A while ago I bemoaned in this very space  how very much I missed thirtysomething, the mid-1980s drama that is tragically unavailable on DVD and hasn’t aired on TV in many years. The TV series started as I commenced my college days and I’d never had a chance to watch it through a mother’s eyes. Main character Hope Steadman’s issues, I thought, would be all that much more meaningful to me now, as a mother of three kids who faces work-life struggles on a daily basis. However all I could do to relive the thirtysomething moments I vaguely remembered from when I was 18 was to read the compilation of a handful of scripts in the book thirtysomething stories , with introductions from the writers, and read fan sites on the web.
A few weeks ago, I was noodling around on YouTube and, on a whim, decided to search for thirtysomething videos and, like manna from heaven, found what I’d been looking for: Many episodes from the first season of thirtysomething had been uploaded in small chunks. In past YouTube searches, all I’d found were short clips, tantalizing little bits of the show devoid of context. Earlier this year and quite by accident, I was able to briefly satiate my desire to watch the third season of Once and Again -- a show created by the thirtysomething guys, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herkovitz, whose final season is likewise unavailable on DVD -- on YouTube, but some malcontent from the production company or the studio or wherever forced YouTube to take the episodes down. (If they’d just release the third season DVD, they wouldn’t have to worry about episodes being posted online. Fans would gladly PAY to get the DVDs, but I digress . . .)
Thanks to the kindness of someone who taped thirtysomething when repeats were airing on Lifetime and then uploaded the episodes, I have finally been able to see the first season of thirtysomething from my maternal perspective, 20 years after I first saw the show. (The kind, blessed soul who put the show on YouTube wrote, "Uploading [the episodes] to YouTube is my way of rewarding fans of the show who have missed it.")
And, as I expected, the experience of watching the show was completely different. Take, for example, the eighth episode entitled, "Weaning ," which was about more than the Steadman’s 9-month-old weaning herself from breastfeeding. It chiefly had to do with Hope, a formerly career-focused researcher at an environmental magazine turned at-home mom, feeling the pull to return to the workforce. And, despite the shoulder pads and oversized blazers women wore in the 80s, Hope’s storyline couldn’t have been more contemporary. Not much is different now when a woman makes her employment choices (provided that it’s not a financial necessity for her family) than it was when this episode originally aired.
The angst in the episode began in earnest when Hope accompanied her husband Michael to dinner with clients (one of whom was a working mom of two young kids) who were looking to hire Michael’s advertising agency for their diaper campaign aimed at working moms. After Hope couldn’t bring herself to answer the "What do you do?" question from the female client, she immediately felt self conscious, invisible and resentful. Matters worsened when, after calling home to check in with the babysitter, she began leaking breastmilk after hearing her baby cry over the phone. Back at the house afterward, Hope assessed how her life had radically changed since having her baby and said to her husband, "How come you get to be totally unscathed by parenthood and I’m totally blown apart?"
Hope’s identity crisis – Am I an at-home mother or a working woman to whose words people pay attention? – was exacerbated when she brought her baby to the magazine office and saw the woman who now had her job (unmarried, no kids). Gazing longingly at the busy people around her, you could just see Hope weighing the pros and cons of the working life. Certainly no one scoffed at those folks when they explained what they do all day.
A visit to the set where Michael was shooting the commercial promoting diapers "for moms who work" (whatever that means) featuring a business-suited mom leaving her baby with a sitter sent Hope into a downward emotional spiral as she believed the commercial was promoting at-work moms at the expense of at-home moms. Within the week, Hope accepted a full-time researching job at the magazine, even though she only wanted part-time (there was no part-time option). Discussing returning to work, Hope ran down her family’s tight financial situation, saying, "I think it’s indulgent if I don’t [work.]"
"You think it’s indulgent that you want to take care of your kid?" Michael asked. ". . . Everything is choices. You’re making a choice right now to raise a kid. "
"I just feel that I need to be out in the world again," she said.
By the end of the episode Hope decided she wasn’t ready to go back to work full-time, lamenting, "I’m supposed to be able to do both [work and parent], I mean, that’s all I hear about . . . it’s in all the magazines." But ultimately, her character wasn’t at-home for long. Later in the series – in which she has a second child – Hope eventually went back to work part-time, and, by the season finale, accepted a full-time job.
Watching Hope’s journey, the push and pull between home and work, is something with which many moms deal in one aspect or another, regardless of their final decision. Despite the passage of 20+ years, a mother’s choice on this subject, what to do with children and career, haven’t gotten any easier. And the dramatization of this time in a woman’s life – where work and early motherhood intersect – stands the test of time, despite the typewriters, high-water jeans, pay phones and conspicuous lack of cell phones and BlackBerries in the thirtysomething world.
Also on Mommy Track'd about thirtysomething:
- an interview with Melanie Mayron 
- Ode to thirtysomething 
- thirtysomething - Third Time Definitely a Charm.