Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Shades of grey... on a sitcom

OK, anyone watch "How I Met Your Mother" last night? (If you didn't, & you are a fan of the show, this post contains spoilers -- you have been warned.)

In a nutshell, at the end of the last episode, Robin thought she pregnant, & that Barney was the father. As someone who has been adamantly childfree by choice, Robin was not particularly happy to find herself in this position.

Last night's episode started out with a big twist: instead of the usual voice over of Future Ted talking to his two bored kids on the sofa, there's a different sofa, two different kids -- and Robin's voiceover narration with a new title: "How I Met Your Father." Huh?

Then, Robin finds out that she's actually not pregnant, and she & Barney do a silly happy dance. She apologizes to the kids on the couch -- "sorry, kids." Huh? again.

Then Robin get called back to the dr... and in one of the those "only in TV Land" twists, gets told that she will never be able to have children. (They can tell all this from a pregnancy blood test? And even if they could, should they really be testing for other stuff without telling the patient?)(But, I digress...)

It's one thing to say you don't want kids -- quite another to be told you won't be able to have them. Robin struggles with this newfound knowledge. Her friends sense that something is wrong, but she doesn't tell them the truth, instead making up a dumb story that she's disappointed that she just found out she can never be a Canadian Olympic pole vaulter (!). (Robin's Canadianness has been the butt of many jokes on the show over the years.) Meanwhile, Lily, the clueless preggo (who went through "infertility" very briefly while trying to conceive), takes her shopping for baby stuff, & waves a maple leaf onesie in Robin's face. Poor Robin has to leave.

In the end, we learn that the kids on the couch were all in Robin's imagination. (I figured that one out long before dh -- it just wasn't in keeping with the arc of her character.) "I'm glad," she says, although there's a tinge of sadness in her voice.

Future Ted tells us that although Robin never became a "pole vaulter," she became a famous journalist -- and a bull fighter (!)

But the last line of Ted's voice-over narration, as he gives Robin a hug -- "She was never alone" -- absolutely slayed me. I bawled like a baby while dh held my hand. I guess it tapped into my deepest fear -- of being alone and forgotten at the end of my life. It's something I try not to think about -- our nephews will look in on me once in awhile (won't they??)... I have friends... lots of people with kids are lonely in their old age too... But it's hard not to sometimes.

I spent part of the morning ignoring work (shhh...) & searching for online reviews of the show to see what other people thought. This writer and this one gave it thumbs up. I read some comments on the plot summary on ew.com, and some people hated it. I got a rueful chuckle out of how many were trying to figure out how Robin might wind up being a mother after all, even if she doesn't have biological kids (adoption? stepkids?)(She just HAS to be a MOM!!! Somehow!!! Right???)

Overall, I thought the episode was very well done. The unexpected pregnancy is such a TV cliche. I like that they didn't go through with it -- go for the easy ratings (both main female characters pregnant)(even though a pregnancy would have been totally out of character for Robin). I like that they left Robin childless/free. I give everyone involved kudos for tackling a subject that's not the usual sitcom fodder, & exploring and acknowledging the shades of grey that creep into our lives -- how we can be both happy & sad at the same time about something -- how you can be sad that you don't have children but still have a good life without them.

Did you watch? What did you think?


  1. I'm with you. I bawled at the lonely/alone part of the plot. But I think what bothers me is the thought that if you are childfree, by choice or not, somehow your life has to be more interesting, your job and achievements more than the average "mom" person who can happily live a simple life being a mom to her kids. I don't have big bull fighting plans or huge career accomplishments I plan to pat myself on the back for, I just want a simple life like everyone else, yet childfree is always have to portrayed as somehow doing more to make up for not being a mom. That's the only part that bothers me.

  2. I didn't watch it when we always do. Watching the week before where she tells Barney she is pregnant just made me so mad....but I read your review and we have it to watch so maybe I will.

    I have to say that being alone is going to happen kids or not, I think. My grandma is in a nursing home and it kind of makes me really upset when my dad gets upset about his brothers and sisters not being there all the time. There are 11 of them. I think I have thought a million times "So, who in the world is going to visit me?" but I don't think I have said it to him out loud before. I have no nieces, no nephews. I have a sister who also couldn't have kids and waited for an adoption for 6 years and couldn't take the wait anymore. My brother also doesn't have kids. But for some reason the alone doesn't bother me. I think maybe it is because I have seen both of my grandma's be in retirement homes. You're surrounded there....all the time....I guess you just have to think that you'll be with other old people and not young people.....Even if you have kids you aren't going to always have visitors.

  3. I didn't watch it, but my Resolve support group meeting was last night and it came up in the discussion. A couple of people said that they were kind of blindsided by the story and just started bawling. Mainly because it's a comedy and they just want some mindless entertainment.

    Being alone is a big fear of mine. I know that having children won't guarantee that you won't be alone, but nevertheless it's a fear.


  4. I cried.
    I thought that they actually handled it pretty well in the end. They didn't do a schmaltzy everything works out, miracle pregnancy or anything like that. I was glad they left Robin as never becoming a mother, but nonetheless having a rewarding life that included loved ones.

  5. I didn't watch that episode precisely because of the preview/trailer which showed her having a positive pregnancy test. (I'm just not ready to deal with unplanned pregnancies, even in TV land). But now I kind of wish I would have.

    My aunt is childless, and I have always assumed (as did my mom, her sister) that it was by choice. Her husband had one son from a previous marriage who was 7 or 8 at the time they got married. He and my aunt get along, but have never had a parental relationship, if that makes sense. One of my mom's best friends from high school is also single and childless (she has three nieces whom she dotes on). So I grew up thinking it was perfectly normal for very nice, very fun grown ups not to have kids and instead take frequent vacations and buy us extravagant gifts. In fact, my aunt was more fun than most of the parents I knew.

    It never once occurred to me as a kid that she would be lonely or alone in old age, because of course her nieces and nephews would be there for her, and she has so many friends with whom they travel and do fun things.

    I realize now that their choice in life (if it was, in fact, a choice, which I sometimes wonder about now) is somewhat unusual, and I think my aunt would have made a great parent. But that's not the only way to have a family, and it's certainly not a safeguard against being alone.

  6. I love the show, although we usually only watch on reruns, so I didn't see this episode (but I went ahead and read the spoiler). : )

    I agree with Lori's point about the pressure to have a more unconventional life if you are childfree/childless. The common cant is that you have more money and time for pleasures *outside* the home -- but nesting is for the breeding birds. You always demonstrate a different, and probably more realistic perspective and example. IMO it's a very pleasant one. : )

  7. Really good recap and points. And Lori's point about the expectation of having a really exciting life if you are childfree is a good one. I'd never thought of that before. I will say that Robin's character has consistently been interested in the things listed that she eventually did (she dumped Ted because he wouldn't move to Argentina on a whim). But still.

  8. I'm guessing they must have someone on the writing staff who has experienced IF. Don't forget that Lily & Marshal had fertility testing (and a reality check) after they didn't get a BFP right after they started trying. Both the Lily/Marshall storyline & Robin's lastnight were well written and totally realistic. It's an awesome show and they'll keep me as a fan by throwing reality in with the comedy & fiction (I mean who takes in a goat in a Manhattan appartment).

  9. Thanks for posting abou this episode. I really affected me too. I spent a good part of Tuesday morning combing for reviews about it and finally blogged about it myself. I found you from your comment!

    I too agree with Lori's comment and am bothered by the suggestion/expectation that women who don't have children should compensate for it by being super successful in their career or in other aspects of their life.

  10. I'm so glad you clued me in to this because I saw that Twitter was all abuzz with the episode, though I'd never watched the show at all.

    SOunds like it was well done in so many ways.

    I like what you said: "It's one thing to say you don't want kids -- quite another to be told you won't be able to have them." It's about having choice.

  11. It's not a show I watch. Just a comment though. It's funny how committed DH became once it became obvious that I wasn't getting pregnant. He didn't like having the choice removed from him any more than I did. Something about control, I'm sure. He was ambivalent for many years and now here he is - super daddy.