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What I Really Know

About the American Dream: The Dr. Spock Seal of Approval

In 1972, I was 35 years old and a single mother of a 10-month-old daughter. One night, I was invited to attend a gathering where Dr. Benjamin Spock, America’s most famous pediatrician, was speaking.

woman holding child

— Photo courtsey of Joanna Bressler

Only I couldn’t get a babysitter.

With some trepidation, I entered the hall carrying Amanda in the crook of my arm. (No baby slings back then.)

A tall, elegant giraffe of a man loped over and said, “I’m Ben Spock. May I hold her?”

Speechless, I handed her over, and she settled into his arms without a backward glance.

“She’s 10 months old?” he asked. I nodded. “My, my. She doesn’t have any stranger anxiety at all. You must be a very good mother.”

He leapt to the platform, Amanda in his arms, and spoke at length while she patted his face, tried to knock off his glasses, and nuzzled into his neck with a sigh of contentment.

That night, Dr. Spock talked about the American dream: how all Americans believed in it but too many didn’t even come close to realizing it. He listed the many inequities in our system.

At the time, I was feeling pretty inequitable myself. I loved my baby, had a new Ph.D. and a new job, but the absence of a husband/father weighed heavily upon me. I had to fight hard not to see myself—an unmarried mother with an illegitimate child—as a second-class citizen. I worried that others saw my choice as an irresponsible one. A few of my erstwhile friends had said as much during my pregnancy.

But that particular evening, with my role-model baby and the Benjamin Spock seal of approval, I was living the American dream.

The AARP Bulletin’s What I Really Know column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Joanna Bressler is a reader from Santa Monica, Calif.

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