by Meredith O'Brien
The latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy, entitled “Sympathy for the Parents ” was all about, you guessed it, parenting: Good, doting, loving parents and abusive, withholding, cruel, absentee parents. It was about adults who fear that they’ll turn out to be lousy parents because their own parents were pretty abysmal. It was about the fear about what becoming a parent will do to your career. It was about when you and your partner aren’t on the same page when it comes to having kids, when, how many, if any at all.
It was, in essence, a show all about fear, coupled with serious qualms about inflicting life-long damage to another person who’s completely dependent upon you. While there are still many areas I hope Grey’s will traverse when it comes to parenting, I appreciated this multi-faceted examination of child-rearing.
The episode showed how, despite horrific deeds committed by abusive and mentally challenged parents, Alex Karev was able to tend to his siblings and become a successful doctor who remains fiercely protective over those about whom he cares. Sure, Alex is emotionally limited, flees from intimacy and can act like a complete jack ass, but he still has made a life for himself as a respected surgeon. It also demonstrated that, notwithstanding her own emotionally and physically absent parents, Meredith Grey is a kind and caring person who parents her friends and tends to their needs.
Then there were the patients in this episode, both women, neither of whom were mothers. One was dying of cancer. Her story was one of regret, where her husband mourned not only his wife’s pending death, but that they never had a family and he’d be grieving alone. (This prompted Derek to tell Meredith he doesn’t want to do that to her, leave her to grieve alone.)
The other patient was a police officer, shot in the line of duty, who had a history of rebuffing her husband’s desire to start a family with her. Upon learning that the gunshot wound to her abdomen had damaged her uterus and necessitated a hysterectomy to save her life, she and her husband wept at their loss, at what could have been. However in a subsequent scene, they’d become giddy about the prospects of adopting lots of kids and her decision to quit the police force. That giddiness faded, however, when her colleagues showed up at her bedside and her commanding officer told her they couldn’t wait for her to get back on the job. Her husband stood, back against the wall, a despairing look on his face.
Callie Torres was in that room. She saw the look on the husband’s face. She related to him as she too is yearning to start a family of her own. This is complicated by the fact that she’s in a relationship with a partner who has said she doesn’t want children. Uncertain of her next move, she sought out advice from Grey’s resident working mama, Miranda Bailey, who finally seems to have this divorced parenting thing figured out, at least for now. The question Callie posed, “When’s the best time to have kids?” sparked this thoroughly honest reply from Bailey, “The best time to have kids is never.”
When Callie flinched, Bailey, amused, continued, “What? You asked. They cry all the time, non-stop. They never sleep. They’re terrible conversationalists. And they take everything you got. All your time, all your focus, all your patience, all your sleep. Everything, ‘til you got nothing left for you.”
As Callie grimly absorbed this, Bailey suddenly looked wistful, beaming as she told Callie that her son had properly pronounced “wake up” that morning instead of saying, “wade up.” “Him nailing that K sound, it’s the pride I felt, the irrational, unbridled joy,” Bailey said, adding that the satisfaction it gave her was as good as a challenging surgery. “If you wait for the perfect time to have kids, you’re never going to have kids.”
In the meantime, Derek asked Meredith – who’s struggling with her doubts about her parenting skills because she thinks she’s been damaged by her mother – to consider having a child with him. I looked up a column I wrote in 2007 about an earlier episode in which Meredith had expressed very firm opinions on the subject of working parents . Meredith and Bailey were operating on a child whose parents were both working so much that the girl had bonded more with her nanny than with her career-oriented mother and father.
“People want to have high-powered careers, I get that,” Meredith said. “But they should think twice about having kids.”
Bailey, a new mom freshly back from maternity leave, didn’t take kindly to Meredith’s quip. “What . . . I should be home with my baby instead of being with this little girl?” she asked.
Meredith later said, “Why bother having a kid if you’re only going to see it on the weekends or holidays? You might as well get a cat.”
Clearly Meredith will have to come to terms with not only her trepidations over what kind of mother she’d make, but also her unresolved feelings about work and parenting. Callie will have to decide between having a family and her relationship, that’s if Arizona doesn’t cave on the kids thing.
And the one guy who only recently decided he wanted a child – McSteamy -- had his pregnant daughter Sloane (about whom he had no knowledge until a few months ago) show up on his doorstep in active labor by the time the credits rolled. McSteamy had thought about raising a grandchild several episodes ago, decided he was game, even got psyched up about it, only to have his daughter announce she was giving her child up for adoption and skipping town, leaving him with a partially built crib in his apartment. Does this new development mean that McSteamy’s going to get the chance to raise his grandchild after all? That Callie, his neighbor who’d offered to help him raise the baby, will get a baby fix? I know I’ll be tuning in to see how all this parenting – which had previously been the sole domain of Bailey up until now – turns out.