I recently stumbled upon The Wonder Years when I was perusing my Netflix stream of recommended shows. If you don’t recall, this was the show that introduced us to Kevin Arnold and his American family and friends growing up in the turbulent social times of the 1960s and ’70s. Each episode was narrated by the adult Kevin, with an air of wisdom that came only from being an adult with the benefit of hindsight.
When I was growing up, The Wonder Years was not one of my appointment TV shows (back when you actually had to watch shows at their scheduled air times). It’s not that I disliked the show; it just didn’t resonate with me at the time. But when I saw it on my Netflix stream, I decided to try a few episodes again (probably because I’d cycled through everything else in my queue).
I found myself watching The Wonder Years in a very different way than I did growing up as a kid in the 1980s. I was watching it through the eyes of another person altogether. The episode I tuned in to did not focus on Kevin and his siblings or friends; it focused on Norma and Jack, the parents of the family. What struck me was the following narration that adult Kevin gives in the episode’s beginning:
Before my parents were Mom and Dad, they were Norma and Jack. Back then they didn’t have much, so they got by on what they had—each other. Somewhere along the way, hearts and flowers gave way to other things. So like any couple of their generation, they did what they had to do. They became parents. Providers.
In hearing those words, it struck me how much I have changed over time and how my role as an adult is so different after becoming a parent. Seventeen years ago, my now-husband, Bryan, and I were young, engaged and happily living in a two-bedroom apartment with all our belongings fitting into that 800-square-foot space. This was a time when my biggest worry was which movie we would see that weekend.
Today, our worries focus on budgeting for home improvements; paying down credit card debt while saving for retirement; hoping another car won’t be in need of major repair; what the future of this country will hold; and trying to raise a 7-year-old daughter who will be a healthy and contributing member to society.
Gone are the carefree wonder years of yesterday. Movie theater money is now used for groceries. Just like Norma and Jack, we are now parents and providers. That has become our central role in life. And while we certainly wouldn’t give up our daughter, pets or our house (no matter how many repairs it needs), it’s hard to not wax nostalgic thinking about those years past when we were Bryan and Leah. We had each other, and we got by with just that.
Being a parent—or even an adult with responsibilities—makes that episode of The Wonder Years take on quite a different perspective. Hearing adult Kevin now, I see why my parents enjoyed the television show so much. They were likely watching it from a parent’s perspective, wondering where their carefree years went. And now here I am—27 years after the episode first aired—finding myself doing the exact same thing.