Thursday, December 13, 2007

My TV Mother

My children do not watch a lot a of television. In fact, for years we lived without broadcast TV, but Bear got his tele fix with Thomas Tank Engine (in those days Ringo was Mr. Conductor so it was never annoying) and later Pokemon (always annoying) videos. Nowadays, about the only thing they watch is Beavis & Butthead re-runs (a personal favorite of mine) and Robot Chicken.

I, on the other hand grew up in the dark ages before video games (no Pong does not count, despite what Bob McAllister told us), before VCRs, DVDs, DVRs, and recorded television in general. There were three channels and they showed the same syndicated family programming over and over and over. And I watched the same programs over and over and over until I could recite most episodes verbatim. To this day, every time I hear the March of the Toreadors from Bizet's Carmen I have the lyrics to Gilligan's Island's Hamlet the Musical (Neither a borrower nor a lender be, do not forget, stay out of debt...) running through my brain. Syndicated television was my safe place.

Like most children of our generation, especially those living in stressful homes, I used to fantasize about being part of the TV families I watched every day. I wondered what it would be like to live with a TV mom. I mean, you never saw a TV mom giving a kid a swat for getting mouthy with them or losing it when the kids were incredibly annoying and selfish. The mothers were always calm and never unpredictable or scary. In TV families there was no addiction, no violence and very little yelling. What kid wouldn't want to live in that world?

In my imaginings I considered all of my favorite mothers for the position of MY mother. Although the Partridge Family and Brady Bunch were not yet syndicated, I loved Shirley Partridge who drove a hippie school bus while assisting her children in their dreams to be stars. She was not a crazy stage mother dressing poor Laurie up like a stripper and looking the other way while Keith contracted some horrible STD, she was loving and calm and present. Hrm, a little too present. I quickly discarded Mrs. P. because I'd like some privacy, please.

I also loved Carol Brady who had the voice of angel when she sang with the church choir, and never felt threatened by the ghost of her husband's first wife or crabbed about her deadbeat ex. Carol never crabbed about much of anything as I recall. She even went on more than one camping trip although she hated it. However, her house was crowded and Mr. Brady was a little scary, so Mrs. B. was out, too.

Speaking of scary, there was something about Harriet Nelson that just struck me the wrong way. I always thought she looked on edge like she was about to snap. Poor woman was probably lovely, but If I were married to Ozzie's character on the show, I know I would snap. Come to think of it, Laura Bush often wears the same expression. Mrs. N. was out.

Ward Cleaver was a pretty cool dad, but I think both he and June seemed to have a weird hand washing obsession. If I washed my hands every time they told the Beaver to wash his, they'd be nothing but bones. I was a fairly grubby child, so Mrs. C. was out.

There was of course the allure of a magical mother like Samantha Stevens. In my estimation she was certainly the prettiest TV mother and she came with the added bonus of all those wonderful relatives who couldn't wait to spoil the children. I always admired Darren for not only putting up with, but genuinely liking her wacky gay uncle. I guess it had something to do with working in advertising. Regardless, he was a good egg in my book, but it seemed to me they left the kids with baby sitters and housekeepers an awful lot of the time so it was close, but Mrs. S. was out.

In the end, my perfect TV mom was Jane Wyatt's character on "Father Knows Best", Margaret Anderson. The Andersons just seemed so real to me. I loved how she dealt with Princess, who seemed to have some sort of teenage hormonal imbalance that caused her to turn everything into a drama and Bud who was so obviously ADD with his bad grades and nearly running a kid over while driving his hot rod, and of course Kitten who seemed to be sweet but slightly retarded. The Andersons teased each other, they went to church on Sunday and they actually had episodes in the church. Mrs. A. would get tired. She would get exasperated. She would get angry. The thing is, she never raised her voice or said anything hurtful to anyone in her family. She had outside interests she juggled while taking care of them. She was tolerant and appreciative and generous, yet frugal. Mrs. A. talked about money without being judgemental or bitter. None of the other TV moms talked about money with their kids. She was truly unique.

That is why she was my pick for fantasy mother when I was a child and that is why when I am in a tight situation in my own real life Mommy World today, I usually hear Margaret Anderson's words in my head or coming out of my mouth. Thanks Mom.
Who ever said TV can't be educational?