When news of Bonnie Franklin’s death hit on Friday, I had the sad gut reaction that’s become all too familiar as stars of my childhood continue to pass away. I dashed off a quick (and stunningly un-profound) tweet and went on about my day. But I’ve been thinking about her, or more accurately, her One Day at a Time character Ann Romano, ever since. And I’ve realized that the show left a mark on me far beyond my occasional references to Schneider when I pull out my giant mess of keys. (A reference none of the kids I work with seem to get, by the way.) Little did she or I know it, but Ann Romano was sketching a blueprint for me for my eventual life as a single mom.
Norman Lear’s One Day at a Time ended its run when I was 11 but I know I watched it in reruns after school for the next few years. I’d recently become a child of divorce and probably identified with Barbara (while secretly wanting to be Julie), but the real lasting impact seems to have come from watching divorced Ann take on the single parent role with such a combination of enthusiasm, fear, love, and determination. It’s exactly the mixture of emotions and traits that I’ve found in myself while raising my two kids after my marriage ended.
Now, I’ve got great real life role models to be sure. Family members, friends, and women I’ve come across in my professional life. But you can’t escape the impact that certain things in pop culture can have on you as you’re growing up. It’s why we analyze what we let our kids watch and then figure out if we need to supplement that with some sort of conversation that can inform all those developing ideas of theirs.
Ann’s feminist beliefs, her desire to do things on her own, yet clear vulnerable side all resonate with me now. I want to be plucky and dogged when it comes to my kids and my self-fulfillment. Even her wary acceptance of her nosy building superintendent Dwayne Schneider’s presence and help, was a lesson in the fact that it sometimes takes a village. That you can’t really do it all on your own. Or at least, sometimes you don’t have to and you need to know when those times are and accept the help. (Don’t worry. I’m not planning to let a slightly creepy neighbor half raise my kids.)
One Day didn’t make raising kids look easy. Often fun and funny, yes, but not easy. It was a series of ups and down. Struggles and failures but always with the intent to give the boundaries a responsible parent needs to give.
I was so glad to see that Franklin, a stage actress and woman of other pursuits, didn’t resent being so known for her portrayal of Ann Romano, but was proud of it. Not only was it a wonderful reflection of the reality for so many people at the time, it was a lasting embrace for those who would follow.