My Other Parent

With all due respect to my dear mother, who was a wealth of knowledge and love, there were some things that we didn’t discuss when I was younger. These are things that would probably make for uncomfortable conversation. I’m sure as a parent you want to protect your kids from the harsh realities of life when they are young. She did her best, and I think she did a great job, but what she didn’t teach me I learned from television.

I know it would be more poetic to say I was one of those loner kids who found life lessons in novels way too advanced for my young mind to comprehend. No I didn’t read Jane Austen, I was reading Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading, reading is fundamental and all that, but I was that kid who came home from school, grabbed a snack, sat down in front of the television for hours at a time.

Before you get all preachy and tell me how TV rots your brain and contributes to childhood obesity, let me say this, I wasn’t thick as a kid (what I have going on now is another story.) I’m not good at math and I have the attention span of, hey do you like bunnies? Wait, I where was I? Oh yea my short attention span. Yes, to some, TV might seem like it limits growth, knowledge, and creates an unrealistic idea of what life is. For me, it was an opportunity to see what the world could be, and a form a deep understanding of others.

When you were younger, maybe you went to weddings of family members, perhaps you were the flower girl or the ring bearer. You got to wear a nice dress or a little suit and take pictures with the wedding party. For many, that's what their childhood wedding memories are. My first memory of a wedding was Luke and Laura’s epic nuptials on General Hospital. The adults around me didn’t get married. You had kids, often times by different men, got a boyfriend and he would live with you, love on you, eat your groceries, and never formally commit. Thankfully my mother wasn’t one of these women, but most of the moms in my neighborhood did just that. I didn’t attend an actual wedding with a bride and groom, the dress, and all flowers in until my late teens.

So if I’d never been to or seen a wedding, you know I didn’t know what a real marriage looked like. My papa was a rolling stone. I do know that Erica Kane had like fifty-eleven husbands on All My Children, so did Reva Shane on Guiding Light (did you know she married a father, and his two sons? Her kids are brother-sister-cousins to each other)

And what were these things called vacations? You know those very special episodes where the family leaves the familiar set and studio audience behind to film on location. Yea, never had one of those either but I sure loved that Growing Pains two-parter when they went to Hawaii and Mike Seaver fell in love with that island chick. Remember that one? No? My point is, things most kids deem normal are moments, and relationships I never saw as a child but through TV (and some book reading) I was exposed to what could be.

Now Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, life wasn’t all bad. I had the unconditional love of my mother, the companionship and support of my hard headed brother, and an Aunt who would move heaven and hell to make sure I was taken care of. I don’t look back and say “Oh what a sad life” I am more than OK with the TV being my second parent.

As I got older, and when I say older I mean 8. I discovered talk shows. Oh the great talk show! First one I fell in love with was Donahue. I was home sick and my mom had given me my medicine, sat me on the couch and we watched Voltron. I loved Princess Allura and her pink uniform, but she totally grossed me out when she let those creepy mice jump on her shoulder and chit chat with her like that was ok! Anyway, after Voltron ended my Mom informed me that I needed to rest and it was time for her “show.” I didn’t put up a fight I was tired anyway and the Robotussin was kicking in so I curled up and prepared to take a nap.

As I drifted off I was distracted from my sleep by this white haired man with a microphone running up and down the aisles of some big room full of people. What was this? I pretended to sleep so my mom wouldn’t turn the channel, but I was totally listening. I won’t lie and say I remember the topic, but I do know I wanted to hear more. Listening to these people tell their stories, was like crack to me. After that first hit, I craved it more and more.

After that I discovered Geraldo, Sally Jesse, and yes, Oprah. I set the VCR to record my shows every day. I see now, it was the universe prepping for my current role on a radio talk show.

I didn’t have a bad childhood, it was just different. I got to see and hear things most of my friends didn’t learn about for years. Can you imagine my conversations with other kids on the playground?

Kid: Hey wanna play hide-and-seek?
Me: Yea, sure! I have to do my homework and watch Donahue, Ryan White is going be on there today.
Kid: Ryan who?
Me: Ryan White, the kid who has AIDS? Some people won’t let him go to school because they are afraid of catching it.
Kid: Like chicken pops?
Me: You mean chicken pox
Kid: Never mind, that sounds dumb. I’m gonna go play!

There were people around me living with AIDS. There was a lesbian couple living in the building across from me. Domestic violence wasn’t just a made for TV movie starring Farrah Fawcett, it was real. And thanks to my informal studies of the “real world” via TV, I wasn’t afraid to discuss any of these things. I knew that I could sit next to a person with AIDS and not catch it. I knew that gay people weren’t any different from straight couples and anyone who treated them different was out of line. Unlike some of my friends who saw their mothers abused by men, I knew that it wasn’t ok, it wasn’t normal and I should never tolerate such behavior.

Call it corny but I learned these things watching talk shows. Believe me when I say I had to learn early on, probably before I learned how to ride a bike, I knew the dangers of drugs and domestic violence first hand That was just the environment I lived in.

 Now kids today are just S.O.L. All they have is Maury and Jerry Springer. Paternity tests, and transsexual midget wrestlers from the Klu Klux Klan secretly dating minorities while their parents yell “White Power!” from the audience. Let’s face it, talk shows are dead they lost their credibility in the mid 90’s when acting a fool equated higher ratings. I blame you Ricki Lake! How do you go from discussing teen moms addicted to crack, to signing off with your cheesy 90’s theme song as your audience chants “Go Ricki, Go Ricki.”

So, as crazy as it sounds, television was like the extended family and considerate neighbors I never had. Looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It has made me who I am, an Alan Thicke loving, homosexual friend having, equal rights supporting, freedom of religion believing, open-minded, compassionate kind of girl. And I’m totally OK with that.