I don’t know what you were like when you were 24, but when I was 24, I was young, excited about life, starting my filmmaking education, and interested in living the bachelor's life. The last thing I could ever imagine doing would be having children. Let alone two!
But at the age of 24, that’s exactly what my mom had. Two rambunctious little, nappy-headed black boys.
As a single mom and registered nurse, she longed for a better life for those boys. So, she packed up her yellow Volkswagen bug with whatever she could fit in that little front trunk, threw us in the back seat, and headed west — from Philly, PA to the big lights and glitz of Hollywood, where she got a job at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center—the hospital to the stars.
I’ve often tried to imagine just what it must’ve been like for a single mother in the early ’70s to parent two boys and drive cross-country with them. I’m guessing my brother and I were loud and obnoxious, rolling around and wrestling in the backseat. And seat belts? Pfft! Fuhgetaboutit! Remember, this was almost two decades before seat-belt laws.
And how did she feel about her prospects about meeting a man? Did she long for a man who could help her shepherd these two into God-fearing, respectful young men? How often did she sit in her bed at night, sad, alone, and tired from working all day, then dealing with two rowdy and ashy little boys at night?
Can I just take this moment to give a shout out to all you single moms out there? I can unequivocally say that a huge reason I am the person I am today is because of the sacrifices my mom made. When I think about the choices she made, I can see so many different paths our lives could have gone. What if she’d moved to South Central instead of Hollywood? What if she’d dated dogs instead of doctors? And what if she’d just said, “F*ck it, go live with your father” — or worse, given us up to foster care.
There are things we don’t realize about the sacrifices our parents made until we’re parents ourselves.
Yeah…my mom was pretty special.
That being said, I gotta say, there were some choices mom made that were, um, shall we say, questionable.
The Best Darn Babysitter in Town
As a single mom, there’s only so much one parent can do. And if you work 17-hour shifts 3–4 days a week and only have the weekend to catch up on sleep, hell yeah, you’re gonna use the TV set as your weekend babysitter. And boy, she worked that sitter to death.
This was our typical weekend schedule, starting with Saturday morning:
- 6 am to 7 am—Little Rascals hour
- 7 am to 7:30 — Scooby-Doo
- 7:30 to 8 am — Electra Woman and Dyna Girl
- 8 am to 9 am — Super Friends
- 9 am to 9:30 am — Sigmund and the Sea Monster (get more Frosted Flakes)
- 9:30 to 9:32 — Schoolhouse Rock — History Rock
- 9:32 to 11 am — Bugs Bunny and Friends (Fruit Loops for breakfast “dessert”)
- 11 am to 11:02 — Schoolhouse Rock — Math Rock
- 11:02 to 12 noon — the Tom and Jerry Hour
- 12 to 12:05 — Run like hell for the kitchen to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and get back to TV
- 12:05 to 12:30 — Jabber-Jaw
- 1230 to 1 — Sid and Marty Kroft
- 1 to 2 — Two back-to-back episodes of Gilligan’s Island (Ginger vs Mary Ann? Hello? Mary Ann. How was this ever even a debate?)
- 2 to 3 — Two back-to-back episodes of The Munster’s
- 3 to 5 — Saturday Afternoon movie special
- 5 to 5:30 — see mom. Grab dinner. We actually ate at the table together. And you know how praying grace went. C’mon now. Say it with me. “God is great. God is good, let us thank Him for our food. AMEN!”
- 5:30 to 7 pm — Saturday Evening movie special (usually a badass monster movie like Godzilla, Gamera, Rodan, etc. Man oh man. We LOVED us some Japanese monster movies!)
- 7 to 8 — Love Boat
- 8 pm — Bedtime
Then Sunday came around. I’m a little fuzzier on Sunday’s activities. But it was generally something like:
- Get up early and watch a slew of “bible” cartoons like “Davey and Goliath”
- Go to church
- Come home in time to catch…
- 1 to 2 — Two back-to-back episodes of Gilligan’s Island
- 2 to 3 — Two back to back episodes of The Munster’s (as a kid, the spelling of “Musters” confused me. I thought a “munster” was something like Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman, etc. I thought monsters—with an “o”—were the giant, Godzilla and Gamera types.)
- 3 to 5 — Sunday Afternoon movie special
- 5 to 5:30 — Dinner
- 6 to 7 pm — Fantasy Island
- 7 to 8 — BATTLESTAR GALACTICA! (YEAH BOYEEE! THAT WAS MY SHOW! It was like getting to watch Star Wars every week!)
- 8 pm — Bedtime
[Note: Now, before you go Googling what the TV show line-up was for the greater Los Angeles area in the mid-to-late’70s, let me just say I did not bother to make sure these were the exact times. Trust me when I say these were the shows of my youth and the general times I watched them. The whole point is… we watched a lot of f-ing TV!]
The weekday line-up (in no particular order) usually involved after school specials, H.R. Pufnstuf, Lidsville, Lost in Space (more on this later), more Japanese superheroes, Batman and Robin, The Electric Company (starring one Morgan Freeman), Sesame Street, 321 Contact (Trini! Oooooh!), Dr. Who, The New Zoo Revue, Speed Racer, The Bugaloos, F-Troop, Gomer Pyle, the Andy Griffith Show, Candid Camera, I Love Lucy, and of course, the Brady Bunch.
You then had your weekly evening shows like Sanford and Son, Good Times, What’s Happening, Alice, Give Me a Break, Chico and the Man, All in the Family, The Jeffersons, Different Strokes, Buck Rogers, Logan’s Run, and Facts of Life.
Half-naked white women, great white sharks, and other questionable parental choices
But perhaps the TV show that stands out the most to me was Wonder Woman. First, because of well, you know, Linda Carter in a bathing suit running around kicking ass. I mean, c’mon! What prepubescent, heterosexual little black boy didn’t love seeing a gorgeous white woman with big breastesses running around in her underwear and beating up bad guys?
But, even more than that, I remember that this was the show we’d watch in the middle of the week right before our mother would take us to work with her to do her night shift. Either she didn’t have money for a babysitter, babysitters didn’t exist in the ’70s, or she just didn’t trust anyone. But during her night shifts, she’d take my brother and me to the hospital with her and we’d sleep under her office desk. It was a blast! Kind of like camping. The next morning when she was off her shift, she’d take us to the International House of Pancakes for breakfast. Life was good.
The amount of television my mother let us watch is not the only questionable parental media-related decisions she made. Again, I don’t know what the babysitting situation was for her in the ’70s, but there are a number of movies I remember her taking us too that no parent should ever take 6, 7, 8, or 9 year-olds.
I remember going to a drive-in to see Super Fly and her covering my eyes during some part of the movie. I’ve never seen the film as an adult, so I have no idea what she was shielding me from. My guess was it was most likely something sexual-related. She definitely didn’t have any problem with us seeing violence. How do I know that? Because…
She also took us to see Jaws when it came out. Yeah. Jaws. The story of how the small, fictional seaside town of Amity Island was terrorized by a shark with a taste for fat white men and skinny white female skinny dippers. (You see. This is one reason why black people don’t like to go swimming. I’m sure wypipo were scurred too, but let’s be real — how many bruthas do you see out hanging “ten” off the coast of shark-infested waters? Exactly.) Do you know how disturbing it is seeing a man get chewed in half by a great white shark when you’re only 7 or 9? Trust me. It’s VERY disturbing. I don’t recommend it at all.
She took us to see other R rated movies like Earthquake and Mommie Dearest. Again, I haven’t ever seen Mommie Dearest as an adult, and I barely remember the famous “No wire hangers ever” scene. So in the process of writing this chapter, I Googled the movie to see a few scenes, and let me just say…
WHAT THE FUCK?!
Have you seen this movie?
The scene where she attacks and chokes her daughter? The scene where she gets in a shower with her boyfriend. And of course the aforementioned wire hangers scene. Having seen that scene now as an adult, both of those are as equally disturbing as Robert Shaw being chewed in half by a great white. I was disturbed now at 50 watching those.
But, without a doubt, the piece de resistance of poor movie decisions by my mother was when she took us to see The Amityville Horror. Keep in mind that by this time, my brother and I were good little Christian boys with a healthy belief in God and the devil. And given the broad and diverse television viewing habits we had, you can only imagine where our minds could go.
This is one of those movies where certain parts linger with you (most notably, the famous “get out” scene.) I didn’t even bother Googling this movie. Uh. Uh. Hell no! (No pun intended). All I remember from seeing that movie at the tender age of about 10 was that I could not leave my mother’s side for an entire weekend. Coming out of that movie, my whole body felt different. It was like being in a different dimension. It was beyond disturbing what watching that movie was like.
WHAT. WAS. SHE. THINKING?
Now, before you go off judging my mother’s parenting decisions, remember — single mom, in the ’70s, two sugared-up little boys (and one with ADD, based on the diagnosis he got when he was 40, but I ain’t sayin’ which one of us… it was me).
Now, add to all of that, she bought her first two homes, BY HERSELF. She enrolled us in private schools for a few grades, and kept us off the streets and out of trouble. (Do y’all know the statistics of black men who get into trouble who were raised by single moms? Actually, I don’t either. But, I’m guessing it’s not good.)
And at the end of the day, I think I turned out alright. Relatively speaking. So, I probably watched a little too much TV as a kid. Everyone was doing it. You know good and well, that if you’re in your mid-40s or older, unless you grew up Amish, you recognized all those same shows I referenced earlier.
I have nothin’ but love and respect for my mom and how she raised us.
I love you mom. And I miss you. (But really. What were you thinking? I look forward to the day you can one day tell me yourself.)
I can’t help but wonder if the shows I watched as a kid had any effect on who I loved and liked in the real world?
Nah. Probably not.