When my daughter was three, I considered it part of my motherly duty to expose her to all kinds of music from country to classic rock. We had a little game, where I would play a song and see how quickly she could identify the artist.
“Who’s singing?” I’d ask.
“Pink Floyd!” she’d shout. “
“What about this one?”
“Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers!”
Leaving no stone unturned, I played punk and pop, baroque and big band, blues and Broadway. So one day, we were driving home from child care, listening to the original cast recording of Kiss of the Spider Women ― a very peppy, very dancey soundtrack, sprinkled with poignant ballads. And I was oblivious to the fact that she was not only enjoying the music, but actually listening to the words.
For those of you who don’t know the show, it takes place in a prison in an unnamed Latin American country. The main characters are cell mates. Molina is a flamboyant homosexual window dresser, serving eight years for corrupting a minor. Valentin is a very heterosexual Marxist revolutionary who has been tortured almost to the point of death.
Molina cares deeply for Valentin, who wants nothing to do with him. But prison officials believe that if they release Molina to go see his very sick mother, he will lead them to Valentin’s Marxist conspirators … that Valentin will try to use Molina to get a message to his girlfriend, who is part of the same political movement.
And that is precisely what happens. Each man’s motivation comes out in a duet called “Anything for Him.”
I’d do anything for him
He must know
I’d do anything for him
I want him so
He’d do anything for me
I can tell
He’d do anything for me
I know him well
If we touch before he goes
He’ll make that call
He’d do anything for me
Anything at all
So we’re listening to this soundtrack in the car, when my toddler says:
“Mommy, the man in that song made a mistake.”
“What do you mean,” I asked.
“He’s singing about loving another man,” she said.
I couldn’t believe it. She was so perceptive that she wasn’t just listening to the music; she was digesting the lyrics, which by the way, didn’t even mention the word love.
“No,” I said. “He didn’t make a mistake. The man in this show is singing about another man.”
She looked at me, puzzled.
“Honey,” I said, “Sometimes men marry men and women marry women.”
This was not a concept she’d ever fathomed, based on what little she knew about love from The Little Mermaid, Pocahontas and Beauty and the Beast. So she started giggling, thinking I was surely teasing her.
“I’m not kidding, sweetie,” I said. “Usually men and women marry each other. But sometimes, men marry men and women marry women. And that’s okay too.”
She looked at me intensely, waiting to see if my serious expression would break into a laugh, so she’d know I was joking.
“Do you remember meeting my friends Marc and Gael when we went to Florida last year?” I asked. “… the ones who gave you that little stuffed witch for Halloween? They’re a couple, just like mommy and daddy.”
She nodded her head, to convey that she understood, and we drove on, enjoying the music.
A few days later, I was whipping up dinner, when I peeked into the playroom to see my little girl brushing Barbie’s hair and putting her in one of her finest lavender gowns. Soon Ken, decked out in his tuxedo, walked up to the door of her Pepto pink dream house and said, “Barbie, will you go out with me?” And Barbie (usually pretty accommodating) said, “Nah.”
Then Barbie went off to tend to the miniature turkey in her oven and water the plastic tulips on her patio. Skipper dropped in and asked if she wanted to go to an amusement park and ride the rollercoaster, and they left. When Barbie returned home from whizzing around the air, Ken came knocking again.
“Will you go out with me?”
And again, Barbie said, “Nah.”
Repeatedly, Barbie went off on adventures and came back home to find Ken on her doorstep, asking for a date. Poor Ken kept getting shot down.
Finally, he got bold, stood up to Barbie and flat out asked, “Why won’t you go out with me?”
That’s when Barbie responded, “I’m not that kind of girl.” Ken got tossed in a heap of naked dolls, while Barbie glammed up again and went out to dinner with Ariel.
“Oh my God,” I laughed as I realized what my daughter was doing. “Barbie’s a lesbian.”
Now I have to interject that we lived in a small town in Michigan with some very right wing Christians that wrote into the newspaper almost daily, quoting biblical passages and denouncing gays as the devil’s messengers.
“Good God,” I thought. “What if she plays like this at someone else’s house? My kid’s going to be the playground pariah.”
I wanted her to grow up color and gender blind, accepting other people for who they are on the inside and knowing that it is okay to be who you are. I wanted her to know that someday, when she decided who she was, we would love her unconditionally, no matter what. But was it safe to play gay Barbie in a town full of “crispies?” (my friend Colleen’s name for religious people who believe that anyone who doesn’t share their particular set of values is going to burn in hell.)
“Daddy and I believe it’s okay for people to love whoever they want, even if it means a boy loving a boy or a girl loving a girl. But not everyone agrees with us,” I said. She needed to know there are people with other belief systems out there.
“There are a lot of people who think boys should only marry girls and girls should only marry boys,” I said. “But WE think it’s fine for people to marry whoever they love, no matter what color they are, or if they’re boys or girls … or if they’re Jewish like me or Christian like Daddy or Muslim, like Baba. We think it’s okay to love whoever you want to love.”
Still, I had to somehow let her know that she could play however she wants in our home, but she needed to play “the regular way” with people who didn’t share our values.
Which of course led to lots of questions.
“What about at Julie’s house?” she asked. “Can my Barbies and Danielle’s Barbies do anything they want at Julie’s house?”
“What about at Olivia’s house? … What about with William and Ellen?”
Short of giving her a list which she couldn’t yet read, I really wasn’t sure how to handle this. How was she going to know when and where it was safe to play as she pleased?
And then I started thinking, “This is ridiculous. Let the chips fall where they may.” If my daughter is invited on a playdate and Barbie and Belle want to get married … or if Ken decides to run off with Prince Eric, so what? Anyone who is going to ban a toddler from their home for not sharing their religious values and trying out new scenarios isn’t really someone whose home I want her in anyway.
I have many friends with many different belief systems. But the one thing we all share is a “live and let live” philosophy. Rarely does anyone feel the need to save my soul, and when they do, I listen, because I know they’re coming from a good place and they’re worried about me.
But the bottom line is that anyone who feels that they can rightfully judge another human being, because they know definitively that their way is the only way, isn’t really someone I want in my life or my child’s life.
So I told her not to worry about it … that I was wrong. And the next time we were in the car, I played another song from Kiss of the Spider Woman, where Molina the window dresser imagines a conversation with his mother.
“You’re not old; you’re still beautiful” he says to her.
“I bet you say that to all the girls!” she laughs.
“There are no girls, Mama … I have brought you such shame!” Molina says.
“No, Luis,” his mother soothes. “Only if you did something cruel, or uncaring.” And she sings:
You could never shame me
There, I’ve told you so
Many things confuse me
But this I know
Let the neighbors gossip
At the mention of your name
You have never brought me shame
And I made sure my daughter understood how her daddy and I feel about her.
My toddler is a teenager now, and I’m proud of the young woman she’s become. She has friends from every walk of life and feels as comfortable going to Christian rock concerts with her Lutheran pals as she does manning the Purim carnival with her “Jew crew.”
When I ask what’s up with those kids with door knockers hanging from their noses or gauges so gigantic, each earlobe can accommodate a cucumber, she reminds me not to be so judgmental.
Several of her friends have felt safe enough to “come out” to her. And it didn’t phase her in the least when she went to homecoming last year and a boy in a dress came up to her and excitedly exclaimed, “Girl, I love your shoes!”
She glanced down at his feet, looked up, and beamed.
“Oh my God,” she said. “I love yours, too!”
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