Thursday 12 January 2012

"Free To Be...You and Me"

This is the title of one of my favourite childhood possessions - it's the name of a record album that my Aunt Lorraine gave me when I was a very little girl. It's an album that not a lot of Canadian girls were familiar with at the time, not unless your mom was a free-thinking feminist. Or you had an Aunt who lived in the States and would send you cool gifts like records that encouraged you to believe that you could be whoever you wanted to be and to dream whatever you wanted to dream. Luckily, I had both.

Free To Be...You and Me was the concept of Marlo Thomas and included friends such as Gloria Steinem, Alan Alda, Diana Ross and Mel Brooks, to name just a few. It featured songs about helping, friends, & when we grow up. Basic kid stuff. But it also featured stories about how girls could be firefighters and scientists and how boys could be nurses and bake cakes and change diapers.

One of my favourite stores, however, was told by Mel Brooks and Marlo. It was the story of two newborn babies in a nursery. Because they were brand new they were trying to figure things out, get the lay of the land, so to speak. The first thing that they wanted to sort out was who was a boy and who was a girl. Mel assumed that Marlo was a boy because she was bald and he had hair, "You are bald. Bald as a bowling ball. And everyone knows that girls have hair. Therefore, you are a boy and I am a girl." Well, you can imagine the surprise when it was time to change diapers. Gee, I wonder what the lesson was there? Could it be that we shouldn't assume things based on appearances and first impressions?

At the time I thought it was just this cool record with catchy songs and stories told by people like Alan Alda and Mel Brooks (not that I knew who they were when I was four but even then I recognized talent!). But the message was so much deeper. The message was about accepting who we are and accepting others for who they are.

Assumptions, core beliefs, judgements - we all have them and we all make them. When I was in my early thirties I was living in the West End of Vancouver and generally fairly happy with my life. Then friends started getting married and having babies. Then my younger brother got married, bought a house in the suburbs, got a dog and then had two beautiful, wonderful, perfect babies of his own. Pretty much the perfect life, right? Uh, wait a minute - is that what I SHOULD be doing? I had a moment of panic. And by moment of panic I mean that I started to question my life, I started to measure my life and my place in it against everyone else's life. I looked at everyone around me and assumed that they were happier and more fulfilled than I. I assumed that their lives were better. Oh, and the moment of panic? It was more like a couple of years. I like to refer to it as my early mid-life crisis.

So I bought an apartment in the suburbs because that was what I thought I SHOULD do. But I wasn't happy - I wasn't living the life that I wanted. I thought I SHOULD get married and have a baby. But I have never in my life dreamt of a white wedding and kids. Notice that there is a theme here? Lots of "shoulds". I don't think that a good reason to do something is necessarily because you think you should. Do something because you want to. It's probably not surprising that I was, again, depressed through this period of my life.

So back to Marlo and friends. Her message, although now 40 years old, is still right on the money. Accept who you are - embrace it. And let others be who they are - gay, straight, black, white, Muslim/Jewish/Christian, conservative, liberal. Before you make an assumption about someone else's life, take a moment and challenge your core beliefs. Maybe it's time to change those, to create new beliefs.

Today I am happily living in the city again. I no longer have my old record album of Free To Be...You and Me - it's been replaced by a cherished CD that I found entirely by chance years ago. I still listen to it on occasion because it makes me smile. I looked through the liner notes tonight as I was preparing to write this. In them Marlo says that she started the project for her niece, Dionne, who always wanted Marlo to read her a bedtime story, like most kids do. Marlo was frustrated by the lack of books with positive messages for kids so Free To Be...You and Me was born. The album ended up being a pretty amazing birthday gift to her niece and in the liner notes Marlo writes, "Happy Birthday, Dionne. Blow out the candles and make a wish. Any wish."

So feel free to be who you are, accept others for who they are, and make your wish, any wish.

KB xo

P.S. This post is dedicated to my mom and my Aunt who have always loved me for who I am - through the good, the bad, and the ugly!

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