INTERVIEW

‘I'd much rather spank than to scream at a child in anger and let things come out of my mouth that never go away'

ROSE ROCK TALKS TO KATE FILLION ABOUT PARENTING 10 KIDS AND 17 FOSTER CHILDREN, MORALS, THE SOUTH, AND WHO HER FUNNIEST CHILD IS

May 12 2008
INTERVIEW

‘I'd much rather spank than to scream at a child in anger and let things come out of my mouth that never go away'

ROSE ROCK TALKS TO KATE FILLION ABOUT PARENTING 10 KIDS AND 17 FOSTER CHILDREN, MORALS, THE SOUTH, AND WHO HER FUNNIEST CHILD IS

May 12 2008

‘I'd much rather spank than to scream at a child in anger and let things come out of my mouth that never go away'

INTERVIEW

ROSE ROCK TALKS TO KATE FILLION ABOUT PARENTING 10 KIDS AND 17 FOSTER CHILDREN, MORALS, THE SOUTH, AND WHO HER FUNNIEST CHILD IS

Q You ran a daycare and preschool for years, you host a local radio show in Myrtle Beach, S.C., The Mom Show, and now you’ve written a parenting book, Mama Rock’s Rules. Is it difficult to be reduced to “Chris Rock’s mom”?

A: When people say, “You’re Chris Rock’s mother,” I say, “No, Chris Rock is my child.” I was Rose Rock long before there was a Chris Rock. I know it’s opened doors for me to help people, being his mother. It’s allowed me a platform, and that’s good, but I started speaking for children long before people at the Wal-Mart started saying, “Oh, there’s Chris Rock’s mama!”

Q: Was he a ham, growing up?

A: He was, but I never saw him onstage. I thought he would probably be a writer. He was funny, yes, but the kind of funny where you sit on the stoop and say, “Your mama’s butt is so big you could show movies on it.” Q: Do you sometimes watch him today and think, “He’s still not that funny”?

A: No, because everything he says has such a message to it. The only thing that bothers me sometimes is the language. He’ll tell a joke and I’ll be ready to go through the floor. The truth is, my daughter Andi is drop-dead funny, to the point where I was thinking she should be a comedian, but she’s at college now and she wants to be a sports announcer.

Q: You and your husband raised 10 kids

along with 17 foster children. Why did you decide to foster?

A: I always say, “Why not?” We would watch so many horrible things on TV, or you’d pick up the paper, especially in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and you’d see children being abandoned, being abused, and at school, I’d see children who weren’t being cared for. It really should move anybody. My husband and I just looked at each other one night and said, “You know, we always say, ‘They should bring that child to us.’ Why are we saying this when we could be doing it?”

Q: I’m a foster parent, too, and people often say, “Oh, I could never do that because I could never give them up.” As though it’s a character failing to foster.

A: I know. I always answer, “I’d rather have them for a day and let them have that one good day than not have given it to them if I could.” Fostering was also very good for my own kids. It made them realize how blessed they were, and it made them more giving. When you live with a child that no one ever hugged, and you see how that child reacts when they’re hugged, it’s very different than seeing it on TV. When you see a child going through the trash after dinner because they think they’re not going to get fed tomorrow, you start to empathize and have real feelings.

Q: What’s the key to raising so many kids at once?

A: A lot of rules, and structure. My kids had things to do from the minute they came

home from school: they mopped, they cleaned the bathroom, they washed dishes, they did the backyard, they vacuumed.

Q: So Chris Rock cleans the toilet?

A: He can clean a mean toilet. He can’t wash dishes very well, but he can mop a floor and iron as well as I. That was what was expected. That’s the word to use for kids: expectations. Even if I had just had a baby and was upstairs in bed, the household routine went the same way.

Q: You must have liked being pregnant.

A: I did. When I say that to people, they go, “What?!” But I loved the fact that God gave me that gift. I’ve never gotten over the feeling that I’m the first person that ever gave birth, because I’m so in awe of the fact that I have the ability to carry life. And everybody was so happy waiting for the baby, even the older children.

Q: In your book, you come off very no-nonsense and tough love.

A: I am. And I spank. Not frequently, and I’m talking spanking, not beating. But I would much rather spank and say, “Go sit over there for five minutes,” than to scream at a child in anger and let things come out of my mouth that never go away. With a spanking, in two or three minutes, it’s over, you’re hugging.

Q: Was spanking a deterrent for your kids?

A: Oh yes! They dreaded it.

Q -.But a lot of experts say that if you spank you’re endorsing violence.

A: I respect anybody’s views, and I know that if you hit a child in anger, of course

that’s violence. You know what? Chris says that in our family we have no baby mamas, no one’s in jail. “How did my parents do it? With a belt.” If you think back to when every household had a belt at the back door, we didn’t have a juvenile facility, overcrowded, in every state. If a kid got in trouble in the South, you had to send them to the Midwest, that’s where the nearest reformatory was— you didn’t need a lot of them.

Q: So what’s wrong with kids today?

A: We have so many children here who live in trailer parks, where the parents get on a bus at five in the morning to go to work in big resorts, then come home at seven or eight in the evening.

Q: White and black parents?

A Basically black. I’ve never seen a white person on a bus, come to think of it, going to these service jobs. We have a whole subculture here, I don’t even really want to believe it, but in some areas there are no older people, just these young, single mothers raising children. I’m so perplexed when I see a 17-year-old with three children, and her grandmother isn’t even 50. That was unheard of in my day. There’s been a breakdown of the family, no morals, no value system. Now, if a 15-year-old gets pregnant, the mother throws a baby shower! When I go to high schools to talk—that’s really my thing now—I tell kids, “Don’t lie down with anything you don’t want in your life forever.” You may create a chain of events that is going to follow you forever, no matter how your life changes. The end of that whole rope is a child who belongs to nobody.

Q: You grew up in what you call the Jim Crow South, but raised your kids in Brooklyn. Now you’re back south. How different is it?

A: The more things change, the more they stay the same. It’s not Jim Crow anymore, it’s very insidious now. I grew up very, very poor, but I had a mother and father who loved me, who let me know early on that Andrews, South Carolina, did not define me and my life was not going to end there. I had a lot to offer. Now, we’re raising a generation of black children who don’t have a clue as to who they are. When I went to a detention centre the other day to talk to kids, it was so obvious: no one tells them their history. No one tells them whose shoulders they stand on, so they grow up feeling less-than. If you say something about the Little Rock Nine, they think you’re talking about a rap group. You know what? All parents do this, but blacks in particular: we want the schools to teach everything. But the school is not responsible for telling your kids who they are.

Q: What did you do before you became a teacher?

A: I started cleaning white folks’ houses at 11 and did it all through high school to earn money just to survive, to buy school clothes and so on. It’s horrible to be working in a house and to be fed on the porch because they feel you’re not good enough to sit at their table. You’re good enough to take care of their children, but you can’t sit where they sit. If I think about it now, I get really, really angry about things like saving up money for Easter, then you go in the store and you’re told that you can’t try anything on. We couldn’t go in the drugstore and sit at the counter to have an ice cream. You had to eat it on the street, in 90 degree heat, and it would melt all over you. You’d walk by and see all the white kids at the counter, laughing and having a good time.

Q: Today, you must see people you remember as racists in your childhood. Do you think time has changed them?

A: No! I would never be that ignorant. I think circumstances have changed. One thing that happened in the South, especially this part of the South, is that education was the only thing our parents knew to push. Most people would beg, borrow or steal to get their kids into college. The white people here were very complacent, because they didn’t need an education to be Mr. Whoever, or own businesses. But after the civil rights movement, when people came from the north and started taking over companies, they were looking for degrees. And the black women, and guys too, had college degrees, and that’s what changed the South.

Q: But you’re saying it hasn’t changed all that much. Aren’t you suing Cracker Barrel for discrimination, because when you andyour daughter went into one last May, they didn’t serve you for more than half an hour?

A: Yes. Andi and I were seated in the middle of the restaurant, so you couldn’t not see us. [After more than 20 minutes with no service] I looked right at the hostess, and she looked at me square in the face, then turned around. That’s what really got me.

Q: What made you sure the issue was racial, rather than just terrible service?

A: We were the only two blacks sitting there, and people who came in after us had their drinks or were actually eating. I went through the channels I was supposed to, and this is why I say the South is still the South. I went to the NAACP, and they never called back. I went to the human affairs commission in Columbia and no one ever got back to me. Then I talked about the incident on my radio show, and we started getting calls, and calls, and more calls from people saying, “The same thing happened to us, but we got up

and left.” They’d name different restaurants, but mostly Cracker Barrel. Now, I have been in several restaurants, waited 45 minutes, and just got up and left with hurt feelings, figuring they’re making it very obvious they don’t want to serve me. I’ve been made to feel invisible so many times in my life, and that day I just said, no.

Q: Your kids are all successful. You’ve got actors and comics, a preacher, a social worker and a couple of teachers. Are you living it up in a fancy house now?

A: No. People come here all the time and are like, “This is where you live?” I don’t know what they expected, but I’m comfortable. I don’t have anything in my house that I can’t put my feet on.

Q: Through Chris, have you met anyfam-

Chris can clean a mean toilet. He can’t wash dishes well, but he can iron. That was what was expected.’

ous people you’ve always wanted to meet?

A: Well, Barbra Streisand. She was nice. But I don’t get excited about stuff like that. When Chris hosted the Academy Awards, I had almost planned not to go, but other people were so excited they got me into it.

Q: Your youngest child is 17. Are you looking forward to an empty nest?

A: I’m dreading it. I’ve had kids at home for 42 years. There’s not one thing I’m looking forward to doing when they’re all gone, except be miserable. M