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This Was Us (and Me!)

When millions of people tuned in to watch the final episodes of This Is Us, I was right there with them. Well, sort of. During its six-year run, I recorded each show and watched later, by myself, so I could tear up, get choked up, or full-on dissolve emotionally without judgment.

It was surprising to me that this mostly endearing show about the Pearsons – a middle-class mom and dad and their three kids and how they loved each other over the course of five decades – appealed to only one member of my immediate family. That would be me. 

Don’t worry, if you never saw the show or watched it for a time and got so tired of Kate’s whining or Randall’s dad-splaining that you had to step away for awhile (also me!), you still might find something that resonates here. If you truly have some kind of plan to watch This Is Us from start to finish on Peacock one day, take note: There are some spoilers ahead. But seriously, I vowed to watch The Sopranos, Gilmore Girls, and most recently, Parenthood on Hulu – and none of that has happened, so good luck. 

Anyway, in the final episodes of This Is Us, Rebecca Pearson – in her seventies now and having lived with Alzheimer’s disease for at least a decade – was either very near death or crossing over to an afterlife, depending on your interpretation. During this time, scenes of special moments from her childhood with her father played out onscreen, as well as memories from her life parenting her triplets. More than half of the series finale took place decades earlier in flashback mode as the Pearson family spent an unexpected lazy Saturday together. I’m guessing the kids were around nine at this stage, so there was some complaining about being bored and stuck at home together. In other words, it was very realistic. 

When my dad died thirteen years ago, I began sharing stories of my childhood with my kids in earnest by way of honoring my father. Like how he called me The Caboose because I was the baby, how we had family Euchre tournaments (a card game I don’t even remember how to play now), and how he taught me to parallel park so well, that to this day, I drive better backward than forward. Having these kinds of simple memories in the family ether became even more important when my mother died in January 2020. 

So as I watched the final This Is Us, the nifty if unrealistic concept of having access to an actual flashback reel of core summer memories from time spent with my kids, similar to those the Pearson family experienced, became intriguing. 

Here’s are some of the scenes I would include:    

• Going on neighborhood bike rides

• Discovering the joys of Buckroe Beach in Hampton

• Drawing sidewalk chalk scooter courses on the driveway 

• Playing a game I liked to call “crazy mommy with a hose” 

• Doing LemonAid stands at the pool and at the West End Farmers Market

• Eating soggy pizza for dinner at the pool on family float night

• Playing old-school playground games like SPUD, 4-Square, and Mother, May I?

• Watching them play Duck, Duck, Goose on the trampoline 

• Making breakfast and watching pancake bubbles pop before it was flipping time 

• So much summer reading – and specifically, reading aloud The Chronicles of Narnia

Now if you didn’t watch the show and you’ve made it this far, you obviously have some level of appreciation for media that depicts family drama. I believe the ultimate success of This Is Us in particular was its ability to appeal to Gen-Xers (like me) with inter-generational nostalgia from both our childhoods and our lives as parents. Of course, it also might have had something to do with just being able to look at Milo Ventimiglia and Mandy Moore (also me!), even if it was often through tears.

In any case, this is where I admit that making my list of core memories of summer is really therapy for my mom heart. My oldest woman-child got married this spring, my medium-sized daughter is loving city life in her apartment, and my youngest is a college senior who will be student teaching this semester. I know my kids are compassionate and kind young people who genuinely enjoy spending time with me and their dad, but I also know we’re headed squarely for empty nest land and a new and different expression of family love that probably won’t include popping out on the driveway for a game of 4-Square. 

In closing, I’ll say this: No matter where you are in your family journey, try to remember that while the days of summer are perfect for making new memories together, they’re also good for cherishing and reminiscing – especially as many of us have lost loved ones during the past few years. The next time you’re gathered with your kids, tell them a story about summer when you were a kid. Share memories from when they were babies and you were just learning how to parent. You can even talk about what you were doing last year at this time. Summer passes in the blink of an eye, but summer memories live on forever. The truth is it’s never too soon or too late to work on your flashback reel – like me!  

Karen Schwartzkopf has her dream job as managing editor of RFM. Wife, mother, arts and sports lover, she lives and works in the West End with her family, including husband Scott, who not coincidentally is RFM’s creative director. You can read Karen’s take on parenting her three daughters – Sam, Robin, and Lindsey, also known as the women-children – in the Editor’s Voice.
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