Thursday, October 13, 2011

'Happy Endings' Dana Hartz for Mother of the Year...

Sometimes a quote or line in a show will just stick with me. Sometimes it's not written to be particularly inspirational or maybe even memorable, and yet it will hit me hard enough that I scribble it down, determined to use it later to spur my own writing, even if I don't know what my own writing will be yet. Last week Sony sent out an advance copy of the very special Happy Endings that featured special guest star Megan Mullally and aired last night. The episode was all about this dreamer of a woman blowing into town and inspiring all of her daughter's friends to make changes-- however seemingly small, or in some cases, unnecessarily insane (really, Dave; a beaded jacket!?). But more than that, it was really about how her own creative, free spirit and positive attitude, even when faced with certainly less than stellar circumstances, inspired her daughter Penny (Casey Wilson) to be the woman she is today. Without directing following in her mom's artistic footsteps, Penny was still allowing herself to dream. And one line in particular started my own mind gears turning:

"...like how you told me I could have any job Barbie had. I've had three..."


After accidentally "breaking" her mother when she tries to snap her into the harsh reality that has become her life and situation, Penny says this as a way of explaining that it was her mother who encouraged her to never settle and to believe she could do anything she wanted and she could be anything she wanted. It was one of the sweetest things I ever heard, simply because for so long in my own youth people were trying to convince me that Barbie was bad. She was no role model; she was a completely unrealistic, almost fetish-esque expectation of what a woman should be. But physicality aside, really, why wouldn't a young girl strive to be like Barbie? She has her dream house, and her cool convertible, a motor home for exciting, spontaneous getaways, pets to prove she's responsible and caring about things above and beyond her looks, and a great group of girlfriends to share her experiences with. She's held a lot of jobs, but while she has struggled to find her niche, a lot of little girls have been able to find their own.

Really, Barbie was the perfect example in Penny's scenario because her own mother was that in her life. On the surface she may have seemed a little dippy, a little out of touch with reality, and at times a little out-dated, but her message was pure and positive-- it was others' own insecurities, biases, and judgements that may have bastardized it along the way. No matter how anyone around her may have lost her way, though, she-- they stayed true to what they believed in and what they knew was right. And it has spurred a whole new generation of success.

I'll admit it, though I played with Barbies a lot as a kid, I never really stopped to consider the various professions she held. When I first heard the quote about having all of the jobs Barbie did, I laughed because the concept was so foreign to me personally. Barbie was just a tool for me to tell my own stories, even at my youngest. It didn't matter what "uniform" she was dressed in, or even if she was completely naked. The stories I wanted to tell were never about where she was or what she did but about the relationship she had with all of my other Barbies (and Kens and Skippers and Saved By The Bell/Beverly Hills 90210/Babysitter's Club dolls). It's probably why when Women's Studies classes pointed out how Barbie could be "bad" for a young girl's psyche, I allowed myself to stop and consider it for a moment. I didn't have a figure like Dana seeing the bigger picture-- seeing what a young girl was gravitating towards and spinning it so she wouldn't be led down a detrimental rabbit hole.

Dana may have floundered, scrambled, and had to make the best out of some bad situations because she never wanted to get a "real" job, but who's to say the job she held really wasn't "real" at all? Spending twenty-plus years in some dead-end corporate job just for some stability wouldn't have offered a better lesson on determination and drive. And it certainly wouldn't have allowed for the creativity needed to turn
a garbage can fire into a ten gallon s'mores factory! Because the truth is, tough times can fall on everyone, but thanks to mothers like Dana, young girls like Penny can learn to handle whatever is thrown their way to not only survive those tough times but emerge thriving from them.

So this morning, I salute you, Dana Hartz-- a mother who truly taught her daughter what mattered in life and lived by example, not just a "do as I say" mentality-- the mother every little girl should be so lucky to have.

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