About Those Gumdrops…

 

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MAD MEN REVIEW: Season 7 Episode 3 — It could have been the perfect day. For the first time in his young life, Bobby has his mom along for a field trip and he couldn’t be more excited.  It’s all going so well, too. “Me and my mom are having a conversation,” Bobby tells his teacher on the bus. He’s a very happy little boy. He’s staking out a special spot for just the two of them (“No you can’t sit here. That’s my mom’s spot.”). All Bobby wants is a special place in Betty’s heart and today he thinks he just might finally have it. That is, until that fateful picnic lunch.

Bobby makes the mistake of trading Betty’s sandwich for gumdrops and Betty’s furious. Why would the gumdrops be so important to Bobby?  And, why would Betty’s sandwich take priority over a special day with her son?

Bobby can’t get enough sweetness. That’s the deeper reason for the gumdrops; deeper than the fact that all kids like candy or that maybe hehasn’t seen his mom eat so much lately while she was dieting or, even, that he’s used to only one sandwich in his lunch. He needs his mom and he can’t get enough of her love. Betty doesn’t love easily. I think it’s safe to say that she didn’t get enough love as a child, either. And, when 9-year-old Bobby doesn’t give her the consideration she needs, she flies off the handle. Where do some of these feelings start? Why is it so hard for Betty to love her children?

Betty feels as deprived and hungry for the sweetness of love as Bobby is. Remember an earlier season and episode when Betty tells Dr. Arnold Palmer that her mother called her a whore when she wanted to model? The coldness in her hands began when she was grieving her mother’s death – and the one helpful thing he said was:  “You’re angry at your mother.”  Yes, she’s angry. But she was also left starving for reassurances of love (just like Bobby) a long time ago.  She didn’t get enough love from her mother – and that makes it hard to know how to love her children.

A telling symptom of Betty’s problem is that she, sadly, finds various signs of being unloved wherever she turns. To Betty, Bobby trading her sandwich isn’t just a 9-year-old’s impulsive act like it would be to many moms. Kids get tempted. This could be a “teaching moment.”  But, to Betty, the gumdrops mean much more than Bobby’s innocent mistake. To her, these gumdrops are just one more sign that she isn’t loved.

That’s why she gets so mad at Bobby over a mere sandwich. Tragically, she ruins the sweetness of her day (and Bobby’s) and overlooks his many loving gestures. Her deprivation stands out and she, without knowing she’s doing it, deprives herself even more. Not to mention Bobby. Betty is struggling in this episode. After her lunch with Francine, she’s reminded of how limited her time with her children is and she tries to be more available and to have some special time with Bobby. She’s missed out too.  But, her old anger gets in the way.

Betty’s been hurt.  Not only by her mother.  Also, by trying to love Don and by being unable to get a psychoanalyst’s kind help when she needed it the most. Her first symptom, her numb hands, was the most telling sign of what she does with her feelings and fears about love. But, Dr. Palmer didn’t see that. Unfortunately, without help she’s been forced to get rid of her feelings more and more, even to go numb to her love for her children. She knows she has a problem, at some level, but it’s twisted around:  “Why don’t they love me?”

Now, both Betty and Bobby are left suffering. Betty is insecure about love and Bobby wants a do-over of his day, the day Betty blames him for ruining: “I wish it was yesterday.” Yesterday was the day he was still excited, still looking forward to the special and too long-awaited day with his mom – still hopeful.

What could make a difference for both Bobby and Betty?  If Betty could face her problems they’d both have a better chance. Any child can bear a mother’s mistakes (since every mother makes them), if she can admit that the mistakes are hers. Ultimately, it’s a parent’s responsibility to see their part in things and help their children. Betty can’t and Henry knows all too well that if he tells her the truth about the problems in her mothering (even though she asks), this, too, will be another sign – one that he doesn’t love her.

Henry’s stuck. So is Betty. When Betty had a chance to get help  – Dr. Arnold Palmer failed her. If Betty could take the first step and say: “I’m sorry I got mad at you Bobby. It wasn’t your fault,” those simple words would make a huge difference.

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