Greta, age 5, has put together in her brain that babies are made by God and Mother Nature, and they grow in moms’ bellies across the universe. Totally makes sense. I am comfortable with her believing this for the time being. Carver does not yet care where babies come from, unless they are baby bald eagles or fish eggs. Neither of our children knows that babies can also be made in fertility labs and frozen as embryos in little tubes living in clinics, but one day they will when the time is right.
I was 8 years old when my mom tried to teach me about where babies come from– via a POP UP BOOK. You read that right, a POP UP BOOK about sex. I read the first page and informed her I was not ready for what would POP UP on the pages ahead. She said, “Okay, honey, we’ll just put it here on your book shelf when you are ready.” Is anyone really ready to learn about sex from a POP UP BOOK? The answer is no. But for anyone who knows my hilarious and progressive mother, she was and remains ahead of her time in all the best ways.
Last night, I watched Dirty Dancing on TV approximately for the 129th time. I remember that when I saw Dirty Dancing at the movies with my best friend Dena O’Hara in seventh grade, we only “sort of” had an idea of what sex actually entailed; rather, we believed Baby’s dad was just super mad at her for not coming home and finding out she had been kissing Johnny Castle all night at his cabin. My friend Jen also vividly remembers asking her mom what the phrase “knocked up” meant as she was only 8 when she saw it with her older brother and sister. Next year marks the 30th anniversary of Dirty Dancing with Patrick Swayze changing my life forever. I have his poster (gifted to me by my friend Cathy Clermont) on my classroom wall near the door and next to my old school chalkboard with a sign reading, “What Would Patrick Say?” attached to our school’s dress code policy. When kids question the dress code, we all turn to Patrick. Makes me smile every day.
There is an extraordinary amount of good writing in this film, ranging from Baby yelling at her father that he lied to her too- that he promised her that good things would happen to good people, but he really meant only for people who were like them. Or something along those lines. What about Tito reminding Mr. Kellerman at the end of all the changes they’ve seen from the depression to the war and to kids no longer wanting to take Fox Trot lessons with their parents. The film includes unsavory characters like pretentious Neil and deceptive Robbie, the one who actually gets Penny pregnant and sets up the abortion where she almost dies. Lisa, the sister, could not have been more irritating, yet the scene where she sings horribly frames the catastrophic conclusion, of Johnny getting dissed by Baby’s dad, by Johnny saying goodbye to Baby in the parking lot, and, lastly, of Johnny driving away to “She’s like the wind.” Besides the fact that she would be starting Mt. Holyoke in the fall, Baby was clearly not a recent high school graduate. Impossible.
And then there is the dancing– all of it– the hard core practice for the big routine at the Sheldrake, the sexy dancing between Johnny and Frances (aka Baby), the group dancing at the end leading up to the now famous lift, generations of lip syncers and talent show contestants have been performing ever since. Brian Capen and Eric McCoy still hold the record for best performance of this scene at the annual Merrimack High School Talent Show circa 1992. Brian, an outstanding athlete and clearly a great dancer, played Johnny, and, Eric, also a tremendous athlete or he would not have been able to master all of Baby’s sweet dance moves in a shiny pink dress, including the lift, in front of hundreds of high school students. We embraced the magic of the the film– boys and girls alike, and despite that memory being almost 25 years old, I am transported to my high school cafeteria right now, probably wearing my large framed geeky blue glasses, jeans and a flannel shirt, laughing until tears streamed down our faces.
In English classes, we often talk about what makes a work of art or literature classic, timeless, and universal. Dirty Dancing tackles socioeconomic status, racism, sexism, sexuality in general, crisis of conscience, coming of age character development, complete with great music, saucy dancing, and a dramatic conclusion. Johnny comes back to stand up for his girl in the same way she first stood up for him. Will I show Carver and Greta one of the greatest movies of all time when they are in middle school? Probably. After all, my mom showed me a POP UP book about sex when I was 8, and I survived.