The other day I had my hair done and came home with a bit of a flip–not my usual style. My elder daughter noticed and remarked that “you look like Ann Marie.” If that doesn’t ring a bell for you, maybe you’d recognize Ann as That Girl, the working girl heroine of the 60s TV show that made Marlo Thomas famous. Anna, who’s ten, knows Ann–and a raft of other characters from sitcoms past–courtesy of Netflix. At her age I watched it on primetime, Thursday nights.
So apropos! During the months when That Girl episodes were playing almost nonstop in our house two years ago it struck me that the show gives us the younger days of the first wave of new later moms. Ann wants a career before family, and the show is all about the confusion her ambition creates for her parents and even for her boyfriend Donald, though he supports her goal. But she’s clear about what she wants, and perseveres. When the show ended, Ann and Donald were engaged but not married.
It’s a story that’s been part of the TV sitcom world from its start: I Love Lucy was all about the 50s disconnect between a woman with career dreams and the family-pressures of the post-WWII decades when Rosie the Riveter suddenly became persona non grata. [I explore the Lucy paradox–at the same time that we’re told that Lucy’s incompetent, we know she’s making millions as the star of the show–in chapter one of Ready.]
Lucy (a pre-trend new later mom, whose second pregnancy at 41 was built into the plot of the show, though her age is not discussed) was the 50s response to the work/family balance question (maybe not so much an answer as another question), and That Girl moved the question along in the 60s and early 70s (Marlo was in her 30s for most of the show, but Ann seemed meant to be a bit younger). Their TV story continues through shows like Mary Tyler Moore and finally arrives at the motherhood moment in Murphy Brown in 1992. Murphy’s son Avery arrived in the arms of his 44-year-old single mom character to much public notice. Candice Bergen (2 years older than her character) had herself started her family 7 years earlier at 39. Since then? Judging Amy? Story-lines to do with family and work don’t jump to mind–what’s up with that? But the issues are certainly all around us. Birth timing, as I’ve noted before, is practically the only story in the tabloids. Is everybody watching Netflix?
While Ready provides a new look at the new later mom trend, the basic storyline is one we’ve all been following for years. Whether or not it’s been or might be your personal story, and whatever your hairstyle, the negotiation of birth timing, work and family issues means something to you–to all of us. At some level or another, all girls are that girl–persevering across the decades to figure it out together.