Saturday, March 10, 2007

Changing Demographics: Happy Birthday to Me

If you’ve noted this blog’s tagline and acknowledged the reference to Carol in my profile, it will come as no surprise when I admit to being a Brady Bunch fanatic (click here to read about my Brady obsession and my chance encounter with Florence Henderson). When my passion for watching Brady Bunch reruns whenever humanly possible began, I was about the same age as Cindy in the earliest episodes and it seemed to me that there was not only no one cooler than Greg and Marcia Brady, but no one older. Sure, Carol and Mike were far advanced in their years, but they were parents. I couldn’t relate to them at all. But Marcia and Greg, at sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen, they were something to which I could aspire. It seemed like it would take a lifetime to get there, but I knew I could and would be as old as they were. Someday, I promised myself, I would be just like them: private room in the attic, cheerleading captain, dates with football players (even though my school had no football team) and all.

When I was a bit older and settled into the routine of secret Mary Tyler Moore Show episodes after school, I realized that as far as idolatry was concerned, Greg and Marcia would only take me through late adolescence. That was still a long way off and I could still barely imagine making it to eighteen, but I knew there was more. When my age hit the double-digits, I knew I wanted something other than groovy prom dates in my future. I knew I wanted a career. I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant, but I do remember my make-believe games involved rushing around the house with folders rather than baby dolls in my arms, imagining I was routing very important information between very high level offices. With her typing, phone answering, and rushing to and from Mr. Grant’s office, Mary Richards seemed to have exactly what I thought I would want in my future as an independent woman. She worked in television as a glorified secretary under the guise of an associate producer and she got to hang out with some really cool guys (yes, I refer here to Lou, Murray, and Ted). Thus, my new hero was selected.

More than a decade later, when I had my first job after graduating from college and my own apartment to go with it, I walked home after work every evening feeling just like my childhood idol. It felt like I was gonna make it after all!

Flipping through the channels one weekend afternoon in my beloved studio, I came upon a Brady Bunch rerun. Needless to say, channel flipping ended immediately as I’ve never bypassed a Brady episode in my life. At the time, I was about twenty-four and I watched the show not only with nostalgia but also with amazement. It suddenly dawned on me that I was six years older than Greg Brady at his oldest. I had thought that for sure, the minute I had turned eighteen, I would have made a mental note of having finally achieved the milestone which I had always been waiting so long for. But no, I had let the moment pass me by and I had surpassed the eldest Brady without realizing it at all. Oddly though, Greg and Marcia still seemed older than I was, stuck in their own syndicated time zone so that whenever I saw them, I was six years old no matter what my true chronological age. The realization that so many years had gone by was slightly shocking, but no matter, I thought. I’d still never be as old as Mary Richards, my true working-woman hero.

At twenty-five, I became an avid Friends watcher. Not only did Monica Geller and I share extreme Type A personality traits, but I was exactly her age and Monica, Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Phoebe, and Joey’s trials and tribulations mirrored my and all of my friends' issues: constant angst regarding relationships, careers, parents, relationships…The Friends were living our lives, only with better dialog. It was nice to see my own age depicted up there on the small screen rather than constantly imagining what I would one day become. The Friends seemed to be exactly what I already was.

Eventually, twenty eight rolled around. I had been waiting to be twenty-eight for what felt like eons. Twenty-eight was the age, I had one day decided, that some of my favorite kick ass heroines, Kelly Garrett of Charlie’s Angels and Diana Prince of Wonder Woman, surely were at the height of my adoration for them back in the day. I had yet to kick anyone’s ass since I was neither private detective nor super hero, but I had a job that I adored and I was cohabitating with a man whom I adored and who proposed to me that year, so things felt on track. It felt okay that at twenty-eight I was what I once thought of as pretty darn old, cuz, well, so far, so good.

Eventually thirty came and went and I embraced my early thirties wholeheartedly, determining that thirty-something was better than twenty-something any day. And that was true on most days.

Until this one day.

A familiar scenario: me on my ass in front of the television, thumb mindlessly depressing the remote control. I stumbled upon a Mary Tyler Moore Show rerun. Ahhhh. I thought about my age, perhaps thirty-two or thirty-three at this point. I was positive that the one character’s age I would never surpass was Mary Richards’. So mature, so wise, so with it—there was no way I could ever be at her level.

The episode I watched that day involved Mary’s birthday and the revelation that she had moved into another television research demographic. She burst into tears when she realized she no longer belonged in the eighteen to twenty-four year-old bracket. She had just turned twenty-five.


The remote fell to the floor with the thwack of plastic hitting hard wood. I blinked several times. I looked around for someone to confirm the information I had just gleaned or at least to come to my medical rescue once I fell into an epileptic seizure, the result of the major shock and trauma that had just befallen me.


Mary Richards, associate producer at WJM-TV was TWENTY-FIVE? Sure, it was one of the earlier episodes, but the show was only on for seven years which means at the very end of it she was still only THIRTY-TWO. My entire world instantly shattered as I realized that I had surpassed the age of the Mary Richards in that episode ALMOST TEN YEARS AGO.

Five years have since passed and I have come to terms with many things about my age. This weekend I turn thirty-seven and I have a tendency to walk around telling people that I’m pushing forty. I find this ridiculously hard to believe. I find myself wishing I’d paid closer attention when my mother watched Thirtysomething in the 1980s. Surely there were some valuable lessons I had missed that would be helpful as I screech towards a new decade. But to this day, whatever Hope, Nancy, Melissa, Gary, Elliot, and Michael went through still seems impossibly adult: adultery, divorce, illness, mid-career transitions, child bearing and rearing. But now, I stop and realize: I have friends who have gotten divorced, who have dealt with major health issues, who have ended fifteen-year career trajectories, who have children, multiple children...

So now, who is there left to look up to? Whose age can I use to comfort myself knowing that their issues are still decades in the future, nowhere near my own concerns? Who can I be not as old as…yet?

Thank you for being a friend…and for being a lot older than thirty-seven!


Molly said...

Love this post, Gigi! Happy birthday, my friend. xo

smrtygrl said...

On the cusp of the "big" 3-7, let us rejoice in the fact that while we have travelled down the road, indeed, we fortunately haven't quite yet made it back again....

Hope its a great one, Jeej!

gigi said...

Molly, many thanks for the compliment, birthday wishes, and friendship (ah, so Golden Girls)!

And speaking of which, Smrtygrl, thank you for the lyrical reference--and the reassurance that we haven't been back again just yet!

Anonymous said...

Happy birthday, loved your birthday
posting,and yes I do remember you
running around with folders. I just
thought you were imitating me, since I was noting everything on
paper or in note books that I imported from France. Good wishes,\
and keep the funny stuff coming.
I know there is a book in it.
bisou bisou bettyb.

gigi said...

Yes, Bettyb is my mother. And no, I had no idea she was importing notebooks from France (although this is not surprising information). But hey--as long as she thinks I'm funny, what else does a daughter need?