Paper quality and font size were my Zaidy’s criteria when buying books for his grandchildren. Given that he only bought books from Goodwill, and had no interest in reading them, that was an excellent criteria. This resulted in classics such as Pigs in the House and Socks for Supper being mainstays of my childhood. His selections definitely broadened my horizons. Perhaps the most enlightening book – and absolutely the most controversial one – he brought home was the seminal Just Like Mommy, Just Like Daddy.
The book – or books, as the front of the book opens to a story about a little girl and her mother while the back flips over to a separate story about a little boy and his father – portrays the 1950s in bright illustrations. In the book, the girl pushes the pram, sweeps the floor, and gets lunch ready for Daddy – just like Mommy. On the flip side, the little boy fishes, shovels, and thanks Mommy for lunch – just like Daddy.
My mom, who generally appreciated my Zaidy’s gifts for her young readers, hated this book. Actually, she still hates this book. The feminist in her is horrified by the gender stereotyping and fixation on demarcating roles for children. My dad think its message is awful too, but he enjoys its comedic value. Not so my mom. Every single time we mention it, she suggests throwing it away. She’s tried to get rid of it multiple times. So I hide my copy, with its bright illustrations and snappy text.
The irony is that my mom actually lived this book with me. When she had my sister, she bought me a baby sling identical to the one she used for my sister so that I could carry my baby doll in it – just like Mommy. She gave me old spools and yarn so that I could sew – just like Mommy. She gave me a set of plastic food and grocery cart so that I could set up a commercial grocery store and turn it into a profitable empire – just for fun. Despite the book’s influence I don’t turn into a child who enjoyed dusting shelves, putting on makeup, or waiting for Daddy to come home. So, I figured that the book was just another fun story that could be enjoyed by children of all genders.
Recently, Special Correspondent Perel’s daughter began to enjoy longer pictures books so I sent her a copy of Just Like Mommy, Just Like Daddy. Like generations of children before her, the little girl loves the book. I was pleased with the reception of my gift. My friend, less so. It might have something to do with the fact that now, whenever her daughter sees a broom, she points at it and says, “Me sweep! Just like Mommy!” On second thought, maybe I should have gotten rid of the book – just like Mommy.