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When I finally convinced my pop culture-averse little sister to watch Amy Sherman-Palladino’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, I wasn’t sure she’d be hooked for the same reasons I am. Then, about three-quarters into the first episode, title character Midge Maisel approaches her parents in distress while wearing a loose-fitting nightgown. Upon seeing her daughter’s anguished face in the middle of the night, the mother’s first reaction is to exclaim, “What are you wearing? It’s not thinning!”
My sister shot me the look of a fellow war-weary soldier. It said, “Ouch. There’s mom.”
My sister and I hail from a long line of toxic mothering. You could say we, two childless thirtysomethings unsure of whether we’re keen to keep the legacy alive, are the trickle-down product.
Five years ago, I took the first step toward breaking the cycle when I wrote my mother an email explaining that we wouldn’t be speaking to or seeing each other for the foreseeable future. To this day, the edict remains — and I have no interest in lifting it.
In the difficult months after I hit send, I serendipitously rediscovered Sherman-Palladino’s beloved series Gilmore Girls, which proves a telling primer to Maisel’s themes. It happened by chance — I was working from home and landed on a channel playing back-to-back episodes. It took me less than a minute to reevaluate what I once found simply entertaining. Suddenly, the show was therapy. Emily Gilmore, Lorelai Gilmore, and Mrs. Kim of Gilmore Girls are all mothers who consistently make decisions that adversely affect their daughters. Somehow, despite the shock factor of their flawed logic, Sherman-Palladino’s deft touch makes these women relatable — lovable, even.
As are their daughters Lorelai, Rory, and Lane. Sherman-Palladino challenges us to confront the fact that these products of dysfunctional parenting, whom we hold so near and dear, are precious specifically because of the flaws they’ve gained through their trials.
You have permission to laugh, even if it feels wrong or uncertain or painful. Or perhaps because it is. This aspect of Gilmore Girls is what brought me back to myself during my early estrangement from my mother, and allowed me to channel the anger and confusion and sadness. I didn’t need to be reminded that my mother is a human whose injuries against me were, for her, deeply ingrained behaviors (though it didn’t hurt). What was more powerful was seeing interesting and triumphant characters carved from fraught maternal upbringings. It helped me begin to set aside resentments toward my mother. It helped allow me to explore, even adm