Monday, March 15, 2010

Free to Be

When I was a kid, I loved Free to Be, You and Me, that fabulous Marlo Thomas extravaganza of the 70's. I had most songs, stories, and dialogues memorized. I never really thought much about the messages, but loved all of the stories and songs. I loved singing along with "It's alright to cry" and "William Has a Doll." I was thrilled when Atalanta and Young John tied the race and when the "tender sweet young thing" got eaten by the tigers. Before Leigh was even born, I knew that the number one musical purchase I would have to make would be Free to Be, You and Me. It was important to me that my daughter grow up learning those same feminist messages in a fun and musical way.

But 35 years later, those messages sound a bit different to my ears. The first casualty was "Ladies First." For some reason, Lyn didn't want us send the message that a "girly girl" is in danger of being tiger food. I thought it was just because she didn't grow up with the album in the same way I did. Thankful for iTunes, we edited that song out of our version of the album. But although I was skeptical, after a while I found myself uncomfortable with the story as well. I don't like the portrayal of young girls who like to wear pretty things as spoiled brats who, if we are all lucky, will get what they deserve.

Fine, but don't let one bad apple spoil the whole bunch, right? Except that I've always been confused by Diana Ross's "When We Grow Up," which contains lyrics like "When we grow up, will I be a lady?/Will you be an engineer?/Will I have to wear things like perfume and gloves?/I can still pull the whistle while you steer." The message of the song seems to be we can still be friends, and "we don't have to change at all," but why can't I be the engineer and you be the lady?

Then I start hearing all the sexist messages the songs and vignettes are sending my kids even as they refute them -- most women can't throw a ball or climb a fence, most people think boys shouldn't play with dolls, most big boys don't cry (although Rosey Grier knows some that do). And "Girl Land" is just creepy. Not to mention the fact that I actually don't want to tell my kids that housework is "just no fun." In our house, we talk about how important all kinds of work is, housework included. I agree with Carol Channing when she says, "make sure when there's housework to do that you do it together," but I don't see why doing it has to be such an unpleasant experience. Then again, I'm not "waxing the furniture till it just glows."

So it seems that except for a few choice songs and stories (like "Helping" and "Glad to Have a Friend Like You"), Free to Be, You and Me is moving out of our music rotation. I for one will really miss it, but I think that Leigh and Ira can learn to be feminists without it.

Friday, March 12, 2010

A Fine Line

In our newly rested state, we managed to get all four of us to shabbat services last Saturday morning. Ira hasn't been to services in a while, and he spent time crawling around the prayer space, happily visiting with friends, pulling up, smiling and laughing. The last time he attended, he wasn't yet crawling well, and it was fun to see him explore, and to see our friend's faces light up as he pulled on their legs, asking to be picked up.

At some point, Ira tripped a bit, and bonked his head on the floor. At the ensuing wail, Gail, who was right nearby, whisked him into her arms and out of the prayer space. She took him to look out the window, and soon enough, he was smiling again. It was almost time for him to eat again, and I wondered if he might need to nurse to settle down, but he didn't.

I stayed in services, and when Gail came back in, I smiled to realize that what she had done was absolutely normal. Sure, she comforts him when she's home with him and I'm out, but she also comforts him sometimes when I'm around, and when that milk I make is so easily accessible. I know nursing can be such a fraught topic in any family, perhaps even more so in two-mom families where one mom is nursing and one isn't. Discomfort and sometimes pain or jealousy around nursing come up all the time in any writing or discussions about parenting as an NGP.

In our family, we try to walk a fine line between making sure nursing happens, because we value it for our kids (both nutritionally and emotionally) and because we've both enjoyed it as moms, and also trying to make sure it doesn't grow to take up too much space in our family or unintentionally undermine the parental relationship for the non-nursing mom. It's important to us that we both be able to soothe our babies after the inevitable bumps and slights. It's important that we both be able to care for our babies independently during the day and both be able to put them down to bed. I also want to be more to Ira than a food source, or the mom who only nurses him while Gail does everything else in an attempt to "keep up" (we were closer to that dynamic during Leigh's infancy).

I wondered, back before Ira was born, if this would feel different once I was the one nursing (or for the first 6 months, producing more milk). And it does. I love the connection I have with Ira through nursing, and am pleased as punch that after waiting all that time for my turn, I have gotten to have this experience, and actually enjoy it (I know not all moms are so lucky). But I have sometimes had to remind myself to put on the brakes and give Gail space to do things her way. Gail had to warn me away from hovering when Ira was fussy (but fed) one Sunday morning and I was supposed to be getting some extra sleep in the other room. But what I was happy to realize last Saturday, as Gail carried our laughing baby back into services after his fall, is that for right now, we're in a really good spot walking that fine line, and we're not even having to try.