Reaping the gifts handed down by her Solo Mom
Linda Grasso is probably the most popular woman in Los Angeles. If you aren’t friends with her, it’s likely your best friend is. A well-known digital, print, and TV journalist, Grasso is the current editor in chief of Ventura Blvd magazine, a high-profile publication that covers lifestyle in the San Fernando Valley. Petite, pretty, and whip smart, this always-on-her-toes dynamo is everywhere, doing everything, all at once.
In her early career, Grasso worked as a correspondent and host for E! Entertainment, as well as a news anchor and reporter for various network affiliates across the country.
An avid gardener, Grasso is raising two sons and two dogs with her husband, media executive Charlie Koones, and attributes much of her success, both personally and professionally, to being raised by a Solo Mom.
Q: What were your initial aspirations in life?
A: When I was young, I wanted to be an on-camera journalist. I was a news reporter and anchor—five different cities in 10 years. I climbed the ladder.
My husband and I were married in ’93. He was working at Variety, Inc.; got promoted; and was transferred to LA. So I wound up working at KTTV as a reporter.
Q: Tell me a little about your current gig and Ventura Blvd magazine.
A: Once I got to the big market, I really didn’t like it. They’re only interested in crime and disasters. I got [burnt out] and went to work as a correspondent for E! News. After eight years, I really wanted to be a full-time mom. I felt life and motherhood were passing me by. I did it for five years, then was given the opportunity to launch and be the editor of Ventura Blvd magazine. That was five years ago. It’s been wonderful creating and crafting something, making it into my own vision of what I think the Valley is. It’s a great job. I’m really proud of the magazine.
Q: Tell me about your mom.
A: Her name is Diane Watson. She’s 75, retired, and lives in La Jolla. She’s been remarried around 30 years.
She dropped out of the University of Maryland to marry my dad at 19 or 20, probably way before she should have. They were married for 10 years and then split up. She got tired of his cheating, packed us up in the car one night, and that was it. All we could fit in the station wagon besides the four kids were three suitcases and the parts for two beds. She took us to live at my grandmother’s house in Bethesda. From then on, we were on our own.
My dad didn’t pay support. He would occasionally take us for a visit but remarried pretty quickly and had another family. He really wasn’t a presence in my life. Even though we were at my grandmother’s house, my mother raised us completely on her own—meaning braces, glasses, food, gymnastics, summer camp. . . . She put all four of us through college!
I never saw her cry about my dad, and she made it a policy to never speak negatively about him. As a kid, you define yourself by what you are made of, and all you know is you are made of your mom and dad.
Q: How did she support you?
A: My youngest sister was five when we moved, so luckily we were all in school. During the day, she worked as a dental hygienist, and at night, she put herself through school. First she got her undergraduate degree and then her MBA. Our grandmother was around a bit but traveled a lot, so we were pretty independent at a very young age.
My mother showed us that with a lot of hard work and determination, you could do anything you set your mind to. She taught me that you don’t need a man to be successful, and you should never rely on a man to support you. I don’t judge those who do, but for me, it was empowering.
Q: What do you think made her this way?
A: She has balls of steel. Strength comes from within. Life is a series of disappointments and challenges and heartbreaks. I’m not being Debbie Downer; I’m just being a realist. There are points in your life when you say the world is my oyster, but for all of us there are times when you have to pull yourself up, reach deep down into your soul, and pull it out. She showed me by example what it’s like to have inner strength and conviction.
Q: Were you always determined to make it on your own?
A: Absolutely. I went to college knowing it cost $11,000. My mom scraped and kicked and fought for every dime. While other kids were partying, I was watching my grades. I knew how hard it was to pay for my education, so I was careful about money. It mattered. I worked hard. I wanted to be smart and successful and did not want to have to rely on anyone.
My mother had to make ends meet with four children and no support. Every Sunday she would sit on the living room floor and spread out all the coupons from the Sunday paper. I remember thinking, I don’t want to have to do that.
Q: Are your siblings as ambitious as you?
A: We’re all different. We are all well adjusted, good, successful people. My younger sister is a stay-at-home mom and is happy. She didn’t marry for money. She’s a wonderful person and pleased with her choices. So I consider her successful. I wouldn’t say that any of them had the burning drive I did. When I embarked on my career as a journalist, I went all out, was singularly focused. I was going to make it.
Q: Your mom must be very proud of you.
A: I think she’s delighted to watch me on TV. She loves the magazine and thinks I’m a great writer. But I think more than anything she’s happy that I’m happy and a good person. I know she loves that I married a good guy.
Q: How did your experience of being raised by a Solo Mom affect your relationships with men?
A: I don’t think I would have picked my husband had I not learned from my mother’s mistakes. When you’re young, it’s easy to be attracted to the hot guy, the rich guy, the fun guy. I know it sounds cliché, but for me, it was about marrying someone who would be there for me, respect me as a woman and a person. I wanted someone who would make me better and truly have my back as a friend.
I dated a lot of guys, but at the end of the day, I found a man who would stand by me and really valued family. Charlie’s family was his whole world. And I wanted a family. I wanted the cohesion. I wanted a unit that was strong because I didn’t have that. He comes from a big Irish-Catholic family. The first time I went to visit them I thought, I want a piece of this action! He reveres each one of them to this day.
We grew up in the same neighborhood, and I’d see him every once in a while. We didn’t really connect until my senior year of college. The 10 years we dated before we got married I was a journalist, so we didn’t live in the same city much, but we always circled back.
One of the healthier aspects of our relationship is that we give each other a lot of freedom. When we come together we really enjoy and appreciate each other.
Q: Do you ever see your father?
A: I do, but my relationship with my father is complicated, as you can imagine. He’s been married and divorced a number of times. He’s apologized over the years, and I try to practice forgiveness. There’s nothing I can gain by sitting and steaming about the way he behaved. He’s got some serious shortcomings, but he’s not a monster. Holding the past against him is not going to do any good.
Q: When did your mom remarry?
A: After we grew up and left the house, she met a guy at NIH (National Institutes of Health) where she worked. He has a medical degree and was instrumental in the development of the artificial heart. He’s a sweet, kind, loving man and is all about family. He has two kids of his own, and they really comingled the families nicely.
Q: Do you have a standout memory of your mother as a Solo Mom?
A: I have many amazing memories of my mom. I remember arriving at my grandmother’s. It was January—cold and snowing. My dad drove his car all the way from southern Maryland and stood at the door, begging her to come back. [We] kids were home from school for a snow day. We sat at the kitchen table eating soup and could hear them. We said, “Mom, he wants you back! You gotta go back! We don’t have to live in this little house. We can go back to school with our friends.” She told us, “I will never go back. I would rather be poor, destitute, and homeless on the side of the street. He was disrespectful to me and treats me like dirt.”
It was a lesson on what the word never means, on conviction. You cannot have people treat you disrespectfully in life, be it a friend, a boss, a colleague, any relationship. If they are not treating me with kindness and respect, I’m out.
Q: What about your mom makes you the most proud?
A: The example she set for me and how it’s helped me create a positive and rewarding life for myself.
Q: What favorite solo-parenting tips did you learn from your mom?
A: Don’t bad-mouth the father. Instill in your children they are loved—by their mom, grandma, uncle, whomever. This is totally doable for a single parent. I would never have had the confidence and conviction to be a broadcast journalist if I wasn’t raised by a Solo Mom. I wasn’t afraid and was willing to do just about anything—just like my mom.
Also, kids can do without. There are all these bells and whistles about the accoutrements of child-rearing. We had spare change for lunch money—that’s it. Be creative and think outside the box. Money is an object. Don’t be embarrassed. There’s beauty in making do.
Kathleen Laccinole, ESME’s Dating Resource Guide, has penned numerous films and parenting books but is best known for producing the highly lauded Greta, age 20, and William, age 16.
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