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Reflecting on the “Wonder Years”

January 9, 2012

Recently I was lounging on my couch, reading blogs and Facebook, while trying to find something to watch on our abundance of television channels. I landed on the TV Land Channel and settled on an episode of The Wonder Years.

How many of you remember The Wonder Years? The show that introduced us to Kevin Arnold (aka Fred Savage) and his American family and friends growing up in the 1960s and 70s. Every episode was narrated by Adult Kevin, whose dialogue I always found more engaging than that of young Kevin.

When I was growing up, The Wonder Years was not one of my appointment television shows. (Back then, you had to make an appointment to watch the show on the date and time it aired. There were no Tivo and DVR, and recording on a VHS was iffy at best).  It’s not that I disliked the show; it just didn’t resonate with me.

But like so many other things I’m discovering as I grow older and as a parent, I found myself fully engaged in The Wonder Years episode I was watching now. This episode did not focus on Kevin and his siblings or friends; it focused on the parents as providers of the family. What struck me was the following narration that Adult Kevin provides 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.

It was in those words that I realized how we – as people and couples – change over time and when we take on new life roles. Bryan and I were reflecting on our very early years together (13 years ago), back when we were young,  engaged, and living in a two-bedroom apartment with all our belongings fitting into that 800-square-foot space. Our biggest worry was which movie we would see that weekend.

Today our worries focus on budgeting for home improvements; hoping another car won’t be stollen or in need of major repair; what the future of this country will hold; and trying to raise a daughter who will be a healthy and contributing member to society. Oh yeah, and making sure our four animals are healthy too. Gone are the carefree “wonder years” of yesterday. Movie theater money is now ear-marked for groceries. Just like Norma and Jack, we are now parents and providers.

And while we certainly wouldn’t give up Sophie, the pets, or our house (no matter how many repairs it needs), it’s hard to not wax nostalgia thinking about those years past when we were Bryan and Leah. We had each other and we got by with that.

I guess 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 program so much. They were likely watching it from a parent and a kids’ perspective, wondering where their carefree years went. And now here I am – 22 years after the episode first aired – finding myself doing the exact same.

The Arnold Family of "The Wonder Years"

47 Comments leave one →
  1. January 9, 2012 3:27 am

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, too…. as my kids are leaving the nest. It’s so weird having them as teens/young adults remark that they “can’t imagine you and Dad” weren’t always a family! Being in touch with that young, “only us” stage is so important as people, for our family, and as a writer — I draw on those early wonder years more and more for so many reasons. Great post, Leah!

    • January 10, 2012 10:22 pm

      Thank you for your wonderful comments, Julia. I love hearing your perspective as your children leave the nest.

  2. January 9, 2012 3:44 am

    Thanks for the reflection – I loved this program first time around and got then (I’m probably older than you!) My kids are 19 & 17 and starting to flex their wings. Parenthood is a constant challenge: Once you’re used to one age they’ve moved on to the next and I’m struggling with this current one as much as the others (if not more so). From that time when I questioned if I was really ready for fatherhood until not the years have passed and suddenly I so much older … were we ever that young?

    • January 10, 2012 10:23 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Martin. I can very much relate to wondering if we were ever that young!

  3. January 9, 2012 3:48 am

    Nicely said. Don’t fret. Time flies way too fast and the day will come you’ll look at the photos of Sophie and wonder where those years went. And there’ll be plenty of Bryan & Leah time, and lots of movies to chose from.

    • January 10, 2012 10:24 pm

      I hear ya! It’s such a juggling act. On one hand, I miss the old days. And on the other, I get sad seeing Sophie grow so quickly! I guess that’s parenthood for you.

  4. January 9, 2012 6:04 am

    Wonder years! Wow, have not thought about that show in forever. I was a so-so watcher back in the day, probably for the same reasons you were not that into it. Would be very interesting to watch it now, though, with the two perspectives — parent and former child!

    • January 10, 2012 10:25 pm

      It’s true, Lena. I watched it in a completely different light this time around.

  5. January 9, 2012 6:41 am

    What a beautiful, thoughtful post Leah. I loved The Wonder Years growing up. And even now, I keep the last quote of Kevin’s narration on the series finale on my computer. I think I like it (the show and the quote) so much because my street growing up had some of my best friends on it and we had so much fun going from 2nd grade through high school graduation together. I’m sure it will take on new meaning if/when I become a parent one day. The quote is: “I remember a place, a town, a house like a lot of other houses, a yard like a lot of other yards, on a street like a lot of other streets. And the thing is, after all these years, I still look back, with wonder.”

    • January 10, 2012 10:26 pm

      Thank you so much, Caryn! And thanks for sharing that quote. So powerful! I love it. I’ll have to save that one too.

  6. January 9, 2012 6:43 am

    I had forgotten about that show. When it was on, it was one of my favorites. Since we never had children, my husband and I don’t have those new parental roles to play. I guess we’re still us, but our priorities have definitely changed. Instead of dreaming of adventures, we’re hoping for a good night’s sleep. 🙂

    • January 10, 2012 10:27 pm

      I think even without kids, Shary, your perspective as a couple changes over time. You’re so right about that. Whether it’s adventures or a good-night sleep. Or a mortgage v. rent. Age brings change.

  7. January 9, 2012 7:34 am

    I loved this post Leah and your reflections. My similar feelings of reflection came one time when I said something to my kids about when we used to live in Idaho when we were first married. My kids were just shocked and said “WHAT, you never told us to lived in Idaho!” That made me realize there’s a whole life that each of us has had that our kids know nothing about.

    • January 10, 2012 10:29 pm

      Wow, that’s great, Susan! It’s probably strange thinking they know nothing of your “former life.” They probably feel the same way. I know there are times I can’t picture my parents as anything more than mom and dad.

  8. January 9, 2012 7:54 am

    Beautiful, beautiful post, Leah. Three and a half years into marriage and with a little one due in six weeks, I feel I am just beginning to glimpse that shift that you so eloquently described here. Soon, Randy and I will not just be “Randy and Jolina” but also Mom and Dad, parents, providers. I actually cried yesterday while wrapping the bumper around Addie’s crib and organizing her nursery. This is the biggest challenge of my life thus far, and I hope I am up to the task. What a blessing, though, that I am not going through it all alone.

    • January 10, 2012 10:28 pm

      I KNOW you’re up to the task, Jolina! And you’ll learn so much more about yourself and you and Randy together.

  9. January 9, 2012 9:07 am

    Oh my gosh, Leah! Over the holiday break, Brad and I watched almost the whole first season of The Wonder Years. You, so beautifully, put eloquent words to so much of what we were feeling. Love your thoughts- and totally agree… stellar show!

    • January 10, 2012 10:30 pm

      Wow, thanks so much for the nice comments, Leah! I really want to go back and watch the other episodes too. There is probably so much more to be learned.

  10. January 9, 2012 9:12 am

    Oh, Leah you just took the words out of my mouth or should I say out of my pen and paper.
    Even thou I missed the “Wonder Years” I do feel so often: where did the time go? How is that possible that my baby is 22 years old. There is no way I could be so old and how come life now could not be as simple as it was when I was 22…..

    • January 10, 2012 10:31 pm

      Thanks so much, Rada! Isn’t it strange how perspective changes over time? If you have a chance, catch a few episodes of it. I’d be curious what your thoughts are not growing up in America during the 1960s and 70s.

  11. January 9, 2012 10:45 am

    One of our highlights this Christmas break was watching the Arnold Family Christmas party on a DVR’d Wonder Years … Jack and Norma, Kevin and Wayne … great stuff.

    Loved the music, the narrative, and your post 🙂


    • January 10, 2012 10:31 pm

      Thanks, MJ. How fun to watch Arnold Family Christmas Party. Love it!

  12. January 9, 2012 10:58 am

    I loved that show and now my kids are watching it. Our roles do change over our life and that pattern makes it a life. We get deeper and deeper in and then we finally learn again not to sweat the small stuff. It goes from simple to complex to simple again!

    • January 10, 2012 10:32 pm

      I love what you said, Jodi, about it going from simple to complex to simple again. I think that is so true. I even see that now with my 4-year-old daughter. The things that used to trouble me are not a problem anymore. Amazing how time changes so much!

  13. January 9, 2012 11:29 am

    Life sure changes doesn’t it. I find with my own children though that in their twenties they’re not yet like I was in my thirties! It’s like they have a whole decade or fifteen years more to travel and decide who they want to be and what they wish to do. They’re gone but in some ways I’m still waiting for them to grow up.

    • January 10, 2012 10:32 pm

      I can only imagine that feeling never ends, does it?

  14. January 9, 2012 12:02 pm

    These years with Sophie as a young child will fly by faster than you know, Leah. Someday you will look back on them and think: THOSE were the wonder years!
    (How I wish I could have them all back!)

    • January 10, 2012 10:33 pm

      Oh Cynthia, you brought tears to my eyes! I already feel that way. I’m sure the feeling will only grow.

  15. January 9, 2012 12:27 pm

    A very heartening retrospective. 🙂

  16. January 9, 2012 12:37 pm

    I used to really like that show. It was filled with so much nostalgia and wonderful characters. Thanks for reminding me about it. Will have to look for it on TV Land. FYI, when my kids were growing up, that was the only channel I’d let them watch. That’s how they learned to appreciate all the classics! 😉

    • January 10, 2012 10:34 pm

      I think that was smart of you, Monica, because they do appreciate the classics. I’m starting to introduce Sophie to Little House on the Prairie. I was about her age when my parents let me watch it. She’s already hooked!

  17. January 9, 2012 1:07 pm

    What a beautiful post. And I love that snippet from the show. As a kid I enjoyed the little crush Kevin had on Winnie.

    • January 10, 2012 10:35 pm

      Wasn’t that so sweet? Your heart ached for Kevin sometimes. It’s sometimes hard to watch because it was so real and reminded me of my own feelings.

  18. January 10, 2012 4:20 am

    Hi Leah, there is a comment for you over at The Garden Gate!

  19. January 10, 2012 7:42 am

    We LOVED The Wonder Years. We watched as a family when our daughter was little. How touching to reflect back on your marriage’s early years! I got a little teary remembering our first apartment, back in the day. You are so right about wondering which movie to go to…we’d watch “Dallas” on Friday nights and then go to the mall to buy monster chocolate chip cookies…and no yard work and house repairs on the weekends!

    • January 10, 2012 10:36 pm

      I love your nostalgia! And I remember the days of “Dallas” too. Seems like so long ago!

  20. January 10, 2012 6:45 pm

    It’s amazing how much kids change everything. ….but then I guess nothing ever does stay the same. I remember watching Top Gun the first time – Tom was a young officer in the Navy. We saw it YEARS later when he was more senior and our sympathy switched from Maverick to Jester over the years!

    • January 10, 2012 10:36 pm

      That’s great! And I can totally see that!

  21. January 10, 2012 7:15 pm

    I LOVED that show! (By the way, my husband is Bryan, too. Spelled exactly that way.) You raise a good point about our parents watching it from both points of view. I might TiVo some reruns . . . I remember loving that adult Kevin storytelling voice.

    • January 10, 2012 10:37 pm

      We must have great husbands, then, those Bryan’s with a “y.” 🙂 I found myself really enjoying older Kevin’s narratives. I want to watch a few more episodes now.

  22. January 10, 2012 8:15 pm

    Nice, Leah. I agree. Things do change, and we certainly do. Your SheWrites blogger friend.

    • January 10, 2012 10:37 pm

      Thanks for dropping by! I guess it wouldn’t be life without change, right?

  23. January 11, 2012 7:23 am

    My mum talks about that series a lot, she wants me to watch it with her soon!

  24. January 11, 2012 12:39 pm

    We’ve been empty nesters for sixteen years already, and though we love just being Susan and George, we miss living together as a family. I remember, though, when the kids were young and we had little money and no family near to help us, we craved some together time for the two of us. And just once, when I asked if we could go out for pizza, I wished I didn’t have to hear, “Sorry, honey. It’s not in the budget.” Now we can go out anytime we want, but we don’t have the kids near us to come with us. Life is bittersweet, isn’t it? Very nice post, Leah.

  25. January 14, 2012 8:52 pm

    I was OBSESSED with The Wonder Years when I was younger, and was delighted to find that the series was recently put on Netflix, so I have been re-watching all the episodes! It’s still as good as I remembered 🙂

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