I’m the real housewife of My Own Suburgatory.
I look nothing like the wives on ABC’s new comedy Suburgatory, sparkly jewels of enhanced womanhood. My breasts are all too droopingly real—on display for my son with disturbing regularity. I consider it my duty as a feminist reared during the 1980s campus culture wars to show him the unvarnished bounty that awaits him in the years to come, a public service, really.
Still, I do consider myself the real housewife of my own Suburgatory, the title of my upcoming satire collection. The book proposal for Suburgatory was bought last year, and now ABC’s take on suburbia debuts Wednesday night right before Modern Family.
The show stars a teenager named Tessa, forced by her dad to leave New York City for so-called suburban bliss. Back in 2004, I took the same path with my husband, Steve, transforming from trash-talking CNN head writer to trash-talking stay-at-home mom in a flash.
How trashy is my talk? Well, a guy friend once called me the “poor man’s Sarah Silverman”—which I suppose makes you, dear reader, the poor man. (Sorry about that!) But I took it as an extravagant compliment. To step into my real-life “Suburgatory,” imagine if Silverman got knocked up and HALO-jumped into America’s most repressed suburb. If ABC’s Suburgatory has a hint of heart, my Suburgatory has a dark heart, and lots of F-bombs.
I was always dropping the F-bomb back in the CNN newsroom, swaddled in the warm embrace of my un-shockable TV-news brethren. My last job before baby was writing for Anderson Cooper at a pace so intense that sometimes I faced “blank prompter terror”—a minute or less to blast in something, anything. (Thank god the “Silver Fox” can vamp like a master.) No wonder that tiny control room was nicknamed the “Screamatorium.”
Shvitzing in the Screamatorium didn’t seem advisable after I myself got knocked up. (Steve also stopped me from listening to The Cure, convinced I would incubate a doom-loving goth baby.) We were exceedingly lucky, plus pathologically cheap and could swing it on one salary—but not in Manhattan. So off we went to Suburgatory.
My response to suburbia was roughly how you ladies out there might react if your husband suggested “mixing things up in bed and maybe, you know, um, trying the back door?” You’d be disoriented, disillusioned, and, of course, clenched very tight.
That’s what suburbia felt like to me, when I landed ass-first in what I’ll call Lesschester County, a gleaming expanse of white people as far as the eye could see, where subversion seemed policed and I often felt like I’d been taken hostage by an adult Girl Scout troop. What was less about Lesschester? Less humor, less edge. When I hear ABC’s Tessa yell, “You ruined my life!” at her dad, I wish I could do the same, spread the blame. But the fact is, I “ruined” my life all by myself, by blithely discarding my job, urban life, friends, and identity.
The pictures don’t lie. Before Lesschester, think of me as the woman in my author photo: confident, striding forth like a goddamn Enjoli ad. After, I became a scary, unwaxed, steaming pile of humanity. That terrifying mom from Carrie looked more together than I do now.
It was the moms I met in my first years in suburbia who sent me spiraling—in the same way that ABC’s Tessa seems mystified by her shiny new neighbors. But the moms I encountered weren’t plastic trophies. They had trophies: Ph.D.s, J.D.s, even M.D.s, or years spent on Wall Street trading floors—more rough and tumble than any newsroom. Whatever edge they had before baby seemed happily pushed aside for zealous hyperparenting that I found brutally boring. One lucky day on the playground, I spotted “VAGINA” scrawled on top of a twisty slide, with kids shooting out the hole. My new “co-worker” moms did not share my glee.
Only now, years later, do I see myself for what I was: a depressed sourpuss not really giving these moms a chance. Back then, I popped Zoloft like Chiclets. Once they kicked in, my own personal sitcom began. I was propelled out of the house, desperate for any connection I could make to stave off the isolation. I began yip-yapping to everyone, anywhere, all the time. I quickly became the “weirdo mommy” at Gymboree, alternating between speed talking, accidental swearing, and thousand-yard stares. I visited firehouses, pretending my kid just wanted to see those amazing biceps engines. I followed a circuit of library story times with the devotion of a Dead Head, and overclapped my way through “If You’re Happy and You Know It.” I was a regular at the IKEA cafeteria with its free hour of day care.
Then came my year of magical dissonance. In our second suburb, in New England, I tried (and failed spectacularly) to hide my utter godlessness while attending a mom’s play group at a Baptist church. “WTF?” asked my gay best friend when I joined. Well, loneliness is a powerful motivator. And in the end, these ladies’ hospitality helped save me from depression’s abyss. Sadly for them, though, they did not save me from hell.
ABC’s Suburgatory offers a hint of redemption. Mine took longer, but eventually, I did find it. I now know that my snotty urbo-philia had blinded me—something I discovered when a mom I considered a June Cleaver apologized when her son dropped the F-bomb. She very quietly told me that she’d listened to Howard Stern every day since she was 17.
With that one admission, I knew there were more of me out there. The clouds parted, and for a moment at least, I happily departed Suburgatory for the heavens above.