Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 8, Closet-Con ‘13
Two Sisters and One Mister
The title for tonight’s episode comes from the annual closet conference that Claire and Jay are attending. And closets and the space for conversation created by confining places help tie the storylines together tonight.
A lost reservation means that Jay and Claire end up sharing a hotel room and dealing with some skeletons while at the conference. There was the literal skeleton hidden in Claire’s closet – a traditional prank played on the newest sales rookie. But the close quarters brought some figurative skeletons out of the closet as well.
Jay: Before you turn that [light] out, have we talked about everything we need to? Cause I want everything in the clear here.
“Everything” turns out to include Jay’s attempt to thwart Claire’s marriage to Phil, Claire’s efforts to interfere in Jay’s plans to marry Gloria, and Jay’s confession about a gal named Rita.
Meanwhile Mitch and Lily go to Missouri (pronounced M-I-S-E-R-Y if you ask Mitch) with Cam to visit his family’s farm. Adding to the misery is the fact that the couple has to keep their relationship closeted while there. As Cam explains: We never told Gram about the gay. You know, after they reach a certain age, it could be the thing that sends them over the edge. And she’s been over the edge for a long time. We’re actually on deathbed number two. But when a tornado confines them all to the farmhouse basement, the resulting conversation causes Grams to soften, admitting: I guess there’s nothing more important than family.
Back at home, Phil, Gloria, and the kids have their own close encounters after Phil discovers Jay’s secret trove of antique model toys in a walk-in closet off the kitchen. Toy mishaps lead to some family bonding – especially between Haley and Alex who both have a crush on the pizza guy from last night.
Alex: He’s shy and thoughtful and wears a Princeton sweatshirt. Hardly Haley’s type.
Haley: I’m telling you the way he looked at me when I came to the door – it was so on.
Alex: It kind of seemed like he was just delivering pizza, and you were giving him money.
Flipping the Frame: My Notes
What ends up happening between Haley and Alex tonight gives us a window into the ranting route we all tend to jump onto when we get upset with anyone. The route almost always looks something like this: 1) We notice something. 2) To explain what happened, we tell ourselves a story. 3) The story creates harsh feelings. 4) And we act on our feelings.
Early in the episode, Haley notices something she doesn’t like.
Haley: I’m starving! What are we going to do about supper?
Alex: I checked with Dad and ordered a couple pizzas from Tejas.
Haley: I knew it! You’re stalking my pizza guy!
Alex: He’s not into you, okay! Does he call you brown eyes and give you extra mozzarella sticks?
Haley: Ha! Ha! Don’t know what it means.
Things then go from bad to worse: The propeller of the toy plane Alex is holding suddenly starts to spin, and Haley’s hair gets caught in its blades. As soon as she senses what has happened, Haley begins to create a story to explain it.
Haley: Ahhh!!! What did you do?!!
Alex (alarmed): Nothing!
Haley: Yes you did! You turned it on and now the propeller is all tangled up.
Based on her story, Haley creates harsh feelings towards Alex, and she translates those feelings into judgments and accusations.
Alex: Why would I do that?
Haley: Cause my pizza guy is coming over, and now I have airplane in my hair!
The next thing you know, Alex too has her hair tangled up in the plane’s propeller. And because she also has been busy perceiving, thinking, and feeling, she reacts with anger.
Alex: Get her off of me!!! I’m getting dumb through osmosis!
Haley: I don’t have osmosis!
And Haley retaliates.
Haley: How have I never noticed how loud you breathe?!!
Alex: Oh, don’t beat yourself up. That would require you to notice something that isn’t about you!
Haley: Oh my God, you’re such a loser!
When our kids mess-up, we act a lot like Haley did tonight. We too tend to jump into the middle of a ranting route. Our thoughts run wild as we try to figure out what happened. Then to explain it, we tell ourselves a story filled with pretty ugly thoughts, and, in response to the story, we create harsh feelings towards our teen. We then translate those feelings into judgments and accusations and act on them as fact. We rant at our teen.
Meanwhile our teen is also busy perceiving, thinking, and feeling. And they often react to our rantings by becoming resentful and defensive – like Alex did tonight. In response, we create more harsh feelings and rant more and louder, setting up a vicious cycle.
Gloria (kneeling next to baby Joe): Oh, did you find a little toy?
Tonight as the camera pans away from the tangled-up sisters to another corner of the room, we are let in on the rest of the story: Baby Joe has the remote control for the model plane and is randomly pushing buttons to make the plane’s propeller spin.
We moms could benefit from one of those panning cameras when our kids mess-up. Because we often jump into the conversation, explaining the problem with our own version of the events. And often within the very first seconds we communicate to our teen that they’re the problem and warn them to defend themselves or attack back.
Of course, we get upset when our teen messes-up. How could we not get upset? This is our kid! But as Haley and Alex’s plight reminds, we are often reacting to an incomplete story.
What’s a Mom to Do
Have you ever wondered how the folks who work with youth gangs sometimes manage to get the kids to stop fighting and retaliating? They’ve learned that showing respect for the position of the kids by listening makes a crucial difference. Only after the kids believe that they’ve been listened to and that their ideas have been understood, can they give others’ ideas a fair hearing.
Our kids aren’t all that different. Our willingness to listen – even when what we’re listening to sounds crazy, is the first step to helping. Almost always a greater awareness of our teen’s story will change how we feel. And this, in turn, will affect how we act and their response.
Your Parenting Experiences
Being bound together eventually created space for a conversation that helped the two sisters – who were arguing over one mister tonight – understand each other a bit better. And sometimes a confining place can help create space for conversations with our kids too. I found that riding in the car with my teens – sitting side-by-side with them – often seemed to provide just the kind of space they needed to let their guard down a little bit and open-up. How about you? Have you found a particularly good space for catching-up with your teen?
Modern Family: Season 5, Episode 7, A Fair to Remember
Gloria Takes the Cake
Tonight’s episode, set at a town fair, sounds like fun. But the fun played second fiddle to the downside of competing – with family members losing face and friends at almost every turn.
Even as the Pritchetts turn into the fairground’s parking lot, Jay squares off with another driver over a parking spot – and his pride.
Jay: Didn’t you see my blinker?
Derrick: Looking at ya, I’m guessing it was on the whole way here.
Claire and Phil, who are celebrating their china (20th) anniversary on fair day, are also competing. Claire has always given Phil disappointing gifts, but she’s sure she has a winner this year with the Chinese acrobats she’s hired. They’re back at home, though, so she wants to drag Phil away before he even has a chance to whack-a-mole. Phil needs to keep Claire at the fair because he’s going to perform the “romantic” song he wrote for her: She’s a pretty sight, wise as a Buddha. But, brother, watch that bite; she’s a Claire-acuda. That is until he gets cold feet about following the rock star pharmacist who performed before him.
Cam is fixated on his losing freshman football team: Do you see how everyone is glaring at me like a loser coach. … I’m the Hester Prynne of freshman football. I might as well have an ”L” sewn on my shirt.
Alex and Luke are both competing for the same girl. Alex is determined to make Sienna her new best friend: Sienna is amazing. Stylish, worldly, and she’s so new to our school, she doesn’t even realize I’m a full social class below her. I need to cement the friendship before she finds out we have a cafeteria. Luke wants Sienna to be his girlfriend. As Claire tells it: [Luke looks at her] the same way he used to look at Halloween candy. The sibs both lose out when their attempts to thwart each other end up creeping out Sienna.
Meanwhile Jay and Gloria worry about what Manny might lose by winning the fair’s cake contest.
Jay (seeing a crowd of boys laughing at Manny as he carries his cake): Give me that. Do you want to fit in? You’re not doing yourself any favor with this cake contest.
But it’s Gloria who really takes the cake tonight – beginning with this as Manny puts the final touches on his cake.
Gloria (to camera): See Manny up there with the misfits and their crazy cakes. I started to wonder if Jay was right. Maybe Manny would fit in better if he was more like the other boys. And maybe I need to give him a little push.
Flipping the Frame: My Notes
The episode left me pondering the title: “A Fair to Remember.” What transpired tonight was funny but forgettable. That is except for Manny’s grit: I’m going to win the cake contest. … And then there will be no stopping me. … [I’ll have] first place ribbons and respect.
When Gloria tries to sabotage Manny’s chances of winning by surreptitiously tearing a huge hunk off his cake, Manny won’t be deterred: Hey, Mom! Check it out! I finished my cake! … It’s Los Angeles after an 11.5 earthquake. I call it “earth-cake.”
Even when he has just 60 seconds to get his cake to the judges’ table and there’s a dense crowd standing in his way, Manny doesn’t give up.
Gloria: Uhhh! There’s no way we’re going to make it through that crowd.
Manny: Like heck we won’t! Here; (handing his cake to Gloria to carry), follow my lead. Ready? Then smiling. Come on! Come on!
Despite his peers’ snickers, Jay’s dire warning, Gloria’s sabotage of his cake, and the crowd standing between him and his goal, Manny stayed focused and persevered.
Gloria: I was the one who ruined your cake. I was afraid all those boys were going to make fun of you. I think I care more about your fitting in than you do.
Manny: No, I care. It’s just the stuff I’m good at isn’t the stuff that makes you popular.
This is a good reminder for us moms. We need not worry so much if we have a teen, like Manny, who is not the most popular. It’s crucially important for their social and emotional development that kids have one or two close, solid friendships. But being popular is not essential.
We may wish for our kids to be popular – just as we may wish for them to be athletic or good looking or smart. But we need to be careful that we’re not imposing our own wishes on our kids or weighting them down with our worries. There are lots of paths to success. And regardless of our kid’s path, researchers are increasingly pointing to how much character traits like the grit that Manny demonstrates tonight matter. Kids who don’t let setbacks discourage them, who are hard workers, and who finish whatever they begin are the most likely to succeed – not just in the immediate, short-term but also in the long-term of life.
What’s a Mom to Do
There is not yet a proven way to make teens grittier, but there is growing evidence that the following can help:
Encourage your teen’s activities and hobbies that stem from long-term interests. These opportunities provide our kids’ some of their best opportunities to see that sustained effort over time is key to achievement. So we need to be there to encourage them and to cheer as they set goals and work hard to achieve those goals. (Jay and Gloria, I’m talking to you!)
Give your teen a chance to learn how to handle disappointment and failure. Like Jay and Gloria, we moms often think our job is to do everything we can to shield and rescue our children from struggle and hardship. Yet when kids are overly protected, they don’t get a chance to develop the ability to overcome failure. So rather than trying to protect our teens, we need to be their safety nets instead.
Being a safety net means allowing natural consequences. It means paying attention so that we’re there when they fall – to comfort them and reassure them that they can indeed bounce back. And it means acknowledging what they did well and then helping them look honestly at where things went wrong, how they contributed to the problem, and what they need to do differently next time.
Be your teen’s historian. Remind your teen of obstacles they’ve faced before and successfully overcome. (Gloria, make a mental note of all that Manny overcame to win at the fair.) When they’re feeling discouraged or overwhelmed, you can listen to their worries and then remind them of their past successes under similar circumstances.
There were lots of laugh lines tonight. But Manny’s grit is what made this show one to remember.
Your Parenting Experiences
How gritty do you think your teen is? The Short Grit Scale (click here) developed by Angela Duckworth can give you some idea.