For someone as obsessed with the imagined sexual behavior of her young daughter as my mother was, Sunshine was remarkably unconcerned with the sex education I got from her favorite soap operas.
She was a fan of the CBS serials – classics like “The Edge of Night,” “The Secret Storm” and “Search for Tomorrow,” all of which had been on the air since the early 1950s. She spent hours watching them during the summer months. Granted, the dramas didn’t yet have their full sizzle, but they showed a good deal of racy stuff — especially for an eleven year old girl to watch.
Husbands cheated on their wives and visa versa. Siblings engaged in bitter, lifelong rivalries. Murders and illnesses took the lives of beloved characters with regularity. Amid the dramatic close ups and musical transitions, there was titillation and much confusion for me. Sunshine provided no clarity. I didn’t ask her about any of it and she volunteered no opinions.
She never said what she thought about cheating spouses or a girl faking a pregnancy in order to persuade her boyfriend to walk down the aisle. It was all just entertainment. She paid no attention to the fact that I took in the soaps — sex, lies and all — right along with her. Actually, I’m not sure Sunshine noticed I was even in the room. Jennifer can tell you, it’s exactly that way today – even when she’s babysitting her grandchildren.
When my daughter, Grumpy Pants, was a teen, I used her curiosity about soaps to my parenting advantage. I knew better than to forbid her to watch them. Due to my work schedule, I had no real way of preventing it. I decided to watch one soap opera, the now defunct “All My Children,” with her. She liked the idea almost as much as I did. For me, there were two great benefits: 1) I actually enjoyed the show and 2) It gave me ample opportunity to pontificate about the subjects covered.
We frankly discussed adultery, homosexuality, bullying, cross-dressing, rape, prostitution, fashion, etc., etc., etc. Soaps emphasize family life, personal relationships and lots of sexual drama. They’re full of emotional and moral conflicts which get solved (or not) in the familiar surroundings of a living room, a kitchen or an office. The characters live or work in a particular place so we can feel comfortable watching them. Sure, soaps are often silly, convoluted and unrealistic. Yet, with my guidance, they offered plenty of life lessons. I loved the soaps – most especially the one I shared with my daughter.
Sunshine’s love of the soaps, which continues unabated, introduced them to me. As a result, I’ve enjoyed years of the melodrama. The glamour, seductions, corruption, romance, chance meetings, last minute rescues, life-altering revelations, secret hatreds and genuine love that make up the soap opera world was marvelous fun and a bonding experience for me and my daughter. I didn’t share the soaps with my mother in exactly the same way, but I’m glad she was a fan and I’m glad she allowed me to watch them – even if it was because she somehow didn’t notice I was doing it.