No boundaries

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Family is a joke — at least on TV


  • Scene from "9JKL" on the CBS Television Network. Pictured (left to right): Elliott Gould as Harry, Mouzam Makkar as Lily, Linda Lavin as Judy and Mark Feuerstein as Josh. Photo: Robert Voets/CBS

In the new comedy series “9JKL,” Josh Roberts (Mark Feuerstein) is a newly divorced, out-of-work Hollywood actor who returns to his native New York. He is welcomed back to “East End Place” where his parents, Judy and Harry (legends Linda Lavin and Elliot Gould, respectively) own three apartments in a luxury doorman building. They live in 9J, their other son Andrew, the surgeon, his wife, Eve, and their baby, reside in 9L, until their home renovations are done, leaving empty apartment 9K, because his parents knew eventually Josh would be back.

Of course, they are all up in his business, because they have no boundaries. His request for some is met with a resounding “no” from Judy. Josh is resentful and frustrated, until Harry can hook him up with a movie producer casting a new film, and wingmen Andrew and Eve talk him up to an old flame with whom he’s trying to rekindle a romance. He then acknowledges that he appreciates how he can count on all of them.

What’s to come will be a never-ending series of personal infringements on Josh’s time as well as life decisions that he will complain about until he again needs support; and will have it with the ring of a doorbell.

I know this not from getting a sneak peek at future episodes, but because I have been, in my own way, a Josh.

Up until 1995, I, as a single woman than married one, was able to keep a healthy distance from family. I worked full-time and my weekends had a full social calendar. Relatives were seen on special occasions or when a request was made from one of them because, “It’s been too long.”

Then my first child was born. I went from staff to freelance so I could take care of my baby. It was the best of both worlds, except when I was on deadline. Apparently, my son never seemed to get the memo and would start to cry/scream. Often, it would take at least 45 minutes for me to figure out his need.

There were also days when clients wanted me to attend a presentation or a strategy meeting. I felt grateful that I didn’t have to hire outside help because my mother, aunt and mother-in-law as well as two sisters-in-law, were willing (and in the case of the two grandmas, I’ll say eager) to help.

Even though I didn’t pay financially, I still paid emotionally with gratuitous advice and suggestions, articles given to me with titles like, “How Not To Raise A Brat,” and frantic phone calls to relay this-just-in info apropos a piece of glass found in a baby food jar or a car seat recall.

Like Josh, I suggested boundaries, except my “no” was delivered Greek-chorus style.

There were days when the group-parenting would be too much. I’d call my husband and announce we would be hiring someone, a caregiver I’d gladly pay to keep her two cents to herself. Invariably, my boy and I would head to Carl Schurz or Central Park, where I’d eye with certainty the Mary Poppinses looking after their charges.

Every time I’d get to that point, I’d run into another mother with a nanny tale of woe who would expect me to share my stories in kind. I’d say, often with an eye roll, that my family — my mother in particular, who eventually moved across the street from me after my second child was born — helped out.

Some would respond wistfully, “That’s beautiful. You’re fortunate.” Others would look at me perplexed, “Really? You can be around your mother? You get along?”

I’ll be the first to admit my mother and I can fight over anything, but then again, together we could always stand up to anyone. So, yes, in our own often very loud way, we get along.

After conversations such as those, just as Josh was humbled (aka shamed), so was I, heading home to make a thank-you call to one of my personal Mary Poppinses for the article on “10 Ways To Be A Better Mom” and the heads-up on the latest study on pacifiers (and how I was indeed using the wrong brand). Until my next interference-overload meltdown.

Because family is family, people like Josh and I know that the meddling never ends — if we’re lucky.

Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels “Back to Work She Goes” and “Fat Chick,” for which a movie is in the works.

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