A fellow cop had been gunned down in a Japanese restaurant. The detectives from New York City’s 14th Squad had gathered in their lieutenant’s office to strategize for the investigation.
All except for Detective Mary Beth Lacey.
Her partner, Detective Chris Cagney, silently but emphatically motioned for Lacey to join the group in Lieutenant Samuels’ office. But Lacey was busy on the telephone. Arguing with her husband Harvey. About last-minute child care arrangements for their two grade school-aged sons.
Before the shooting threw everyone’s day into chaos, Lacey was slated to take her son Michael to his dentist’s appointment and to later relieve the babysitter in time to make dinner. Her husband was going to continue plugging away at his contracting work on a job site. Then one of her colleagues was killed, and all the other cops from the precinct were working unpaid overtime. They weren’t going home any time soon.
"I can’t get away," Detective Lacey told her husband. "Everyone’s staying on their own time."
"I know how you feel," he replied sympathetically, suggesting that they just skip the dentist’s appointment and try to see if they could get a neighbor to watch the boys through dinner.
And even though it had taken her a long time to get this dentist’s appointment, Lacey finally agreed to blow it off when she and her husband couldn’t reach an agreement on how to get Michael there. Frustrated, she slammed down the phone and then called her son Michael -- who was being supervised at home by a sleeping elderly neighbor while both of his parents were working -- and asked him to call and cancel the appointment.
The following morning, when Lacey explained that she’d have to work overtime to help find the cop-killer, her boys loudly complained about having to have another babysitter. Though her husband tried to blunt their criticism – "Your mother and I each have jobs of our own now, as well as taking care of you." – later that night, he was waiting for her at the kitchen table when she came home to tell her that the babysitter never showed up and that the boys made themselves cookies and milk for dinner. He said something had to give. "Well then," Lacey replied, "we got a problem."
"Cagney & Lacey " (1982-1988), the award-winning cop drama, was popular and controversial for featuring one of television’s first female detective teams. But amid the headline-making storylines about Chris Cagney’s (Sharon Gless) alcoholism and breast cancer, there was Mary Beth Lacey (Tyne Daly), the working mom, quietly living a working class life in a New York City apartment building, married to a man who was a building superintendent and ran a fledgling contracting business on the side.
After recently watching the show I first saw when I was a young teenager, it was surprising to observe how little has changed for working moms in the 25 years since "Cagney & Lacey" premiered. Of course I didn’t watch the show in the early 1980s for the working mom angle. Back then, I watched for the cops, the cases and the female duo kicking some bad guy behind. But viewing the first season through the eyes of a working mom, hearing Lacey constantly referencing the need for cash to pay her eldest son’s orthodontist’s bills, the need to arrange child care with Mrs. Harris down the hall and the constant bickering with her understanding husband about work-home scheduling conflicts, the only things that seemed out of date were the hairstyles, the occasional headband, rotary phones, TV sets with rabbit ear antennas, big cars and the appearance of the twin towers in the New York City skyline. The working parent experiences and struggles remain contemporary, which is, in many ways, troublesome and discouraging.
But "Cagney & Lacey" didn’t only provide glimpses into the life of a working mom. Working dads got a fair shake as well.
Ironically, the same show that brought us the groundbreaking pair of female cops – including one detective mom – also gave viewers a doting new dad in the form of Detective Mark Petrie (played by Carl Lumbly, recently known for his role on "Alias"). Early in season one, Petrie gleefully distributed copies of photos of his newborn daughter to his colleagues in the precinct – if the show were set in 2007, one could imagine him clogging up e-mail boxes with photos and updates -- and earnestly spoke with another dad cop about diapers (cloth versus disposable) and the heartbreak of watching your baby experience diaper rash pain. In one scene where Petrie was on the job with uber-masculine cop Detective Victor Isbecki (Martin Kove), Petrie showed himself to be an evolved dad when he uttered, "It’s lousy working all day, not being there while your child is growing up." He then admitted that he had been waking up early before leaving for work just so he could have time to play with his daughter.
"Split me in half," Lacey told her partner one day after another verbal child care tussle with her husband, "my life would be perfect." And what working parent doesn’t feel like that, at least a bazillion times a week?
The first season of Cagney & Lacey is available at Amazon.com  and other retailers.