Grown Up Movies for Kids: A League of Their Own

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the lack of women in films, let alone fully realized female characters. One of my all-time least-favorite movies is actually Gone in 60 Seconds, not simply because it’s kind of a dumb movie–there are tons of kind-of dumb movies that I put up with. No, my biggest beef with it is that there is exactly one female character in the whole movie, and the point of her is to be someone for Nicholas Cage to find sexy. What year is this again? Because, seriously, I am so over that shit.

And that’s why a few weekends ago, me and the kids watched A League of Their Own. Because I don’t want them, particularly The Boy, growing up to think that women are only sexy sidekicks. And the sports hook convinced The Boy that this was his kind of movie, and the women in it convinced The Girl that this wasn’t just some dumb sports movie. Is this a great movie? No, it’s really not. But I am really sick of movies about men. Just, really sick of them. So, once in a while, it’s nice to watch a movie about women, and Geena Davis is lovely and tough and makes up for Rosie O’Donnell’s overacting.

I actually find this movie to be a little schmaltzy. OK, a lot schmaltzy. But so is Secretariat, and we all know how much The Boy loves that one. He just really gets worked up about who’s gonna win a sports event, so he gets really into movies with sporting events in them. He also likes rooting for a team, which made this movie hard for him, actually. He got that the Peaches were the team we were supposed to be rooting for, so when (SPOILER ALERT) the younger sister goes to play for a different team and they win the big game, we literally had to pause the movie so he could process his feelings about that. And by process his feelings, I mean we had to talk it through for 10 minutes, he was that upset. You know The Boy likes a movie when he has to process his feelings about it.

There’s some swearing in this movie, and the coach is drunk an awful lot. These are not deal breakers for us–we have lots of conversations about how you shouldn’t drink too much alcohol because it will make you sick and do stupid things, and we’re working on teaching him appropriate use of swear words right now. (“Honey, we say crap when something is bad, not just when we’re surprised or excited. Don’t waste crap on something piddly–you may need that word later when you stub your toe.”) But, if the swears are an issue in your family, I am pretty sure you can watch this movie on a network that edits them out. And if the drinking is an issue, well, I dunno, fast forward or something.

Speaking of the drunk coach, The Boy’s favorite scene in this movie is probably the one when the coach really really really has to pee. A lot. For like five minutes. The Boy almost peed himself laughing.

And there you have it, another non-cartoon movie for your kids, and one that has strong female characters that even The Boy can get into. I hope you enjoy it!

Control

I have been watching some friends of mine go through their first pregnancies recently, and it’s brought back a lot of memories of when I was pregnant with my kids. And the lessons that pregnancy taught me, the most important of which was that we don’t really have control over our lives as much as we think we do.

We get to make a lot of choices in our lives, every day. Which shirt am I going to put on? What kind of coffee will I order at Starbucks today? What route will I take home from work? What will I cook for dinner, or will I just order a pizza? What TV show will I watch? We make so many choices that we think we have control over everything in our lives.

But we don’t. And pregnancy, and parenthood, remind us of that every day. Our bodies change when there is a fetus in them. We get morning sickness, and we pee ourselves. We become anemic and our thyroids go wonky and we develop diabetes. Our feet swell and our hips ache. None of these are things we have any control over. They just happen, because we don’t have control over our bodies.

I, like a lot of women, had a lot of plans for how the birth of my first child would go. In no version of any plan I had was there a NICU team present. My body made that happen when it decided it couldn’t carry The Boy to term. I didn’t choose for him to be born the way he was, or to spend the first 9 weeks of his life in a hospital. It was a harsh lesson for me that I didn’t have control over everything that happens to me, and I certainly didn’t have control over what my body did.

When I was pregnant with The Girl, I didn’t make plans about her birth, because I knew that in the end, I wouldn’t have control over what my body did. The best I could muster were wishes, and even those didn’t all come true. There was a NICU team at her birth too, because there was meconium in my amniotic fluid. And although her birth was a much happier experience than The Boy’s was–complete with Frank Sinatra playing, and surrounded by wonderful, supportive people–having the NICU team in the room was not one of my wishes.

When I hear my friends talk about what they want for the birth of their children, about their plans for the birth, my heart drops a little. I hope they will get what they want, but I also know that in the end, it isn’t going to be their choice to make. That c-section may have to happen, no matter how much they want a home birth. They may want an epidural, but labor may move too quickly for it to happen. There may be a NICU team in the room. They might not get to hold their baby right away, or for days. None of these things will be their choice, because they don’t have control over what their bodies do, or what the baby needs. And that’s just the start of the lack of control we have over our lives when we become parents. Nobody chooses to clean up baby puke at 2 AM, it just happens. That’s life.

This is one of the main reasons I believe so strongly that it’s really stupid to judge each other for how things go when we parent, and why mommy wars over the best way to give birth seem particularly absurd to me. Because, in the end, having the birth we want, or having the child we imagined, is not something we have much control over. The best we can do is play the hand we are dealt and hope for the best.

Beth’s Classic Film Club: Kitty Foyle

You guys, I love old movies. No, not Forrest Gump, what are you, 20? Get off my lawn, you whipper snapper. No, I mean OLD movies, preferably black and white. Classic movies, as the folks at Turner would say. So, I started a classic movie club. It’s like a book club but you don’t have to read a book. You just come over to my house, drink box wine, eat popcorn, and watch a film. It’s so much fun!

What’s that, you say? You say you don’t know me in real life and don’t live in Seattle and you’re bummed you can’t come watch old movies with me? Me too…but let’s do the next best thing: I will give you movie suggestions, and then you go watch them and post your comments here. I’ll even introduce the movies like they do on that classic film channel. I don’t have a film studies degree or anything, but I do watch a lot of old movies and I love to talk about them. I’ll also try to pick a mix of famous films, and also some more obscure titles you might not have heard of.

First up, from 1940, it’s Kitty Foyle, starring Ginger Rogers. You guys, Ginger got an Oscar for her performance in this movie, and not only that, she beat out Kate Hepburn in The Philadelphia Story for it. (Hepburn was offered the lead role in Kitty Foyle but turned it down.) Did you know she wasn’t just a singer and dancer, she also had some serious acting chops? She’s one of my heroes. In this film, she plays a young woman from the wrong side of the tracks who falls in love with a rich guy. I don’t really want to say any more about the plot than that, because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I will say that the rich guy is played by Dennis Morgan, who is a little bit dreamy.

The film was a huge hit, and it was based on a novel of the same name by Charles Mosley, which was a best seller. The plot was changed a bit from the book–in the book, there’s more sex, and Kitty has an abortion, both of which were WAY too racy to be in a film during the production code days. One more tidbit of info: One of Kitty’s dresses in the film was so popular that women all over the place were wearing it, and the style is still called a Kitty Foyle in the fashion industry today, or so the Internet tells me. (I know nothing about fashion.)

Warning: the movie has a couple of race-related lines that will probably make you wince. At one point Kitty refers to herself as “free, white and 21” and at another point, when discussing whether she should date the rich guy, she says, “Well, we’re both the same color.” Ouch…I hope that doesn’t spoil the film for you, because it really has a lot to offer, including the introductory sequence about the death of chivalry. Me and my friends had a bit to say about that sequence…

So, once you’ve seen the film, drop a comment or two here about what you thought of it. And maybe invite some of your mom friends to come over and watch it with you! Box wine and popcorn are best when shared with friends.

Public Transit and Kids

So, here’s where I tell you something profoundly weird about myself: I don’t drive. If I were 15 years younger, or lived in Manhattan, you probably would think nothing of it, since Millennials drive less and less, and loads of people in Manhattan don’t drive. But I live in Seattle and I’m 37. People often ask how it works for our family, and the answer is, The Hubs drives, and we live in a city filled with buses. It’s not that huge a deal.

When I tell people I don’t drive, they often say, “I can’t imagine taking kids on the bus.” Honestly, most people of my income level don’t take their kids on public transit much, but if you ride the bus, you’ll see plenty of kids. Having a car is expensive, it just is. You have to pay for the car, the insurance, gas, sometimes a place to park it. So, a lot of poor folks in cities rely entirely on transit to get around. That includes a trip to the grocery store, picking kids up from daycare, and getting to work. If poor folks can do it, so can the rest of us. You just have to know what you’re doing.

First off, the key to using public transit, with kids or without, in your own town or while traveling on vacation, is to pack lightly. Do not bring your ginormous travel system barely-foldable stroller. Do not bring your largest diaper bag packed to the gills with everything you might possibly want while out and about. Instead, bring an umbrella stroller, or if your kid is still small enough, a baby carrier or wrap or sling. In my city, you have to fold your stroller and carry it, your kid, and your bag on and off the bus. An umbrella stroller, especially one with a shoulder strap so you can toss it over your shoulder, is better. And my easiest bus trips with the kids have been when they are small enough to be in a baby carrier. It keeps them calm, and contained, and my hands free.

The more you have to lug up the steps of a bus, the more unhappy you will be. To paraphrase the great Rick Steves on packing light, I don’t know anyone who, after multiple trips on public transit, brags that each trip they pack heavier. Don’t ask yourself “Will I use that heavy board book on this bus ride.” Ask, “Will I use it enough to warrant carrying it around all day.” If you find yourself without something you really need, remember that you’re in a city and there is likely a drug store or grocery store nearby where you can buy replacement supplies. It’s a different mindset than most parents are used to having–there is this sense of panic, like, what if I get there and I don’t have what I need? I will ask you this: are you taking public transit to a three-day backpacking trip in the wilderness, or to the mall for a couple hours? Honestly, you’re gonna be OK.

I’m also a fan of a backpack vs. a shoulder bag. A shoulder bag can fall off your shoulders while you’re wrestling with a squirming kid, but a backpack keeps your hands free. Super double bonus if you can wear a backpack on your back and your kid on your front. Also: once your kids get older? Make THEM wear the backpack. Did I just blow your mind? I totally did, didn’t I? Make them schlep their own crap around, WHAAAAAA?!?! I know, it’s brilliant.

Another practical tip: sit near the driver of whatever transit mode you’re on. You’ll be able to ask questions if you’re confused about where to get off the bus, and you’re likely to be closer to the door, so it’s easier to get on/off. The Boy LOVES sitting by the driver on the Monorail, and often the driver lets the kids blow the horn when the Monorail is leaving the station.

The other thing is, it can be hard for car-oriented people to get past the idea that the bus takes longer than driving. It does take longer, i am not gonna lie. But, try to see transit not just as a way to get from here to there–see it as entertainment for your kid, especially if you don’t use it that often. The Boy and I love to take transit adventures together. One time on a day off from school, I took the kids downtown on the bus, where we rode the streetcar, the monorail, and the light rail. They had a BLAST. Also, a couple years back, The Boy and I took a one-night cruise from Vancouver back to Seattle, so we took a bus downtown to catch an Amtrak train to get to the Skytrain to get to the cruise ship in Vancouver. He LOVED that trip.

Now, here’s the other thing about public transit: it’s public. So, anyone can ride it, including smelly homeless people and people with bad manners and crack heads. I see this as a teachable moment. I want my kids to know that there are homeless people in the world, and that they’re people, and that it’s right to want to help them. I want them to not be afraid to say hello back to the friendly old lady who says how cute they are, AND, I want them to learn to trust their instinct that the mean crack head is not someone they want to talk to. If I am there with them, I know they are learning these lessons in a safe environment where I can protect them.

If all that freaks you out and makes you uncomfortable, well, the bus is probably not for you. But if you’ve got a sense of adventure, give transit a try. You might be surprised how much you and your kids enjoy it!

Cocktails with the Cult: Lena’s Mason Jar Margaritas

I am so lucky to have two awesome BFFs. One of them went to college with me and she lives back east, so I don’t get to see her that often, but we talk on the phone pretty regularly and when we do get together, it’s like we were never apart. I call her my College BFF. The other is a friend I met when I moved back home to Seattle after college, and I call her my Local BFF. Her name is Lena and she blogs over at Beginner’s Runner. Both of these women are FANTASTIC, I mean, funny, and smart, and generous almost to a fault. They’re the kind of friends you can count on no matter what, to laugh with you and to pick you up when you’ve fallen.

On top of all that awesomeness, my Local BFF makes a MEAN margarita. I mean, this thing is so damn delicious. DELICIOUS. And halfway through it, you’re like, “Holy crap, am I buzzed already?” Last year, I threw her a baby shower, and her thank-you gift to me was 3 of these bad boys in mason jars. Now, here’s the reason why she puts them in mason jars: because she is a GENIUS. Because when you’re throwing a party, you don’t have time to stand around with a pitcher pouring drinks for everyone. Better to just have your drinks in mason jars, and all your guests have to do is take the lid off and drink up. GENIUS.

When she gave me the margaritas after her baby shower, she said to me, “By the way, these freeze beautifully.” And they do–OMG, when they thaw, they’re like a delicious slushy glass of awesomeness. And, when you’re hosting a party, you can make a batch of these ahead of time and keep them in your freezer. SHE IS A GENIUS.

So I asked her if she’d be willing to share the recipe with you all, and lucky for you, she said yes! Without further ado, I bring you Lena’s Mason Jar Margaritas.

 

Mason Jar Margaritas
Makes just over 6 ā€“ 16oz jars
Adapted from Brittanyherself.com Knock You On Your Ass Margaritas

1 container Frozen Lemonade, melted
6 oz. Roses Lime Juice
8 oz Triple Sec
4 cups of Tequila
40 oz of water
– Then if you want to add kick or flavor to your margaritas, 4 oz Cointreau, Grand Marnier or a flavoring of your choice. I usually leave it straight or put in a little more Triple Sec.

Clean out and dry 7 ā€“ 16 oz mason jars with lids. Mix all the ingredients and fill the jars as much or as little as you want. I usually go to the neck of the jar, but you can leave it a little less full to put ice in there when you serve.
Put the lids on the jars and put in the fridge. Best if left overnight and served next day.
To serve, open lid, throw a few ice cubes in, put lid back on tightly, shake, then remove lid and serve. Easy peasy and less glassware cleanup!

And there you have it, a margarita for the ages. In a mason jar. That freezes beautifully. GENIUS. Cheers, y’all!

What We Need: Paid Maternity Leave

One of my biggest beefs with the feminist scholarship of my college years (the mid 90’s) was how detached it felt from the everyday lives of the women I knew. A lot of the feminist theory we studied then was about reclaiming language. Like spelling women with a y, so “men” isn’t part of the word anymore, so women stop being defined in relation to men. My reaction then, as now, is “I mean, that’s all fine and dandy, but is that REALLY what women need most? Like, shouldn’t we be doing something about domestic violence and equal pay?” Not that there haven’t always been plenty of feminists pushing for equal pay and combatting domestic violence, including the ones working on theory, but the feminist movement seemed to be mired in the weeds of stuff that wasn’t important to me. No offense, feminists theorists of the 90’s, but I got bigger fish to fry than how we spell things, and no amount of your theorizing was able to convince me that changes in spelling would bring about a feminist utopia.

I feel like maybe that’s why less and less women identified as feminists in the 90’s. From the outside, it can look like a movement that is about minutiae, not about what is important to women. We argue about whether this musician or that film are “feminist” but we don’t seem to be making much traction on the big stuff. In fact, it can feel like we are moving backwards at times.

I feel really impatient about women’s rights. It makes me completely insane that the glass ceiling is still a thing. I am so sick of celebrating the first woman this, or the first lesbian that, or the first Latina whatever. And if I have to see one more video montage of women pioneering their fields, followed by a tagline like “Keep on dreaming” or whatever, I’m going to vomit. “Hooray, we aren’t barred from having jobs anymore, we must rejoice!” BLEEAARRGGGHHHH. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is a lot older than me, and I’m no spring chicken anymore. We should be past the pioneer phase of change by now. We should have equal pay by now. We should have adequate funding for domestic violence survivors’ services by now. We should have paid maternity leave by now. That we still are begging for this stuff in 2014 makes me completely insane.

I think part of the problem is that we as women are distracted. We’re distracted with the Mommy Wars. We’re distracted with how to spell words. We’re distracted with the argument about whether Beyonce is a real feminist. Meanwhile, we lose our access to birth control pills, and we watch our mothers, daughters, and sisters hide bruises because they’re in even bigger risk of being murdered by their abuser if they leave him.

Well, I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t have patience for the distractions anymore. The distractions are killing women. It’s time we moved past them. It’s time we stopped arguing WITH each other and did something FOR each other. There are plenty of things to disagree about, but there are even more things that bring us together.

So, I’m gonna start with one issue here today that I hope we can agree on: paid maternity leave. Did you know that the US is one of only FOUR countries in the entire world that don’t have at least some kind national law requiring paid maternity leave? That’s right, we’re in a club with Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Liberia. The next time someone complains about strong US labor laws pushing companies to move jobs to Mexico, I’m gonna point out that in Mexico, women are entitled to 12 weeks of 100% paid maternity leave. Also, when someone complains about how complicated it must be to reassign work when women are gone from the office for three months, I’m gonna point out that EVERY COUNTRY IN THE WORLD except us 4 have managed to figure it out. I think US employers are at least as smart as the ones in Uruguay, don’t you? Also, has nobody ever heard of a damn temp? Seriously?

But what really moves me isn’t arguing with people who say no. It’s stories from women about why it’s important. When I came back to work when The Girl was 8 weeks old (I took a few weeks off before she was born, and was completely out of money, and not entitled to more leave even if I had the money to pay the bills while I was taking unpaid leave), I was still so sleep deprived, it is fair to say I wasn’t doing my best work. Imagine how much worse that was when The Boy was in the NICU and I went back to work right away, so I could save the sick leave I had saved up for when he came home from the hospital. Was I focused on my job? Not really, no.

Now imagine you are a woman living in poverty, where every spare dime you have is going to have to go to child care so you can go back to work immediately after birth because your employer is too small to be covered by the FMLA and you have no right to even unpaid maternity leave. How is this good for families? For babies? Or frankly, for employers? Are stressed out, overtired employees really a benefit to a company? Wouldn’t it be better if we let those families bond and those women get some rest before throwing them back into the workplace?

If this is an issue you care about, what can you do to help move our country to join the vast majority of the world that has paid maternity leave laws? Well, you can write to your members of Congress, repeatedly, and tell them to support the FAMILY Act. Also, you can also get involved with groups like MomsRising.org and the National Partnership for Women and Families. And you can also tell your friends and families the facts about the US’s shameful lack of paid maternity leave and ask THEM to write to Congress and get involved. That’s basically how it works to advocate for stuff–you connect with like-minded people, and you ask for what you need from those with the power to grant it. And you keep asking, no matter how many times they say no, until you get it.

I’m going to do several of these posts on topics I feel passionate about–things that women can do to help each other to improve our lives. I hope it will make all of you feel empowered and connected. And I know it will make me feel like at least I am doing something positive and practical to help women. If you have an issue you’d like me to write about, share it in the comments!

Children’s Television Survival Guide: Mighty Machines

It’s time once again for another post in my continuing Children’s Television Survival guide series! OMG you guys, I am so excited to share this show with you. I can’t believe how many people have never heard of this show–probably because you can only find it on Netflix, I guess? But it’s so fantastic, everyone should be watching it. Without further ado, I give you Mighty Machines.

Mighty Machines was made in Canada, and it features real footage of all different kinds of mechanical devices. We’re talking trains, dump trucks, street sweepers, bulldozers, airplanes, mining equipment, submarines–if it has an engine, they probably made a Mighty Machines episode about it. But it’s not just footage of the machines, because, yawn, that would be dull. It’s that the machines are talking. TALKING. Like, “Hello, my name is Spike, and my job is to drive over the garbage at the dump and crush it down.” This would be one of those times when I desperately wish I wasn’t a square and was into drugs, because imagine how cool that would be if you were high while watching this show. THE MACHINES ARE TALKING, MAN.

My favorite episode is probably the one at the airport, uncreatively titled “At the Airport,” because a big part of the episode is following Sammy the Suitcase (who is actually a duffel bag) along the conveyor belt under the airport and being tossed onto an airplane. Sammy talks too, for some reason, even though he isn’t a machine, but you don’t care about inconsistencies like that, because he and the airplane are TALKING TO EACH OTHER. In a Canadian accent, because it’s filmed in Canada. But when the British Airways plane appears, it has an English accent. And once in a while, a machine will have a Quebecois accent, because it’s Canada.

There are over 30 episodes on Netflix, so the good news is, you don’t have to get bored watching the same 10 episodes over and over. And there’s enough variety of episodes that there is bound to be at least one that appeals to your kid. In fact, there are several on garbage/recycling, several that are set on the water, and three that have to do with airplanes. So even if your kid is obsessed with a particular topic, you can probably find more than one episode on that topic.

True story about this show: one time I had to bring The Boy with me to work because his school was closed, and I brought along a DVD player and a DVD with an episode of Mighty Machines. One of my coworkers came in at lunchtime to say hi to me and The Boy (I love my coworkers, they are super kind to my kids on the rare occasion they are at the office), and The Boy said, “Hey, I’m watching Mighty Machines” and proceeded to explain the show to my coworker. And I swear to god, the two of them sat there watching the whole episode together and commenting on how cool the machines were. Literally, it is so good, it sucked in an adult.

Big kudos to Canada for bringing us this show–it almost makes up for Caillou. Almost.

Success

Over the summer, my favorite college professor was passing through Seattle and so I got to have a visit with her. She is a women’s studies professor, which means she is ridiculously underpaid and will never have tenure. It’s not that she’s not brilliant and extremely well respected in her field–she is one of the smartest people I know and gets flown to conferences around the world and invited to the White House because of her expertise. She doesn’t get tenure because she’s in a field that academia does not reward with tenure and high pay. Women’s Studies is often one of the first programs cut when a college has to make cutbacks–it’s seen as expendible in a way that, say, biology is not. So, unless they are also teaching in another department as well, women’s studies professors don’t tend to be eligible for tenure, which means they don’t tend to make much money. And so my favorite professor, who has published books that were literally best sellers, crashes on futons at her former students’ houses when she takes the few vacations she can afford.

We had a lovely brunch while she was here, during which we had a great conversation about careers. And she said that she has noticed that her east coast friends tend to say things like “What a pity you never got tenure” as if her life is not complete and her career is not a success because she didn’t get that label. But that her west coast friends don’t seem to care much about titles like that, so they tend not to think much of her non-tenured status.

That cultural difference between easterners and westerners resonated with me too. Professionally, I am doing work that I find interesting that I think is important, but I will never be rich or famous doing this work. And honestly, I am OK with that. I am proud of the work I do, even if I do it quietly and without big monetary rewards. Living on the west coast, it feels easy to stay in a job that I am comfortable with, and that gives me the flexibility I need as a parent of small children, without feeling pressure to climb a ladder. I think if I lived back east, I might feel more pressure to move up than I do living in the Pacific Northwest. I’ve had parents of my east coast friends ask me how much money I make and say point blank that they think I should take a more high-pressure, prestigious job. As in “You want to do public interest work? No no no, you should get a job at a big firm and just donate your money to legal clinics or do a little pro bono work on the side.” (That one actually came from my ex-boyfriend’s dad. Thank god he dumped me, because that would have been one awful father-in-law.) I have never had that experience on the West Coast.

So, I was thinking of that conversation the other day as I was thinking about people who see momming as a competition. Like, they brag about how much better their kids are turning out than their friends’ kids, or they look down their nose at other moms who aren’t putting their kids in piano lessons and all that at an early age, or whatever. And I realized that one of the reasons I find people who talk that way so grating is that there aren’t as many of them out here as in, say, Manhattan. We worry about our kids and we want the best for them, but we just don’t seem to put the same value on external measures of success that Easterners do. I joke about The Girl curing cancer and The Boy founding the next Microsoft and taking care of me financially in my old age, but it’s a joke, and it’s funny because I don’t really care if my kids are big shots someday. What I care about is that they are happy. If curing cancer and being a billionaire entrepreneur make them happy, then great, but if they find their joy in a quieter field, and if they aren’t rock stars, that’s great too.

I think if I lived back east, I would find more parents who do see prestigious careers and status labels as the pathway to happiness, and I would probably feel a lot of pressure to pour all my resources into producing the next Bill Gates and Marie Curie. I would worry about choosing the right daycare that will get them into the right school that will get them into the right college that will get them access to the right people, so they can climb into a prestigious career that I believe will bring them happiness. When I talk to many of my east coast friends, the accepted wisdom among most of them is that this is how you create a good life for your kids.

In the end, I don’t necessarily think either parenting style is right or better. I think it’s just a cultural difference. The Cult of Perfect Motherhood tries to tell us that if we’re not parenting perfectly, then we are horrible people and our children’s futures are doomed. But, if different cultures place different value on things like financial success and status and prestige, then clearly there isn’t one perfect way to parent, and we are not failures for parenting differently. And that’s why competing with each other to see who’s the best parent because of how their kids turned out is futile. Because, some of us aren’t trying to produce rock stars. Our goals are different.

Grown-Up Movies for Kids: Astaire and Rogers

I LOVE old movies. LOVE them. In fact, when I was in high school, my US history teacher gave us an assignment to write about an American artist, so I wrote a 15-page paper on Ginger Rogers (and got an A), because I love her. Have you seen Kitty Foyle? We’ll save that for another blog series I want to do on old-timey movies about feminist warriors, because that is a great film, but not a great film for kids. But you know what is? Any musical she made with Fred Astaire. I’m gonna pick one here not because it’s their best (most critics would say Top Hat or Swing Time get that honor), but because it’s the best for kids to be introduced to the genre of 1930’s musical comedy. But honestly? If your kids dig this movie, they’re gonna dig all of them. OK, without further ado, I give you Shall We Dance.

Made in 1937, Shall We Dance is about a guy named Pete Peters who is a ballet dancer going by the name of Petrov–because a Russian ballet star is gonna go further in life than some dude named Pete Peters, amiright? He falls in love with a singer/dancer named Linda and follows her to America on a transatlantic liner. Due to some lies and miscommunication, everyone on the ship thinks they’re married and it gets out in the press and she flips out and hilarity ensues. Including a dance on roller skates. ROLLER SKATES. I am not even making that up, honest to god they dance to Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off on freaking ROLLER SKATES.

One of the best things about an Astaire-Rogers musical is the awesomely hilarious supporting cast, and you know it’s gonna be one of their better pictures if it has Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore in it. In this pic, Edward Everett Horton is fantastic as Petrov’s promoter, particularly when he thinks their ship is about to sink. It’s just the sort of comedy kids like, and it’s laugh out loud funny for adults too. But Eric Blore is really my favorite, he’s just so freaking ADORABLE. And when the two of them interact in any picture, it’s hilarious.

Now, if your kids don’t get the idea of pretending to be someone else, this one might go over their head a bit. In fact, many of the Astaire-Rogers films will, because the plot hook in most of them is mistaken identity. But once your kids grasp that concept, it’s awesome from there on out.

One thing to keep in mind about any old film, ANY old film, is that race is gonna be a thing. In Shall We Dance, it’s not as bad–the only scene that might make you uncomfortable is the one in the immaculately clean engine room of an ocean liner, where the engine room workers (who sing and play instruments) are all black. And it might make you uncomfortable because you’ll realize that these are the only black people you’ll see in the movie. Welcome to 1930’s American film. Perhaps this would be a good time to explain to your kids that in the olden days, we didn’t treat people of color that well, and that we had to pass laws to try to fix it because it was wrong? Also: if you expand out to other Astaire/Rogers films, watch out for the blackface Bill Bojangles tribute in Swing Time. Oy.

The other thing about old movies is the smoking. The Boy believes that people who smoke should go to jail. No, seriously, he does. We have literally been driving down the street and he’s seen a person smoking and said “MOMMY! That person is smoking! They should go to JAIL!” And we have to explain that it isn’t against the law to smoke, even though it’s very bad for you. When we see an old movie where people are smoking, we remind him, “In the olden days, people didn’t know smoking was so bad for them.” On the other hand, in an old movie, there’s no nudity and no sex. In fact, Fred and Ginger don’t even have a real kiss onscreen in most of their films. And nobody swears.

There’s a reason why these movies have remained popular for 80 years: they really are that good. They’re funny, and the dancing is spectacular, and the music is catchy. Hopefully your kids will agree!