experience. Our Max was diagnosed with Autism at 32 months old, so we are really living a different reality. The Max on the show is quite high functioning whereas we really have no idea where our Max will end up on the spectrum. I certainly have high hopes for my little guy, but only time will tell. What did hit home is how overwhelming it is when you first start out. Everyone has advice, well meaning parents tell you what you should do, what doctor you should see, have you tried this diet or this B12 shot? Read this book? Seen that documentary? You are bombarded from all directions and you haven't even asked for help yet. It's completely nuts and when I look back on the last year and a half I wonder how I managed to stay out of the funny farm (I'm guessing it was full and my family just didn't have the heart to tell me).

I remember someone emailing me the "Welcome to Holland" poem, thinking it would help me get perspective on having a child with special needs. After I read the poem, all I could think was "Fuck Holland, them and their wooden shoes". I still feel that way today, especially now that I have a neurotypical child. Raising a child with Autism sucks. It really does. It is heartbreaking and painful, it eats away at you and breaks you down. It tests every single one of your relationships to the fullest extent possible - be it your spouse, your best friend, parents, siblings, employer, whatever - nothing is left untouched. I've had some people suggest to me that I love Max just the way he is and that they are sure I wouldn't change him for the world. That's complete bullshit. Yes, I do love him the way he is, but if I could wave a magic wand and make him not Autistic I would do it in a hot second. Life is hard for us as Max's parents, but it is way harder for Max. I wish more than anyone can understand that I could lift this blanket of Autism off of my little boy and let his full sunshine light the world.

Back to the show though - because that's where we started. I like it, and I'll keep watching. Not for Lauren Graham or sexy Peter Krause, but for Max's mom "Kristina". I see a lot of my experience in her. She feels woefully inadequate on all fronts, can't seem to make anyone happy, and has lost her identity somewhere in the shuffle. She's doing her best to keep her head above water and keep on keepin' on. I feel for her, and I'm rooting for her. Telling her it will get better, hoping for myself that it gets better too. Next time you watch this show and you get to turn it off after the hour is up, remember that for a lot of families, this isn't a TV Drama, it's our personal Reality Show, and we don't get to turn it off, and we don't win a million smackers for getting through it.


  1. We love, love, love that show. Only it makes me cry every damn week. When Kristina was with the therapist watching Max play ball with the little girl, I was bawling because I see hints of our own struggles and the conversation between the two women was so familiar to me. Obviously our challenges aren't the same as the characters either but somehow watching Kristina makes me feel less alone.

  2. I like it too..I keep forgetting to record it though. Gotta set the DVR !

  3. My sister's son was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome at age 6. After watching a couple of episodes I made a point to ask her if she saw any similarities. Like Max on the show, my nephew, Dean, is also highly functioning. It was amazing though how many things she could relate to. It was a good thing for someone without a special needs child to see (me) and for the record, Chad & I love the show! We relate most to Adam & Kristina when they're figuring out how to deal with Hattie and her boyfriend. Peyton's only going on 13, but it's amazing how similar they look with cell phones
    in hand texting like mad!!

  4. Anonymous10:10 p.m.

    I have been watching with interest myself. As a parent to a young child with mild autism, I was interested to see how this family was portrayed. I can't relate entirely to Max since he is much older than our son. Also, as they say if you've met one child with autism, you've met ONE child with autism. We can't expect that Max will be like our little guy. However, I could relate extremely well to Max's parents and how they deal with the emotions involved. The show often moves me to tears. As much as I like that I can relate to the show on a personal level, I also hope that the show is able to educate people that are not personally touched by autism and teach them some compassion.

  5. Just a heads up - it appears the Parenthood has been confirmed for a second season.