These are the poignant lines uttered by a suburban mom on the verge. She’s Betty Draper, the young, blond, pretty seemingly perfect 1960 housewife in the critically acclaimed TV show Mad Men.
I woke up early this morning, couldn’t get back to sleep, so I burned through the final two episodes of the first season of Mad Men. This Thanksgiving weekend, I finally decided to get on the Mad Men TV-viewing bandwagon. There are many reasons to watch this show, but, given the title of this blog, Crazy in Suburbia, I was particularly intrigued to acquaint myself with the drama, because, among its many features, it depicts American suburban life, at that post-World War II time when the suburbs were moving to the forefront of our nation’s cultural consciousness.
Despite my Soccer Mom nom de plume and the photo of the skinny, prosperous looking blond at the top corner of this site (Yes, it’s Victoria Beckham), I’m not that woman and I’m no Betty Draper. I’m not as young as Betty, who is 28. I’m also not blond; rather I’m a wanna-be-blond, as my son teases me. In fact, after delaying my usual routine of feminine maintenance, I’ve got an appointment today to get my highlights retouched. Not sure when I’ll get around to the rest of my routine: leg waxing and pedicure. Like a lot of families these days in these tough economic times, ours is feeling a little tight on money.
Also, unlike Betty, I’m not a housewife, perfect or otherwise. I’m a working mom, and don’t do housekeeping all that well.
I should despise this Betty Draper character, and I should be brimming with Schadenfreude, taking delight in her suffering. In a way, I am, I must confess, but I suspect that other fans of the show are also gaining satisfaction in learning her life ain’t so great after all.
Because she seems to have much to envy, so much going for her. She comes from a well-off East Coast family, graduated from top college, and was beautiful enough, in a Grace Kelly way, to model for a while in Manhattan before meeting her Prince Charming, the handsome, successful Don Draper. She also has a natural flair for keeping her house in beautiful shape, as well as herself. She certainly doesn’t put off her feminine maintenance routine.
Actually, I see a lot of women around Walnut Creek, in my neighborhood, or at community events, who appear to also have Betty’s gift for looking good and, more than that, for looking happy.
I confess to being bitter at times that I’m not these women. I confess to feeling envy, and then spite, and of trying to convince myself that I have other qualities that make me superior to these seemingly perfect women. I know that’s not a good way to think, and, when I’m in envy mode, I despise myself so much than I could ever despise Betty Draper or the Betty Drapers of central Contra Costa County.
But as the first season of Mad Men goes on, Betty reveals an actually not-so-surprising level of depth, humanity, and misery. She’s quietly going crazy in her seemingly perfect life. She, of course, would have made a perfect case study for the groundbreaking book, The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan.
Her psychiatrist–Betty Draper’s, that is–labels her as highly anxious. Her husband, Don, is mystified, but then he’s off working most of the time, drinking, smoking, and having affairs.
Betty terrifies and surprises herself with sudden displays of anger. Over the past year or so, I’ve terrified and surprised myself in similar ways (though I’ve done nothing to get myself arrested for). She gets mad as hell and decides she’s not going to take it anymore. She slaps a neighbor in the grocery store who has insulted her. Then, after losing a chance to return to her modeling career part time, she takes a rifle and opens fire on pigeons belonging to her next-door neighbor, out of revenge for his threatening to shoot her children’s dog. She also takes to sipping glasses of red wine during the day (If only she’d had Trader Joe’s Two-Buck Chuck around back then) and fantasizes about luring the door-to-door air-conditioning salesman into her home for a quickie.
Betty really loses it after it dawns on her that, yes, her husband isn’t the man he has always pretended to be and that he has been unfaithful to her for a long time. That’s when she suddenly breaks down in a bank parking lot on a cold November morning and confides her misery to a 9-year-old neighbor boy, with whom she has formed an unconventional, yet sympathetic bond.
Betty walks up to him as he sits in the car waiting for his mother to come out of the bank. She blurts out: “I can’t talk to anyone. It’s so horrible. I’m so sad.” Then she pleads to the boy, who, with his own dysfunctional family life, also has reasons to be sad, “Please tell me I’ll be okay.”
I don’t know about you, but I’ve had moments when I have felt just like Betty Draper. Actually, lots of moments, particularly in the past few years. When I just want to open up to someone and say, this is horrible—whatever this is. Life itself? And I just feel so sad, and I want someone to just tell me it’s going to be okay.
Yes, it’s Thanksgiving weekend, and I should not be feeling sad, but I should be feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all the good things in my life.
It’s Saturday morning. When the sky became light, I could see that a thick cold gray mist lay heavy around my house and over my cul-de-sac. The mist has since lifted. The leaves on the trees outside my bedroom window are sparkling bright yellow in orange in the sun. It could be another beautiful fall day here in suburbia. I told my husband I was feeling sad, we talked, and now he’s preparing chocolate chip waffles for my son. I’ll go running and breathe in the cold, clear air.
I can’t wait for Season 2 of Mad Men to come out on DVD. I missed the second season when it actually aired on AMC. I’ll have to get the DVDs and see if things start to get better for Betty Draper. I hope so.