Welcome back to Trading Spouses, the show that’s not afraid to lift mossy rocks and peer at the mysterious growths lurking underneath. This week we are faced once again with the eternal question: what makes people think that they have no faults when they can barely speak a sentence without showing themselves to be as delusional as Michael Jackson’s plastic surgeon? We will also feel like laggards at the sight of a mom who packs her days full of healthy, worthy tasks ... and seeing as you’re reading this recap on a website devoted to reality television, by definition you already don’t measure up. Well, I refuse to apologize for not keeping a farm household running or seeing ghosts around every corner. Normal is....well, normal, dammit. Thank you, Trading Spouses, for teaching me to treasure my banality!
Noisy on the Western Front
The Levys live on a small farm located in Sammamish, WA. Marybeth Lambe and Mark Levy share their cozy Victorian farmhouse with their seven children - loud, active children. Marybeth has always dreamed of living on a farm and having a large family, and admits that although Mark did not share those dreams, he has embraced being the father of seven whole-heartedly. Marybeth is a physician, but more importantly, she’s a nurturer - of her children, her livestock, and her house. She describes her day, which begins before dawn and is non-stop work, what with tending to her children, her house, her animals, the farmyard, and still finding time for her daily workout at the gym. Once the kids return from school, she supervises their chores, helps with their homework, cooks dinner, cleans the kitchen, then starts the process of getting the seven kids to bed. I’m ready to drop with exhaustion just typing it out, but Marybeth says that she enjoys moving quickly throughout the day.
A house filled with seven children breeds a lot of chaos, but Mark and Marybeth went into it with open arms; four of their seven are adopted. Mark calls them a “blended” family; the children vary in age, gender and race to create one harmonious (albeit loud and playful) whole. We meet one of the Levy daughters, thirteen-year-old Emma, who is that rare teenager who has nothing but praise and admiration for her mother. They make a stark contrast with Marybeth’s white-blond hair and Emma’s African American ancestry, but shown interacting together, it’s obvious they are closer in spirit than two peas in a pod.
We are magically transposed over three thousand miles away to Carmel, NY, to meet the Farrell family. Mother Janet is greeting the day by, well, rolling over and sleeping in. More like a fart in the general direction of the day than a greeting. Janet, who must have woken, showered and primped at some point, tells us that she likes her life - it’s like a vacation. Husband Dennis takes care of the household chores, despite having undergone two back surgeries. Janet thinks her husband spoils her. From her tone of voice, it’s obvious she thinks she deserves spoiling.
The Farrells have four children, two of whom were adopted. Although teenagers, the four still gather together in costume to perform Irish dancing. Stephanie, the 17-year-old, says she would love to quit, but her mom won’t let her. “It makes them tough,” mom affirms, and we see her lecturing her kids about laziness, calling them “spoiled rotten.” Och aye! Because they don’t want to dress in those childish dresses and hop around without ever moving their arms, you see. Meanwhile, Janet’s life circulates around doing anything and everything she wants, without being bothered by a single moment of labor. Let the ironic rolling of the eyes commence; we’ve met another Trading Spouses family whose lives are far from balanced.
At twenty, Brian is the oldest son. He got his first tattoo when he turned eighteen (didn’t we all); now, several piercings and tattoos later, he feels his calling in life is to be a tattoo artist. He admits that when younger, before he discovered the natural high of getting a new tattoo every few months, he wasted two years of his life using drugs. Now he has “DRUG FREE” tattooed on his knuckles, as well as “SERENITY” on his back. His mother is not appreciative, and thinks that anyone who pierces or tattoos their body is hiding a desire to self-mutilate. No wonder Brian is all but chanting “serenity-now-serenity-now” at the mention of his mother. But Brian is a trooper; he even gets a new piercing for the show’s cameras, just so we can see Janet’s reaction. Surprise, surprise - she flips a lid. To the camera, she is puzzled by Brian’s interest, telling us that the whole piercing/tattoo thing is “just not him.” You haven’t got her attention yet, Brian; time to put that naked Goth fairy on your bicep that you’ve been eyeing in the tattoo shop.
The families bid goodbye to their moms at the usual ungodly hour, and we’re left to wonder how these families will deal without their pillars of strength. Well, that works to describe Marybeth’s departure; Janet’s is punctuated by a comedic soundtrack as she hugs her teens and they roll their eyes behind her back. Is she cracking a joke when she emotes over how much her kids will miss her because they love her so much? We’ll have to wait and see. For now, she leaves us with the thought that she hopes she’s headed for Hawaii, because she needs a vacation from her life that she describes as a ... vacation. As the taxi drives off, her daughters are giggling with elation.
Welcome to WaWa-land
Janet and Mark meet at the airport, and Mark finds her to be a “shock.” He can’t articulate why, which usually means the polite filters are working overtime, and his true thoughts were 99% insulting. On the other end of the country, Marybeth is met by Dennis, who finds her “much older” than he expected. Considering that he’s a bald, wrinkled man with jowls, the comment is ridiculous; but then again, he’s not the first husband on Trading Spouses to think he’s joined a nationally televised swinger’s club. The producers need to make a clear-cut handout for the participants with big, bold letters reading Your Wedding Vows Still Apply.
Back in Washington, Janet has made it to the parking lot and is ready to spring the hard questions on Mark. First off, do they have any cats? Janet looks less than thrilled when Mark admits to having a barn cat or two around, since she finds cats scary and untrustworthy. Oddly, I’ve always found my cats to be a good judge of character. Hmm.
Mark breaks the news that not only do they have cats, they operate a family farm, and boy howdy, do they have the family part fleshed out. Janet looks apprehensive at the thought of playing mother to seven children, but at least there’s a smile on her face. I’m still recovering from the pall of gloom cast over the viewing public by last week’s perpetually sour-faced Mia.
Janet reaches the farm, and has already memorized most of the children’s names. She greets each one with a cheerful hug and friendly chatter. One of the younger girls tells us that she found the new mom a little annoying because she talked so much; but overall, Janet seems like any other normal person meeting a family for the first time.
The mood sours a little when one of the girls brings out an adorable fluffy black kitten for Janet to admire, and she snippily shares that she doesn’t find it cute. “Not everyone is a cat person,” the father tells the kids, who look incredulous. Is it any wonder that cat-fearing Janet is lukewarm about meeting the family’s livestock, Buttercup the cow and an assortment of “attack roosters” (as one of the younger boys calls them)? Janet goes along with the tour, but she’s not looking forward to getting up early enough (6:00 a.m.) to make sure the children are awake before school to do their farm chores.
En route to the house, Marybeth quizzes Dennis about the Farrell family, saying she’s a little nervous about joining a household with four teenagers. But it’s just jabber for the camera, since we all know she’s balancing almost twice that many children at home, and her farm as well. She shows her teen savvy right away when Dennis complains about Brian’s obsession with tattoos and piercings. She doesn’t like them either, but comments that the more you complain to the kids about it, the faster they’ll be out the door to rack up another. Dennis laughs uproariously, like he’s never thought about that before.
At the house, Marybeth is greeted a little shyly, but everyone has nice, positive things to say about her when they are talking alone with the camera. Unfortunately, Marybeth probably thinks they are planning to shave her eyebrows in her sleep, because while she is in the same room, they can’t summon up more than a weak hey. When Marybeth wants to know what kinds of foods they like so that she can make their favorite dishes, not a one of them can muster up the energy to grunt a reply. Marybeth’s perky personality drags a little when faced by a roomful of blank stares.
In Washington, the Levy children get up by themselves and wait for their substitute mother to wake up and feed them. How long before they find a cereal box on their own is unclear, but they have fed themselves and cleaned the dishes long before Janet makes her way to the kitchen. Janet tells us that she’s going to try to follow Marybeth’s schedule, so she’s off to the gym - an activity that you might remember as coming after hours of family and farm work on Marybeth’s schedule. Not to worry, she’s back at the farm before you know it, unable to keep up with what appears to be an advanced yoga and weightlifting class.
Next, she takes five of the children - all of whom are screaming like they are on a rollercoaster - to the grocery store. She doesn’t allow them to pick what they want (we see one of the younger girls flounce off irritably) and she ignores the whining of one boy who circles while repeating, “Thirsty. Thirsty.” Thankfully, these scenes are not explored in depth.
Back on the farm, Janet is unhappy with the farm chores of collecting eggs and the cow pasture is too muddy and messy for her liking. She cooks dinner for the kids and cleans up, but the overall impression is that each task was a struggle involving arguing from the kids. At the end of the day, Janet collapses into an easy chair and looks drained while the children run around the house, screaming like only a group of excitable preteens can. Janet tells us that she’s ready to go home.
A Trading Spouses Mystery
Some...thing has infected this show, because Marybeth seems determined to imitate Janet’s schedule (could it be another show?). She begins the day by sleeping in until 9:00, which doesn’t seem like much of a life change when you consider that because of the time difference, she’s getting up at her usual 6:00 a.m. Marybeth finds Dennis, and tells him that she’s not clear on what she’s supposed to do to imitate Janet’s schedule. The answer (“nothing”) just doesn’t register with Marybeth; in fact, she asks the same question many times over the course of the hour, and never receives an answer that satisfies her. We see flashbacks of Janet’s life: sleeping in a daylight bedroom, playing cards with friends. It’s quite simple, really; she does nothing. N-o-t-h-i-n-g.
Marybeth meets with a friend of Janet’s, determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. Surely Janet’s friend will know what Janet does. Marybeth dismisses the friend's description of a life spent card playing and meeting friends for lunch. But what does she do? Marybeth can’t get a feel for it, she tells us.
After a day spent trying to step into Janet’s world view, Marybeth says for the umpteenth time that she can’t figure out what Janet does - but she has concluded that her life is pretty easy. Marybeth doesn’t take to the sedentary lifestyle easily; she’s through imitating Janet’s lassitude. She charges out to the backyard to enjoy herself as best as she can by clearing toys off the grass so that Dennis can mow. It’s not nearly as satisfying as mucking out the cow’s stall, but it will have to do.
As the first day ends, the mothers are told about the shocking twist of the show - that their moolah will be controlled by someone they have never met, and whose sanity they have probably spent the day questioning. So surprising! So disturbing. Such a responsibility. Yeah, right; they all say the same thing, but it’s a different story when they’re reading that list at the end of the “experience,” isn’t it?
Picking Up the Soccer Moms
The Levys head out to watch 13-year old Emma’s soccer game. It’s soon apparent that Janet is once again out of her element; she seems perplexed by the setting, the game, and the actions of the people on the sideline. What is this Earth "socker" of which you speak? While the family watches proudly, Emma scores her team’s first goal by head-butting the ball over the goalie’s head - quite a slick move, causing the sidelines to erupt in applause and cheering. Janet not only misses Emma’s handiwork, she has to ask why people are cheering.
Janet tells us that she hates to be bored. She really, really hates it (like anyone enjoys boredom?). Just like that, she’s decided to invite the soccer team over for a party after the game. She makes the rounds introducing herself to a pack of parents (most of whom look like they just want her to move so they can watch the game). One soccer mom who looks exactly like you’d expect a soccer mom to look - short blonde hair on a tall, fit frame - tries to escape the invitation politely by saying she has a prior commitment. Little does Blondie know that Janet is just getting started.
Janet tells Blondie that she doesn’t normally invite “pretty and thin” people to parties, but her sucking up fails to do the trick. She begs the mom to come, telling her to dump her previous engagement to come to the better party. While the soccer mom looks bemused to be put on the spot, Janet somehow gets the woman to call her friend and let Janet persuade the friend to let her off the hook so she can go to Janet’s party. “Ours will be more fun,” she tells the unnamed person. The blonde takes her phone and tells her friend that she’s just been bulldozed by a “very pushy lady.” Janet feels triumphant that the game wasn’t a complete waste of her time.
In New York, dinner is prepared, and the Farrell family sits down to eat. Marybeth tries to get a conversation going, asking that they go around the table and say what their highs and lows of the day were. The family eats, maybe shrugging a little. Normally, they are not encouraged to talk during dinner, Brian tells us. He makes an effort to respond, saying he had trouble getting to sleep the night before. “Any bests?” Marybeth asks hopefully. Brian’s tapped out, and can only shrug in reply.
The Idea Lady
Janet initiated the soccer team party, and badgered folks until they agreed to attend. Apparently, that is the extent of Janet’s organization skills, because she can’t be bothered to help set up the party. While Mark and the older children are hurriedly making food for a party scheduled to start in less than an hour, Janet lurks around the edges and stuffs food in her mouth as soon as it is put out in serving dishes. Mark admits that he’s nervous about the party, especially since he has noticed that Janet has, erm, quirks. She wouldn’t embarrass him in front of his social circle, would she?
Here’s what we see Janet do during the party: clapping her hands angrily and telling a guest to keep the noise down; asking Emma’s friends if they didn’t have money for shoes; singling out one of the soccer players and telling her she needs a manicure; confronting a boy with an earring and telling him he wouldn’t have been invited if Janet had known he had piercings; accusing a girl that happened to bump into her of crashing the party without an invitation; implying to an adult guest that the woman guzzled her wine down too fast. Embarrassed? I’d be mortified to have this woman in my house.
And yet, we hear Janet pat herself on the back for the party’s success: “Emma’s friends couldn’t wait to meet me. I just wanted them to be comfortable. Everyone was happy, everybody loved me. I was the perfect hostess.” Sarcasm? Nope, apparently Janet is delusional. Poor Emma, whose social circle was the target for inappropriate comments and attacks from Janet, tells us that she was definitely embarrassed by her substitute mother’s actions.
Back in Blahsville, we see the family in New York lounging around, reading books and relaxing. Marybeth wishes she could get to know the children better. She seems most interested in Brian and his tattooed inclinations. She feels like the family is counting the days until the exchange is over. *yawn* With exciting days like these, I’m counting the minutes.
Another Trading Spouses Mystery?
For a week we’ve been seen teasers for this night’s episode. Spooky happenings were hinted at; ghostbusters were promised. Instead, we’ve seen many shots of people making breakfast or performing chores, peppered with some odd, even rude behavior to liven up the episode. Sure, it was fun to watch Janet spread her annoying qualities among the Levy’s friends while simultaneously thinking she’s the next Martha Stewart. But I can’t help but notice that these moments of fun are firmly entrenched in the land of the living. We’ve only got a few minutes left in the episode, and I’m getting nervous. Surely, there’s not enough time left for ghostbusters?
It’s nighttime at the Levy farmstead. Janet walks through the darkened house, which we view through a black and white hidden camera. For a moment, a dark shape passes in front of the camera, like a hand being waved in front of the lens. Janet is just entering the room, and she pauses; but all is still. She continues on, hesitating long enough to peer out a window into the dark. In a voiceover, Janet tells us that she saw an object - not a person - floating in the back yard. This is it! We’re finally at the supernatural encounter! Oh, we just went to commercial. I have a bad feeling, and it’s not about ghosts - it’s about the prospect of seeing any ghostbusting action this episode.
The question is, what will Janet do with her suspicions of the ghostly hanky-panky going on in the Levy house? Janet decides not to keep her odd vision to herself; in fact, she announces her brush with a ghostly “object” the next day at the dinner table, with all the children present. She describes the object as a white gown floating outside the window.
Mark feels that Janet is just trying to get attention from the kids. He is worried, though, that she’s freaking the heck out of them. No kidding, Mark! She goes on to describe the supernatural activation of her television back at home or some such nonsense. She mixes a few personal anecdotes with a bit from The Sixth Sense, saying that the movie represented a lot of people’s beliefs.
The kids are trading nervous glances by now, and Janet is encouraged enough to put forth a plan of attack - hire a ghostbuster. (Yes!) Emma wants to know what will happen if they find anything ... what if they tell them they have a ghost in the house? Janet shrugs smugly, and gives no answer. How about, you will live in fear, Emma. That’s pretty much the only truthful response.
The kids are freaked out by the conversation, and the youngest boy says he’ll be sleeping with Dad that night - along with Emma, who suspects Janet has brought the ghosts with her across country (smart girl!). The kids are making sleeping arrangements when the hall light goes out. The kids run away, screaming hysterically. Now which crew member accidentally leaned against the light switch, I’d like to know?
This week, all that talk of ghostbusters was an unfulfilled tease; but next week, three unprepossessing psychics will descend on the Levy farm with *gasp* equipment and stuff. At the Farrells, - aw, who cares, we got ghostbusters! Who you gonna call? *doing the cabbage patch dance*
Send the keymaster my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.