Free To Be

Marlo Thomas with children of Free To Be writers and performers in a 1972 publicity photo.

Forty years ago, Free to Be…You and Me was released. The children’s platinum-winning record (remember those?) and book was created to expel gender and racial stereotypes of the era. Marlo Thomas described why she created the collaborative classic:

“Our mission was simple: to convince children that their dreams were not only boundless, but achievable.”

Free To Be was wedged between school and my not-so “That Girl” work life. I took notice of Marlo fanning the feminist flame because as a teacher of young children, I was becoming well acquainted with the Free To Be demographic.

Me on the cover of a Vassar College brochure when I was teaching at the college’s campus school.

When I was studying to be a teacher in the ’70’s, I wrote a paper based on a passage in the Dr. Seuss book, And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street. My feminism was in full bloom, and my professor scrolled across the top of the paper in red marker, “a provocative title.” I titled the paper, “Dr. Seuss Is A Sexist.” Braless, long-haired, Earth Shoe wearing young women from Long Island were weaned on the good Doctor, and I was shocked when I unearthed so many perpetuated stereotypes…like this one:

“Say – anyone could think of that.
Jack or Fred or Nat
Say – even Jane could think of that.”

Of course, despite being caught up in the sexist rhyme of the time, I loved, and still love Dr. Seuss. He mastered the art of empowering confident children. So throwing the baby out with the bathwater was a futile, but informative exercise because noticing pushes the needle in the right direction.

Realizing the power of the potential of children is something we must continue to value and nurture. The reality of our children and their children’s future will require them to muster up an activism that can only come from being educated and engaged citizens.

Kurt Vonnegut may have touched the future when he wrote in the afterword for the Free To Be book,

“I’ve often thought there ought to be a manual to hand to little kids, telling them what kind of planet they’re on, why they don’t fall off it, how to avoid poison ivy, and so on.”

Give Children A Voting Voice…Yours

“This is the most important election of your lifetime. There’s so much at stake.”

I’ve been telling my voting-age children this for as long as I can remember. My voice plays over and over in their heads because for many years my children tagged along with me on Election Day. It was my hope that by joining me in the voting booth, they would become lifelong voters. Voting is their right and it would become their responsibility. Voting with my children was one of those “teachable” moments that empowered them to vote today.

Voting is the ultimate outcome of democracy: people taking action and becoming active citizens. Young adults (ages 18-29) make up at least 24% of the voting age population, and they have significant power in making a mark in history in 2012.

My children were jazzed to vote in the presidential election today. My son came home to vote in the same town hall he had accompanied me at as a young child. My daughter, a graphic designer, voted early this morning and then forwarded me the Get Out the Vote campaign created by the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts). AIGA asked their members to create nonpartisan posters to inspire the American public to participate in the electoral process and vote in the 2012 election.

How about your children? Did you take them with you to vote? Did they vote?

View more posters and read the full post on Moms Clean Air Force.

Poster: AIGA, Shelley A. Miller

Sandy’s Wake Leaves A Clear Choice

Long Beach, NY Boardwalk, October 30, 2012

For as long as I can recall, hurricanes were a thrilling nuisance. I grew up about 20 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and 20 minutes from the Long Island Sound…smack dab in the middle of Long Island. I longed to live closer to my cousins because they could touch the ocean from their Long Beach home. Hurricanes were a rare visitor, but they happened. In fact, when hurricane winds blew, my father’s brother and family would march into our house to brave out the storm. Sometimes the cousins would stay for hours…sometimes days.

When those hurricanes thrust their last mighty blow, my dad and uncle would pile the kids into the station wagon to appraise the damages. I remember the anticipatory excitement of driving through sandy salt water to get to their house at the end of the block. Would we find the dock perched ten feet up on the grass? Would windows be smashed? Would the outdoor furniture be dangling off the deck in a tangle of boat line? We found all these things, but what made the most impression was what lurked beyond personal property damage. It was what the hurricane left behind…dead seagulls, shore birds, fish that couldn’t find their way back to the sea, and relocated plants and flowers. As we sifted through the wreckage, the thrill quickly dissipated and gave way to sadness for our beautiful natural upended world. I remember in the aftermath, my dad would say we must always be wary of nature, but the one good thing about a hurricane is that once it’s over, it’s over…we didn’t have to worry about the next one for a long, long time.

Not the case anymore. The east coast has a new reality…freaky Frankenstorms and Superstorms. Why? Because we have hotter than normal sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean. This means heavier rainfall and stronger winds. This means higher sea levels and increased coastal flooding. This means increased storm surges. This means the warning signs of global warming have breached the planet’s levee and they can’t be ignored any longer.

Here’s what Gov. Andrew Cuomo said while Hurricane Sandy hammered NYC a few days ago:

I don’t think anyone can sit back anymore and say, ‘I’m shocked at that weather pattern’…There is no weather pattern that will shock me anymore… Climate change is a reality…Given the frequency of these extreme weather situations we have had — and I believe it is an increased frequency — for us to sit here today and say this is a once-in-a-generation, and it’s not going to happen again, I think would be short sighted. New York must anticipate more of these extreme weather type situations in the future…We have to start thinking about how do we redesign this system…This is a new orientation for us…Anyone who says there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns I think is denying reality.”

Wow, this is a BIG, BIG deal! Until recently, most politicians (including the two running for President) were careful to sidestep climate change. But even in their tip-toe avoidance of attributing any single weather event to climate change, where they stand are telling in these statements:

“I’m not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet.” ~ Gov. Mitt Romney

“And yes, my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet – because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They’re a threat to our children’s future. And in this election, you can do something about it.” ~ Pres. Barack Obama

Sandy has come and gone. My cousins are still unable to make their way from Brooklyn back to their oceanfront home to see if the house succumbed to Sandy’s roar. But in this hurricane’s wake, a clear choice has blown through the broken windows, boardwalks, airports, subways, power lines and our presidential election. As Gov. Cuomo says, we need to redesign the system. And to those who say we can’t afford renewable energy, I say, we clearly can’t afford more Sandys:

“The lost cost to the economy with much of New York and New Jersey unable to get to work was between $10 billion and $30 billion.”

The energy commitments our next president makes will affect the Frankenstorms and Superstorms my children and their children will suffer. Our next president must take global warming seriously and do something about it. Politicians in climate denial are upending nothing less than our children’s future and they will not get my vote. How about yours?

Photo via Facebook’s Official Hurricane Sandy page.

Only Fools Dye Their Young

Sometimes I think I might get arrested for loitering in the grocery aisle. I read every single food label. I’m a food marketer’s nightmare because I can sniff out misleading and meaningless food lingo in a heartbeat. Why? Because I’ve been reading labels incessantly since my daughter was young.

It’s Not Nice To Dye Our Young

It started with an innocent breakfast cereal that made grandiose claims of being “All Natural Berry, Berry Goodness,” “Kid Approved” and “Contains Healthy Antioxidants.” After ingesting bowlfuls of her new favorite cereal, my daughter started to display frightening symptoms. First, she developed a headache. So we gave her Children’s Tylenol. The headache got better. Then she broke out in hives. We gave her Children’s Benadryl. Very quickly after taking the antihistamine, she complained that her throat was feeling weird, like she couldn’t swallow. We rushed her to an allergist, who confirmed what we had already figured out. My daughter was allergic to Blue Dye #2…a common food dye that was an ingredient in the cereal and the two over-the-counter children medicines.

Of course, we learned to avoid food dyes like the plague…reading labels like one would read an FBI file. Everything from lip balm to ice cream became suspect. Who knew?

It’s Not Nice To Fool The Bees

French apiarist Andre Frieh holds a sample of normal honey (right) besides a blue colored one (left) Ribeauville, France, October 5, 2012.

I was reminded of this parental chapter (nightmare) when I recently read that beekeepers were discovering blue honey in their hives. Apparently, bees were harvesting M&Ms manufacturing waste from a plant that processed the industrial runoff from a Mars candy factory.

“The plant operator said it regretted the situation and had put in place a procedure to stop it happening again…The company, which deals with waste from a Mars chocolate factory, said it would clean out the containers, store all incoming waste in airtight containers and process it promptly.” ~ BBC

We’re not innocent bees, we’re conscious consumers who should not be duped by honey-coated claims. Although labels are supposed to say exactly what’s in their product, the food aisle is teeming with misinformation. As parents, we like to fix things like this. How can we fix marketers who aim to make money by poisoning our kids? We can’t.

But don’t be a fool…Real food doesn’t come with labels.

BlogHer ’12: If The Shoe Fits

An eco-mom blogger at the Moms Clean Air Force BlogHer booth.

I cannot tell you how excited I was to meet and talk to so many wonderful women bloggers at the Moms Clean Air Force booth last week at the BlogHer ’12 Conference. And when I finally dragged my exhausted body home after three hot days in NYC, and greeted Ted at the train station, he said, “I won’t ask you about BlogHer until you’ve had a shower, a salad, and a glass of wine, but what was the highlight of the conference?”

BlogHer is a BIG conference…4,500+ women bloggers…and there were some mighty BIG shoes to fill in the form of keynote speaker star power. But hands down, the highlight was all the SMALL conversations I had with new and old friends.

Martha’s Shoes

Martha Stewart was Martha. She was asked about the changes she’s encountered in her 40-year career as Martha, and her answer was not surprisingly, all the technological advances. What she found had not changed was the sad fact that only 4% of all the CEO’s in this country were women. When asked what advice she had for the bloggers, Martha said, “I make sure that I learn something new every day.” Good advice from a woman in 6” orange platform heels.

Katie’s Shoes

Katie Couric is launching a new show. Katie’s stilettos were also impossibly high (thanks to Christian Louboutin), and so were her spirits. She exudes warmth. After she plugged her show, the real Katie shone when she discussed her teenage daughters, her husband’s death from colon cancer, and how she honestly felt bad when she interviewed Sarah Palin because Sarah was so uncomfortable answering Katie’s questions. Regardless, Katie pushed on because, as she said, “This women would be a heartbeat away from a man over 70 years old who had multiple melanomas, and the American people needed to know what they would be getting.” Keep going, Katie.

Soledad’s Shoes

Soledad O’Brien seemed to have laced up work boots disguised as sky-high pumps as she moderated a panel called, “Women Influencers as Change Agents” with Christy Turlington Burns and Malaak Compton-Rock. I was looking forward to this panel because I figured it would align nicely with my MCAF work. Christy and Malaak have each launched global campaigns to fight for women and children’s health. They also both have husbands I love to watch on the screen, Ed Burns and Chris Rock. Christy was smart, stunning and in top form in her perfect strappy sandals. After uttering a few words, Malaak developed a lethal case of stage fright. Soledad exhibited what a terrific journalist she truly is, as she coaxed Maleek out of her frozen, deer-in-the-headlights state with amazing grace. I’m not sure another journalist would have been able to fill Soledad’s impressive journalistic shoes.

My Shoes

I could not walk a mile in any of these women’s shoes…and as blogger, Judith Ross commented after two days of standing on our feet, “Our official shoes of BlogHer must be Toms.” And they were (right, my Toms).

New Shoes

Two SMALL conversations spurned BIG revelations for me. The first one came as I was racing around getting ready to leave for BlogHer. When I checked my laptop for the last time (only carried an iPad with me), I noticed the Second Lives Club blog published a humbling profile/interview of me. After reading the piece, it finally sunk in that I really have created a new career. You can check out the profile HERE.

The second revelation arose during a discussion about MCAF’s one-year anniversary (yay, yay, yay) with MCAF’s co-founder, Cynthia Hampton. We were talking about my position as MCAF’s editor and I said, “I wake up every morning so excited to get to work…and I work way into the evening hours…and now that we reached 100,000 members, it’s so gratifying to be making a difference in the lives of women and children.” She said, “Ronnie, you have stepped into the shoes of an activist.”

Photos: blogger and baby photo from my iPhone, BlogHer, Toms