The risks and rewards of a retro childhood

Published 4:00 pm Saturday, September 14, 2013

Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster

“What year is it this week?” my husband, Graham, asks as he walks through the door after a long day in 2013.

“Well,” I begin, “this episode of ‘Mister Rogers’ is from 1967. The Mickey Mouse Talking Phone the girls are playing with is circa 1981, and they’re decked out in 1976 Polly Flinders dresses. I could add all that up and give you a mean, or do I mean average? Median? I don’t know. I’m only using my 1980 math today.”

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I see concern for our daughters, Gertie and Clara, visit his face for a second. “Let’s hope we get 1980 prices when they need therapy in 2030.”

“Don’t worry. I promise you culturo-typical children. By the way, that isn’t even a word. I’m preparing them for the future by using words that haven’t been invented yet. That’s how of the moment they will be.”

He looks unconvinced.

Friends, there are a lot of childrearing philosophies out there. Each has a varying degree of success, but none is without some element of failure. Not enough discipline and you wind up with a Nellie Olsen. Too much discipline and you have a Willie Olsen on your hands. Either way, those are some unpleasant children.

Early on, years before they were born, I decided to raise Gertie and Clara in a retro childhood. Aside from being able to relive my own childhood, I have two sound reasons as to why I chose the road oft taken.

One, it’s tested. I was the guinea pig in the lab that was the 1970s and 1980s. So far, none of what I experienced turned me into a criminal or a reality television star. What more does one want for a child except to avoid those unwholesome fates?

Two, I know the future. I don’t have to worry about their favorite pop culture celebrities turning into cautionary tales. I don’t have to explain that we’re taking down the Fonzie poster because Fonzie traded his leather jacket for prison orange. Fonzie didn’t self-destruct. The Fonz lives and does very well for himself writing children’s books and doing the occasional movie.

So we watch Mister Rogers “make a snappy new day” in his cardigan and tennies, and sooner or later I will explain that even though Mister Rogers is no longer with us in body, he, like Santa, is with us in spirit if we believe in him and speak in a calm, soothing voice.

We listen to Shaun Cassidy do “Da Doo Ron Ron” and when they realize their teen idol isn’t the pretty girl he once was, I will tell them not to knock senior citizens and show them a photo of Robert Redford in his 70s, to which they will respond, “Be still my heart, Sundance.”

I have the situation under control. At least that’s what I thought until last Sunday when I was hit with the ugly truths of retro.

First came a right hook from Mr. Brady who, in the episode where the bunch were fighting over a clubhouse, told Mrs. Brady and her golden haired girls to go inside and make lemonade and leave the building to the men.

Say what?

I had barely recovered when Ricky Ricardo knocked me out cold. Lucy, finally on the verge of making it big in show business, has her dreams deferred because Ricky would rather she stay home, clean the house and cook his meals.

Ricky, you have some ‘splaining to do.

Would the girls think of me as someone without a voice? As a lemonade maker instead of a mover and shaker?

I ran to my husband for affirmation. Isn’t that what you do when you’re questioning your feminist values?

“Graham, remember when I wanted the old blinds taken down? Did I ask you to do it for me?”


“What did I do?”

“You hit them with a hammer until they fell off the wall.”

“Darn right I did.”

“When we’re out to dinner do I make you calculate the tip?”

“Only sometimes.”

“That’s right. Only sometimes.”

I felt a little better. “You know some of those old shows I watch portray women as being real pushovers.”

“What does that tell you?” he asked.

“That with retro comes great responsibility.”

And with that I went off in search of old episodes of “That Girl” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” I would teach the twins a thing or two about the modern woman, the retro way, of course.


Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at, and her blog is at