Hello, and welcome back to a brand spankin' new episode of Wife Swap. We've been on holiday hiatus for a few weeks, giving your intrepid recapper a much needed rest. But evidently there is just No. End. To the number of families that will actually allow television cameras to enter their homes. You would think people would know better by now -- we all watch TV, we know that a television camera never bodes well. If there's a dust bunny or a weird psychological fixation on kitchen sponges in your house, a television camera will find it like a drug-sniffing dog.
But since the television-watching public is notoriously slow to learn the lesson of
TV-camera-avoidance, the show is back, new and freshly-scented for your enjoyment.
This week we're trying something new -- we've got a single mom as one of our swappers. I'm not sure how I feel about this, as she doesn't strictly fit the definition of "wife", in that she is not one. I mean, if she didn't have kids, I would hope she wouldn't be allowed on at all -- I can't imagine some wife leaving a husband and kids and swapping with a single woman, spending two weeks taking care of a cat. Actually, while it would make for sucky TV, I'd guess a lot of wives would enjoy that immensely. In fact, I hereby offer myself to be swapped. I can take care of someone's kids for two weeks, and in exchange she gets a week to live my life -- i.e. drinking too much wine and watching too much TV -- and then in the second week she can impose her own rules and clean my house. Score.
But first, because my brain operates chronologically and they get introduced first in the show, we have the Bramhalls, a traditional, married, with-husband nuclear family. The Bramhalls live in some rich enclave in New Jersey. Husband Jack inexplicably goes by "Moose", which is the sort of nickname one would expect to be tagged on a beer-willing,
football-glory-days-reliving, loud sort of man. Our Moose has no such qualities, being an anal-retentive, uptight sort of man who hates mess, oversees a complicated three-tier system of kitchen sponges, and is probably the kind of guy who would pour his beer into a glass. Moose is very proud that his Bramhall forebears have been in America for at least 15 generations (as I'm sure the Bramhall ancestors are very proud of having a descendant named Moose who is willing to go on a reality television show).
Anyway, Moose went to Princeton and there met Elaine. They've got two kids, whom they're raising with all the flexibility of a two-by-four. The kids are allowed to paint only on Tuesdays, only in the bathroom. Seriously. Elaine was a bit of a wild child, and
apparently structuring every last second of her day is the only thing preventing her from reverting back to those bad old crack-pipe days. She even scheduled her honeymoon sex. I hope at least she wrote it in ink. I'd hate to think of Moose the love machine being just
Elaine will be swapping lives with Michelle Parsons. Michelle is a single mother of three daughters, two of whom are utterly loathesome. The oldest, Jennifer, drops the f-bomb so often the parrot has learned it, and the bleeps inserted by ABC make her sound like a refugee from the Jerry Springer show. When the censors have to bleep your parrot, you've got a problem.
Michelle works a full day as a waitress, and does all the household chores, while her wayward daughters -- 9, 14, and 17 -- party all night and sleep all day. Michelle is under the misapprehension that if she were stricter, her daughters would be more rebellious,
although I have a hard time imagining what form more rebellion would take. Michelle believes "structured fun" is an oxymoron. Her daughters would think an oxymoron is an insult. Yet they take pride in being, as Michelle terms it, "proud white trash." As opposed to your run-of-the-mill "ashamed white trash."
As Elaine and Michelle prepare to swap, both women hope the experience will make their families appreciate them more. Moose, who spends little time with his kids -- oh, the Bramhalls have an au pair. Natch. -- has a vague idea that he needs to interact with the next Bramhall generation a bit more.
Meet the Skankers
The wives tour each other's houses, an experience which goes as expected -- Elaine is appalled at the filth, while Michelle is suprised by the “no-one-even-lives-here-much-less-children” cleanliness of the Bramhall home.
As usual, the wives left manuals to spell out their peculiarities for the interloping wife. Reading Michelle's, Elaine decides they're "not even in the same solar system, much less planet." Michelle hates that Elaine uses the word "trained" in regards to the kids, and she's not talking about the toilet. Also, it turns out Moose has a phobia about aging, so he refuses to celebrate either his or Elaine’s birthday.
Elaine and Michelle meet each other’s families, which is always a culture clash. Within minutes, Michelle’s skanky daughters have asked Elaine about her house, and are dumbfounded by being informed that Elaine’s house has five bedrooms. Michelle, meanwhile, has already decided that Moose has a stick up his butt.
Jennifer, the eldest harpy in the Parsons clan, launches into a recitation of her academic career, which mostly involves being expelled from various schools, even alternative school. I didn’t think you could get kicked out of alternative school unless you, like, killed somebody. I’d bet a succession of school principals did a happy dance the day they were able to get rid of the aggressive, angry, foul-mouthed, rebellious Jennifer.
Jumping right into Elaine’s routine, Michelle goes for Elaine’s regularly scheduled half-hour jog. She huffs and puffs and points out that it’s hard for a single mother who works full time to make time to take care of herself, although she seems motivated to try.
Then she’s got 15 minutes scheduled for breakfast before having to make the weekly schedule, which requires her to block out time for “fun.” One look at Michelle’s face tells me that no one scheduled her in for any fun.
Elaine, meanwhile, is busy scrubbing the Parsons’ bathroom while the girls sleep. They were up till 4 a.m. with friends and loud music, and Elaine fumes that the girls could pitch in a bit to clean up their “white trash squalor.”
Elaine then leaves the House of Squalor for an 8-hour waitressing shift, while the Skank Queens go bowling. I don’t actually know which ones they are, because there’s a whole crowd of identical bleached-blonde trashy-looking girls. They seem kind of like Agent Smith in the Matrix, all just alike and able to multiply themselves at will. Elaine better watch out – there could be a lot of skankalikes to schedule.
The bleached ones then call Elaine at work, to demand that she bring home small, slaughtered animals for them to feed on. Just because the slaughtered animals are breaded, fried and come in a KFC box doesn’t mean they can’t serve as a sacrifice.
Not content with making her fetch and carry, the girls then grill Elaine about her life, surmising that it must be boring. As opposed to theirs. Because bowling is so exciting. Jennifer thinks Elaine is stuck up and she’s just waiting for Elaine to show a bitchy side. Even though Jennifer already wins the bitch contest hands down.
Michelle, meanwhile, is having trouble cooking dinner, and at some point makes the life-threatening mistake of using Moose’s floor sponge on the counter. He straightens her out with a quickness, and Michelle tells us she’d need a daily shot of whiskey to survive in that house. “People who are too organized go crazy at the end,” she says. I wouldn’t know.
In Detroit, Elaine’s problems with the skanky multitudes are increasing. Jennifer and some unnamed blonde clone are smoking in the car, leading Elaine to pull over and demand they put the smokes out. Much bleeping ensues, Elaine gets out of the car, the girls honk the horn, and Elaine flips them off. She says they’re “nasty sociopaths” and generally unhappy people.
Unloosing the Moose
It’s time for the women to impose their own rules on the households. Well, it’s time for Michelle to impose her own rules. Elaine just gets to lecture to a rapidly emptying living room. It turns out skanks can evaporate as fast as they replicate. Who knew?
Admittedly, Elaine doesn’t start out with a winning pitch – she tells the Parsons girls that they’re selfish, lazy and spoiled. She’s created a chores system, is imposing a bedtime to prevent “vampire hours” and decrees that cussing and smoking will end. Also, she says she’s found 17-year-old Jennifer a job. Jennifer storms out of the house. Elaine says there will be no television, loud music or online chatting. The next-oldest daughter storms out of the house, leaving the 9-year-old standing at the door alone, looking after them helplessly.
Michelle’s rules do not create quite such drama. Deciding that Moose “must get loose” and experience the “joy of childish things,” Michelle has organized a children’s birthday party for Moose’s birthday. But he’s not to be too childish; he also has to start cooking. And Michelle is putting a TV in the kitchen.
Moose is unthrilled, especially with the kitchen TV, which he says takes attention away from family and conversation. Unwittingly, Moose has hit upon the very point of putting TVs in the kitchen – avoiding making uncomfortable dinner conversation with relatives.
Back in Detroit, Elaine tries to rouse various blonde girls from bed, resulting in Jennifer displaying – again – her extensive knowledge of four-letter words. Fed up, Elaine finally sits the girls down for a Talk. Everyone who has ever been a teenager knows that a teenage kid would rather cut their veins open with a butter knife than deal with a parental Talk. Nevertheless, Elaine gets them to sit still long enough to explain that when she was 12, she began drinking and “drugging” and eventually decided she didn’t want to live like that, and chose to instead live a life more regimented and scheduled than the military. Jennifer scoffs that Elaine’s “I know how you feel” line won’t work on her.
Beware of Plushies
Meanwhile, the Get Moose Loose campaign continues. Michelle rents a convertible, and makes Moose drive her, and it, to a racetrack, where Moose drops $100 betting on a horse. Whoa, easy there, Moosie! I know that 15-generation money is burning a hole in your pocket, but it’s possible to get overdo this loose thing. see the Parsons girls for details.
Moose and Michelle then go drink beer and shoot pool at a bar. By now Moose is truly loose; he says Michelle’s “child-like curiosity” makes him feel old and maybe he should try to loosen up some.
He continues these efforts at his birthday party, which is attended entirely by children and at which, for unknown reasons, Moose is actually dressed in a plush moose costume. I did not even know moose costumes existed. But I would point out that there is a whole freaky subculture out there of people who like to dress in various plush animal costumes, and Moose would do well not to run afoul of them. I saw an ad on craigslist recently of one such “plushie” looking for her mascot-attired brethren, and you don’t want to even know how she described her pink panda suit.
Moose the moose does pretty well with being loose – I feel like Dr. Seuss (gah! Even that rhymes!) – until daughter Emily gets upset over something and puts her shirt over her head. Elaine usually comforts upset children, but Michelle forces Moose to deal with the situation. After following a pouty Emily around the yard for a while, and standing there awkwardly, Moose finally hugs her.
In a last-ditch effort to get the Parsons girls to behave like humans, Elaine takes them on a “team-building” day out. As far as I can tell, this primarily involves having people walk around in the woods blindfolded. But it works – Jennifer agrees to go to work at the bowling alley, primarily to prove to Elaine that she CAN work. She also says she appreciates her mother more now that she’s had a dose of Elaine.
Even more out of character, it turns out Jennifer can cook, a fact she hid from Elaine so that she wouldn’t have to. Ok, the out-of-character part was just the ability-to-cook thing; hiding is totally in character. Later, the girls try to teach Elaine some hip-hop dance moves, which Elaine performs in a very rigid, scheduled sort of way. Hilarity ensues. And Jennifer even admits -- *gasp*-- that Elaine is nice.
In the new loose-Moose household, the kids are painting in the kitchen, in an unscheduled way, and Moose takes Michelle to the beach – her first time ever of seeing the ocean. She says Moose is a very motivated person who is inspiring her to go home and accomplish the things she’s always wanted to do.
But Did the Parrot Learn Anything?
As always, when the swap is over and the couples (or, in this case, mother and oldest daughter) reunite, they’re forced to sit down with each other to rehash the experience. As I’ve seen most of these and have watched a few very anal people stomp off mad, I can tell you with some authority that this judgment session goes about as well as could be expected. Michelle says Moose lightened up, to which he agrees. Elaine said she got to see the fall-out of not having structure with children.
Michelle says she wants to go back to school, and thus her own children should have to go to school, prompting an argument with Jennifer which ends when Jennifer, her inner skank resurfacing, tells her mother to shut up. In a rather touching response, Moose says it’s hard for him to watch Michelle be treated like that.
My Name is Humpty, Pronounced with an Umpty
Since the swap, both families have changed somewhat. Michelle is working out, and says Moose made her realize her kids could have better lives than what she’s prepared them for so far. She’s getting up every day and making breakfast, and making the girls eat it, and the girls are getting to school on time, which has improved their grades. Jennifer, who probably is on some nationwide Do Not Let Into Your School list, is taking a home schooling course.
At the Bramhalls, the children are now allowed to paint in areas other than the bathroom. Moose plays with the kids more, and he and Elaine go to shoot pool – it looks like the very same bar where he and Michelle went, which suggests to me that Moose is still very much a creature of habit. And Elaine says she listens to nothing but rap now. I’d bet she likes the very regular, steady, scheduled beat.
Next week: A workaholic mom versus a stay-at-home one. A meltdown is promised. Need I say more?
You know what your mother said: if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. If you can, I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org