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Free to Be You and Me

August 17, 2012

By Karen Ruben

In 1974 my parents had four kids under ten. The three youngest were all girls.

We were a modern family, living in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. My parents were optimistically planning a modern, ambitious life for us all. They didn’t leave this outcome to chance. They talked to us, they listened to us, read to us, and took us everywhere. They expected the best from us and… they bought us the book and record Free to Be, You and Me.

Free to Be was the brainchild of Marlo Thomas and Gloria Steinem, a series of songs and stories designed to explore “all the possibilities of what girls and boys could be.” The project was intended to break down old barriers of gender, race, ethnicity and economics.

It focused on “…independence and self-fulfillment; the human need for love, sharing and mutual assistance; the joys of creative, cooperative relationships with one’s parents, siblings, and friends.” Marlo Thomas stated that she set out to “change the world” with the publication of Free to Be, You and Me.

My parents were not “hippies,” nor were they anywhere near as liberal as the authors of Free to Be. They did not necessarily want to “change the world,” but they were great parents. I imagine they looked then at their four precious children the same way I look at mine today. And just like I do today, they must have felt the need to make sure their children knew they meant something.

Like I do, they wanted us to be proud of who we were, and to grow beyond the limits put on so many of the girls and boys who came before us. Would we have the feeling of self-worth that we would need to pursue our dreams and ambitions, to stand up in the face of adversity? My parents hoped so.

My siblings and I didn’t know any of that. To us Free to Be, You and Me was the best book and record EVER!! We poured over that book and listened to that record over and over. We can still recite the stories by heart and when prompted can really belt out those Free to Be tunes.

How can you not love Rosie Greer singing “It’s All Right to Cry,” or Shel Silverstein’s “Ladies First, Ladies First”?

The verses that ran through our heads helped shape who we are today: confident, self-assured people responsible for our own lives and happiness.

At my house today I have the old tattered copy of Free to Be, You and Me that my parents bought almost 40 years ago. I just taped the cover back on. I also have the new facsimile version printed by Running Press a couple of years ago. We read both.

I believe the messages in the book are timeless and still completely necessary. The need to encourage independence and self-fulfillment never goes away. And the tunes and stories are still really catchy!

Like my parents, I want my kids to know that they are free to be who they are. Free to Be, You and Me helps me to teach them, “Children be bold. Then you’ll grow up, but never grow old.”

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Mimoe permalink
    August 18, 2012 7:29 pm

    Love the use of reading to reinforce our children’s SELF-confidence and appreciation of who they are.

    • August 20, 2012 3:07 pm

      Thanks, Mimoe. This book does a great job of making that message clear and easy to understand for kids of all ages.

  2. Carol Hugues permalink
    August 23, 2012 5:05 am

    I too purchased this book and record for our family. They loved it. I especially liked “Ladies First” too. What a great memory and a great book.

    • Karen permalink
      August 24, 2012 2:54 pm

      Hi Carol. Good to hear from another Free-to-Be-er! The book was so central in our house, and I guess our neighborhood. I am always surprised at how many people have never heard of it. Thanks for your comment.

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