Marlo Thomas Is An Actress
The world felt bigger to me when I heard her sing those words.
In 1974 my family loved watching Marlo Thomas on her TV show, That Girl. My mother would always refer to her as 'that darling Marlo Thomas' or by her longer name, 'that darling Marlo Thomas, I just love her'.
We also loved I Dream Of Jeannie and Bewitched. Jeannie had a master who stoppered her into her bottle when she was bad and Samantha wasn't allowed to be her true witch self unless her husband couldn't fix his ad campaign, and then he'd take the credit. These things we accepted without question. For awhile, when I'd daydream about what kind of a grownup I'd be, I thought of only these two choices: a Jeannie or a Samantha.
That Girl threw us for a loop because the star of the show (Marlo) was a career girl who had a handsome man who wanted to marry her (which is where the story would usually end, with happily ever after) but That Girl loved her boyfriend AND her career, and she wasn't ready to get married. She had stuff to do and handsome man would just have to wait. It was the strangest thing I'd ever heard. I was five.
And then when Marlo Thomas (not as That Girl, just as herself) told everyone to watch her TV special, Free To Be You And Me, we made sure to watch. Marlo and her famous friends sang songs and did skits about new ways of thinking about men and women. My favorite part was when Marlo sang a song called Parents Are People. It featured Marlo doing all sorts of things I had thought of as being Man Jobs: Marlo as a cab driver, Marlo as a police officer, Marlo as a baseball umpire. Marlo sang "mommies can do almost anything" and the world felt bigger when I heard her sing those words.
A few months later, I used that show to almost win an argument with my mother and that was when she started referring to Marlo as 'That Damned Marlo Thomas'.
When I wasn't at kindergarten, I did what a lot of kids did back then: I got shooed out of the house and told to Go Play. This was partly due to the fact that times were safer then but it was also because my mother had no interest in spending time with me. "Amie entertains herself very well" my mom would tell other grownups and I'd know this was supposed to be a compliment. It never felt like one.
One of my mother's favorite phrases was 'find something to do' and that was how, one day, I decided what I'd do would be to go see how my rabbit was doing. We had buried her four days earlier.
Actually she'd only been my rabbit a few days when my mother decided living in a cage was making my rabbit sad and that being set free to live in the woods behind our house would make my rabbit happy. When I disagreed, my mother sang the Born Free song and said it would be SELFISH to make my rabbit live in a cage and GOOD to let her go free and asked me which I wanted to be: selfish or good. So I was stuck. I had to say Good.
So we set her free (as free as the wind blows) and the next day my rabbit was dead in my parents' vegetable garden and my dad said "oh look at that, the slug bait pellets look just like the rabbit food we were giving her" and that was the end of my rabbit. We had a pet funeral and my dad said serious words and I played my kazoo. Solemnly. Kind of.
I can only guess the death process had not been clearly explained to me. I wasn't sure what I'd find when I used my mom's garden shovel to dig up the shoebox--I thought either it would be empty because my rabbit would be in heaven or she'd look like she was sleeping.
What I found was a LOT more interesting. I had no idea any of it was supposed to be icky and so none of it was. I looked and looked and felt like a scientist (I thought maybe I already was one). My rabbit was all bones but she was still kind of rabbit shaped, just like dinosaur bones were dinosaur shaped and Halloween skeletons were people shaped. A thing's bones on the inside looked like the thing's outside. I felt smarter just thinking about it. After awhile I reburied the box and ran in the house to tell my mom all about what I'd learned.
She was washing dishes in the sink, a cloud of suds under her hands. When I told her I'd seen my rabbit, she asked me if I was pretending. Once I started describing the worms (great big fat ones, that wiggled but didn't seem to be going anywhere, and how did they get in there?) she turned and vomited into the sink. Right on top of the soapy dishes.
Have to wash those again, I thought, but did not say.
Once she recovered, she was all voice. It was disgusting. I was disgusting. "Everyone knows you don't dig up dead things and LOOK at them!"
"What about dinosaurs?" I asked. "People dig them up and look at them and then put the bones in museums and people go and spend money to look at them."
"That's different," my mom tennis whacked the argument right back to me. "Those are scientists that do that."
"Then I'll be a scientist!" I announced. This was becoming a great day.
"You can't," my mom said, and she was smiling her mean smile. "Only men can be scientists. Ladies can't. They don't let them. It's a rule."
I paused, hearing this wrong thing. And then I said the thing that would forever cast a pall over Marlo in our house. I said "What about that Marlo Thomas song, Parents Are People? She sang that Mommies can do anything."
And then my mom's smile went a few watts brighter, a half shade meaner. She went in for the winning point: "She said ALMOST anything. And remember, Marlo Thomas is an actress. Actresses say made up things all the time."
I hadn't figured that one in. I had forgotten about that word:Almost. ANYTHING, that word was as big as the whole world, but that word ALMOST was a tricky one, it could erase stuff at the last minute. I dropped my mother's gaze and studied the pattern of the green tile floor and felt small again.