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Reality Bites - And We Love It

Last summer when Madeleine was in her first few weeks, life was a big blur to me most of the time.  Everything revolved around feedings; whether one had just happened, she was in mid-meal, or about to eat again, it seemed a nursing was never more than half an hour away.  I found myself hiney-bound for a large portion of each 24-hour cycle (calling it “night and day” is laughable when a baby’s that age) and needing some sort of entertainment or escape for part of it.  Too exhausted to read during any of her 12 feedings, I turned occasionally to television to distract me and let my mind wander.  Finding the right television show, though, is crucial; watch one that makes you think too much and you’re exhausted.  Watch cartoons or something and you’re not drawn in at all and end up sitting there staring, unable to even veg out.  So where’s a girl to turn?
Hi, my name’s Jennifer, and I watched reality TV.
(Hi, Jennifer.)

Fortunately for us, we have TIVO and I was able to zap anything that looked remotely interesting, set it for a season pass, and have plenty to choose from when nursing time came up.  My husband would turn on the saved menu and face a bewildering array of Fix Up Your Home shows (we had just bought a new house), Fix Up Yourself shows (feelin’ a little skanky and smelling a little ripe), Fix Up Your Pathetic Friend shows (feeling virtuous I didn’t look like those losers!), and, I’ll confess, the American Princess show.  I was rooting for the girl that won the whole time . . .
There was something voyeuristic about looking in on other personal train wrecks – a feeling of not being alone in the whole I-have-no-control-of-my-life thing.  And it’s inanely comforting to see people way worse off than you, making painfully obvious (to your Monday morning quarterback’s eyes) mistakes that you know you’d never do.  There’s also that vicarious thrill you get as someone else does escape, does move up, does get the prize; it gives you hope, makes you think you have a chance to have some random stranger knock on your door and give you a big check and a makeover.
I know I’m not alone, either; I see moms at all my message boards eagerly awaiting the return of The Bachelor or another show.  My girlfriend just bought the first season of Super Nanny on DVD, and I admit I’d like to borrow them!  Let’s face it: a few minutes watching one of those episodes, and you are 1) thanking your Maker you have the baby you do, and 2) feeling suddenly incredibly affirmed in the parenting choices you make; you may have let your toddler eat a piece of chocolate last night right before bed (and paid for it for several hours), but at least you don’t let your kids pee in the street and simply chuckle fondly.  You’re a veritable super parent yourself in comparison!  Who doesn’t want to feel that way? 
Truth be told with the Super Nanny thing, I’m wanting to watch the DVDs and shamelessly mine them for advice, notepad in hand.  So let’s see, first I give them a warning, then . . .
My reality-watching days have dwindled now that Maddie’s aware of the TV as a glowing Mesmer.  We’re keeping her away from the boob tube for her first couple years on the advice of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has the unfortunate side effect (to us!) of limiting our television watching as well.  So the TV stays largely silent until she goes to bed, and we’ve got just enough time in the week to watch Lost and American Idol, with not much more room on our plates.  I know what you’re thinking, but American Idol doesn’t count –it’s gone way beyond reality TV and is now its own thing.  And who doesn’t watch it?  Call it strangely addictive.
There are signs, though, that reality TV is turning its behemoth eye towards parenthood.  Queer Eye for the Straight Guy has been holding auditions here in NYC for several upcoming baby editions; making over the dad and the nursery all at once, apparently, with a deluxe baby shower put together by the Fab Five or some such idea.  But here’s my favorite –
Cashing in on the whole Desperate Housewives craze, Bravo’s doing its own reality version, entitled appropriately enough, The Real Housewives of Orange County.  When I first heard of it I was pretty excited; the thought of cameras following several typical stay-at-home-moms around and showing how hard it really is was pretty delicious.  Upon checking it out, however, I discover they follow around several SAHMs who are anything but typical: these women, one of whom is a former Playboy Bunny, all live in one of the most expensive communities in the country and their “real” jobs cover the vast span from trophy wife to real estate agent (“just a hobby”, she says) to, um, trophy wife.  Great.  So I’m going to be watching six women struggle with complex issues from- Oh No!  My Nighttime Nanny Quit! to- A Mother’s Dilemma:  Pedicure or Son’s Soccer Match?
Who am I kidding.  I’ll be TIVOing that puppy.


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