Whenever I watch Roseanne, I always feel like I am watching home movies. Except the people on television are not my family. There are a few key elements missing: my mother divorced my father when I was around nine years old, so there wasn’t a father figure who was around all that often. My mother moved in a house that sat between two of my aunts, who were around often. Aunt Jackie is like a mesh of my two aunts, in the weirdest way. But there are also a lot of similarities. They are shocking and surreal.
The things I know about my family were heard by mistake, at holiday parties when the adults were talking and did not think that the children were listening. I find that even now, at thirty-five years old, my memories are fractured pieces as if the framed picture I had in my mind was thrown to the floor and shattered. It is hard for me to place when things happened, all I have is a foggy timeline. Watching Roseanne helps me to remember and it is a bittersweet experience. What I do know is that my mother and father divorced when I was around the age of eight, or nine, although I don’t know for sure how old I was. One of the first memories I have is when my mother and father were still together. For whatever reason, my mother had locked herself out of the house and I can recall having to walk around to the back of the house in order to get inside of my father’s office. My mother tells the story dramatically, as if my father was gone for most of the night, but I don’t know if that is true. I just remember watching an old television and falling asleep in the office, because we were unable to get out. I don’t remember much beyond that.
Unlike Dan, my father was not in the picture that much. That’s not to say that he didn’t try. I remember him picking my siblings and I up from school many times. I remember how my brother was allowed to play video games but I was not when at my mother’s house. But with my dad, I was allowed to play them too. I remember how he was more fair and understanding. My brother is a lot like DJ in that he is the golden child, the only child that seems to matter to my mother. Early in this episode, we see DJ trying to help Becky with the dishes but ending up making a mess. Roseanne sweeps in and tells him how wonderful he is and does not expect him to help at all. My brother was the more extreme version of this. The chores he was asked to do were minuscule and finished within minutes, while I found myself reenacting that scene in Cinderella where she is forced to clean the floor with a bucket of soapy water. Except my life wasn’t a fairy-tale. Similar to Darlene, I seemed to rebel against my mother in a foolish way to get her attention. I struggled in school and found myself in trouble most of the time. Instead of giving me encouraging words, my mother fought my rebellion with sarcastic remarks. Roseanne did the same thing; instead of helping Darlene with her homework, she quips back with “I’m not your real mom.” The laugh track plays and I find myself recounting all of the things my mother said to me over the years, none of them being “I love you.” When I first started dating my husband, he hugged me longer than I was comfortable with and asked me why I pulled away. It was then that I realized that I was never hugged by my mother. The feeling felt foreign, wrong. I had to learn what love truly meant because she never taught it to me.
I often find myself making excuses for my mother. She had a bad childhood. In this episode, we see Aunt Jackie and Roseanne talking about how because Dan was able to get a job, and therefore some extra money, Roseanne should treat herself to a perfume that she wants. Aunt Jackie mentions how similar Roseanne is to their mother, to which Roseanne scoffs at the idea. We will later meet their mother and discover why they find her so abhorrent. And at first, my mother did this as well. She seemed to want to distance herself from her family but found it difficult, the idea of “family first” being shoved down her throat. Trauma is one hell of a thing. But that should not excuse what she would ultimately do to her children. I remember my mother as a struggling force of nature, always unhappy and moving towards a goal that she could never reach. I was her ungrateful child, unable to live up to any expectations that she built up for me. My life was full of un.
In truth, Roseanne is a look into the life of a struggling family, who must put their children first before themselves. In this episode, both Roseanne and Dan buy things just for themselves, hiding and lying to the other about their purchases. But ultimately, they sacrifice their wants for their children by returning their items to buy Becky a new pair of jeans. In many ways, Roseanne is like my life. In many other ways, it is not. I find myself longing for the childhood that the Connors had because despite the sarcastic remarks and struggles, at the end of the day, Roseanne and Dan love their children. It is obvious in their actions. For whatever reason, something went wrong for my family. And I will likely never know what that is. I’m hoping to figure it out, in some form, in some way, but knowing that I likely never will.