campo girls vs. gilmore girls
the realities of single parenting
I am the only person I know who drunk-calls their mom instead of their ex. In a slurred half-cry, I’ll tell her I miss her and then ask what she thought of last week’s episode of The Bachelor.
In the way that a normal person might have a best friend, someone to FaceTime every night to spill the tea about the latest boy they’re dating or divulge which friend is driving them up a wall, I have a mom. She’s been a bachelorette since 2001, which I guess makes me her life partner. If you’re even slightly relevant in my life, my mom knows your name— and also where you’re from, what your concentration is, how we met, and every interaction we’ve ever had. There’s an alternate universe in which you might be able to convince me that this behavior is weird, that nobody should ever be this close with their mom, but I’ve seen Gilmore Girls, and I know I’m not alone.
The network comedy, which debuted in 2000 and ran for seven glorious seasons, follows the close relationship between single mother Lorelai Gilmore and her teenage daughter, Rory. The two gossip about each other’s current beaus, borrow one another’s clothes; they basically invented the term “binge-watching.” I laughed with the mother-daughter duo as they threw deviled eggs at Rory’s ex-boyfriend’s car (let’s be real; he deserved it), and I cried at Rory’s high school graduation speech: “My mother never gave me any ideas that I couldn’t do whatever I wanted to do or be whomever I wanted to be. I don’t know if she ever realized that the person I most wanted to be was her.” Cue tears.
But if it sounds like our relationship is exactly the same, there’s one thing you should know about my mom and me: Growing up, I almost never saw her. A business-owner and single parent like Lorelai, she was often too busy to help with my homework or pick me up from rehearsal—tasks she left for a nanny until I was able to care for myself (so, a sophomore in high school). I watched with envy as Lorelai dropped Rory off for her first day of school at Chilton. (In Lorelai fashion, of course: a tie-dye shirt, cutoff jean shorts, and cowboy boots but—Oh no!—She doesn’t know she has a meeting with the headmaster!) Don’t get me wrong, my mom was still the largest presence in my life, determining which colleges I would apply to and how I would spend my summers. But that’s just it—she was a presence, there-but-not-there, like a ghost or phantom. If my life were a TV show, my mom would probably spend most of each season off-camera.
For a long time, I wanted Lorelai to be my mom. She’s fiercely independent, strong-willed, and, well, cool. Then I realized my mom is just like Lorelai, she just has less free time—or, at least the appearance of less free time. What you aren’t aware of when you’re watching the show is that, since so much time is spent depicting the sweet moments Lorelai and Rory share, it skips the hours and hours they must spend apart. The series does many things well: it has witty dialogue and multifaceted characters. But if you’re looking for an accurate representation of the time single parents are realistically able to give their children, this is not it. Amy Sherman-Palladino, who created the series and wrote many of its episodes, grew up with married parents. Figures.
Thus, the writers are left unable to portray the single most heartbreaking struggle of any single-parent/child relationship: resentment. I love my mom. I’m thankful every day for the sacrifices she has made to support us. But it would be a lie to say that I don’t still resent her for skipping my fifteenth birthday for a business trip— that I don’t feel a pang of heartache when I remember that she also missed my Halloween parades, my back-to-school nights, my college acceptance letter arriving in the mail.
My mom sometimes feels absent even when she’s sitting right next to me. On our last vacation, after several meals together, she remarked that I never ordered soda. I wanted to tell her I haven’t drank soda in a decade. A single-parent/child relationship is kind of like a long-distance relationship. You’re overjoyed when you’re with your loved one, but in the interim, they miss a lot. FaceTiming every night helps to bridge this gap, but until Elon Musk invents phones that can replicate hugs (which, if you ask me, should be of higher priority than getting to Mars), it’s just not the same.
Is my mom the reason that I have an irrational fear of all my loved ones abandoning me? Yes. Is she the reason that we have a roof over our heads, the reason I’m able to afford Brown’s astronomical tuition? Also yes. In Gilmore Girls, it’s easy for the writers to show Rory’s resentment for her father—he’s almost entirely absent. But she never expresses the same feelings about Lorelai, who owns and runs an inn (and, at one point, is simultaneously enrolled in business school), yet is somehow never neglectful.
The series gave me a model for the kind of mother-daughter relationship I desired, but it wasn’t until college that I was able to achieve anything close to it. Between classes, rehearsals, internship interviews, and my need to stay up-to-date on the latest TV, I’ve learned to empathize with my mom and her lack of free time. We’ll chat on her drive home from work and my walk to Andrews, or while she’s folding laundry and I’m doing my makeup. As I’ve grown older, I’ve required less from her, as I, too, only have so much to give. I don’t need her to see every play or proofread every essay. The talking is enough. That is, until I need that hug that Elon Musk hasn’t quite figured out yet.
Gilmore Girls doesn’t accurately portray the amount of time single parents are really able to spend with their children, but it does correctly depict how precious that time together is. And it’s true; when she’s not around, I feel momsickness like some feel homesickness, and that feeling goes both ways. When I was going through a period of depression two years ago, my mom would sometimes spend her Saturdays making the three-hour journey to visit me for the day. It was like Carole King’s lyrics for the show’s opening theme song come to life: Any time I was “feeling lonely,” I could just remember that my mom would “be there on the next train.” When she’d arrive, I would cry to her about how unhappy I was, and she’d give me one of those hugs that only moms can give. Then we’d order in sushi and watch an episode of The Bachelor. I may not have seen my mom every episode of my own life, but I know that, in moments like those, we would look like Lorelai and Rory.