SPOTLIGHT: Marion Deutsche Cohen’s new non-fiction collection NOT ERMA BOMBECK: DIARY OF A FEMINIST 70’S MOTHER




As Elle and I walk into the building half an hour before performance time, I search distractedly for a familiar face. “Paula!” I finally shout. “Hi, there!”


“Hi, Marion,” says Paula as she walks toward us, but her gaze is lowered and her knees are bending. “This is my daughter, Elle,” I tell her.


“Oh, hi Elle,” says Paula, quickly lowering her body further to match Elle’s. “Am I glad to see YOU! We NEED a child for our act.” Elle grins.


“Did you get many children the other two nights?” I ask Paula.


“No,” she grunts. “Well, just one, last night. And that was a MAN-child.”


“Aw c’mon, Paula, you’re too particular,” I smile. “Was he okay?”


“Yeah, he was okay,” Paula shrugs. “He really was. I like WOMAN-children, though.”


I choose my words carefully. “Elle has a little brother three years old. And so far he’s just fine. We’ll see, though. I really will be on the lookout.” I’m thinking how I pushed him our three years ago, soon lingo-ing, “he can’t help it that he’s a boy. He doesn’t even KNOW he’s a boy.” I also think about how he looks when Elle puts him in a dress and calls him Susie.


Paula is still squatting. “Hey, Elle, wanna be in our show?”


“U-huh.” Elle is still grinning. And I’m feeling really proud. So far, I’m thinking, I did it just right. Not only non-sexist child-rearing but non-hetero-sexist child-rearing. And not only feminist but radical feminist. And these radical feminists are obviously happy with the job I did.


While Paula and Elle delight in each other’s attention, I wander around. “This isn’t the usual Painted Bride décor, is it?” I ask sarcastically of another one of the performers. I mean, there are papers scotch taped to the walls and doors, bearing messages like “children should talk in school as much as possible” and “housewives have the right to decide who rapes them.”


“Oh no,” she answers. “in fact, the management gave us a bit of trouble over it.” I laugh. Several other friends from the Rites of Women theatre collective are now beginning to appear from the basement. Elle, meanwhile, is busily meeting, hugging, kissing, and smiling at everyone with no trouble at all. She and Paula suddenly appear at my side. “I love her,” Paula says.


“I’m gonna be in the show,” Elle tells me. “I get t’ pass out the candy.”


“I figured you would,” I smirk. The audience is beginning to drift in. I’m glad, and partly relieved, to see a pregnant woman wearing one of those long Mexican embroidered dresses. I compliment her on the dress and on her belly and add, “Oh, I see we have another child.”


With Paula up on stage, Elle comes to sit by me. I’m actually quite relieved to be with her; she’s something to hold onto. “Hey, El,” I say. “I just wanna tell you: they’re gonna be saying some of the things I always say – ya know, about women ‘n’ all.” “U-huh,” Elle nods. “They might also say a few things I don’t agree with, like against men or something, but in general, I agree with them.

“U-huh,” Elle repeats. I spot Barbara at the door. So does Elle and she runs to greet her. Barbara takes her up in her arms and the two of them come toward me and sit down. And now the performance is on. There has been crying in the distance, anguished woman-wails, until they arrive on stage. “I am the lesbian separatist,” pronounces Diedre. “I am woman loving woman, independent of men, forming a beautiful woman-culture.”


Why can’t I get into womanculture? I wonder. Why do I go into more of an ecstasy over individual matters, like my own poems and pushing out my babies? Oh, I do see the importance of political, universal feelings, but why don’t I emote over them as much?


At the other end of the room Dian begins. “I’ve ALWAYS been an independent woman,” she mimics. “I’ve ALWAYS been liberated.” That I get. She’s touched off my funny bone and my laugh is a belly laugh. Paula now comes to fetch Elle, who gladly dances with her about the room as Paula begins a kid-chant, to the pitches of “na na, na na, na, na.” “Children are people, too. We wanna be free. We don’t wanna go to school.” Then she brings Elle back. “See?” I whisper to her. “Daddy and I aren’t the only ones who say things like that,” and she smirks.


Suddenly the spotlight is on the central core of Rites of Women – Dian, Kathy, and Monica. “Hey gang,” calls out Dian. “I got news. Guess what? Ya know my friend Evelyn from West Point. Well, she’s arranged for us to get an invitation to perform there.”


“Ya mean West Point ACADEMY?!” exclaims Kathy. “Yup, West Point Academy.” “Far out!” goes Monica. “Yep, we’re gonna get t’ perform for the wives at West Point.” “Omigosh, what’ll we hit ‘em with?”


“What about Rites of Passage?” “Yeah, that’s good. Let’s start form the beginning, from the birth of woman.” “Okay, let’s try,” Kathy gets on bottom, kneeling over next to Dian, Monica on top. They form a pyramid and Dian calls out, “What’re we doing, anyway?”

We all laugh. “It feels good,” hums Monica. Ya hafta know her.


And so the organic theatre grows, is nourished, reaches out. By the time for it to wane Rites of Women is sitting around a fire of candles. “I have a dream,” says Kathy. “I have a dream of women – women, woman, wommin, womon..” Elle thrusts into my hand a picture she’s drawn. “Give it to Paula,” she tells “YOU give it to Paula,” I suggest.  “I’m scared to,” she says. “Oh, it’s okay,” I tell her. “Go ‘head.”


Diedre overhears the whispers. “Come here, Elle,” she says, extending her hand. “I’ll take you.” With a satisfied grin Elle goes with Diedre, sits down in the circle between her and Paula, and hands Paula the picture. Paula smiles and hugs Elle. Then “I have a dream,” says Diedre.


“Tell us your dream,” says Monica.
“I am one with the earth mother,” Diedre begins, and she ends with “Diedre, Paula, earth, Diedre, Paula, earth, Diedre, Paula…” “Ummm.” Murmurs around the fire. Then “who else has a dream?” calls out Monica. Silence. “Who else has a dream?” she repeats. “Give us your dreams,” soothes Diedre.


“I have a dream,” says Barbara. “I dreamt that the Goddess revealed herself to me.”

“Um… nice…” they all go. Then I hear Elle whispering to Paula. “I have a dream.”


“Tell us,” whispers Paula.


“But it’s about monsters,” Elle says.


“That okay,” says Paula. “I have a dream,” calls out Elle. Everyone laughs, just loudly enough. “What’s your dream?” several people ask.


“I dreamt there was a big monster in my room and I ran into my mommy’s room and my daddy put me back in my bed and my mommy too and then they took me over to my babysitters and they cooked me.”


Nice laughter. “That’s a GOOD dream, Elle,” says Paula. “And when you woke up, did you keep feeling your skin to make sure it wasn’t burning?” asks Joan.


“U-huh,” answers Elle. She’s in her glory. Paula is quietly hugging her and she’s as smug as can be. Still, Diedre wants to know, “Who else has a dream?”


Silence. “Hey, Monica, what about YOUR dream?” coaxes Dian.


“Yeah, what ABOUT that dream?” chimes in the remainder of the group. Monica shrugs modestly. “What dream?” she asks. “Aw, c’mon, YOU know what dream. The one you told us about last week…” But now Monica is more than modest. “Oh no, not THAT one,” she gasps. “Yep, that one,” they insist, “c’mon.” “Uh-UH,” finishes Monica. No, she definitely doesn’t want to share that dream.


“Okay,” they finally conclude. “Who else has a dream?” Silence. “No more dreams?”


“I have a dream.” This from the far right corner. “I dreamt I wrote a book and it won a Pulitzer Prize.” Uh-oh, I think. That’s NOT what they want. It’s womanglory they’re after, not personal glory. “What was the book about?” asks Barbara.


“I don’t know.” General silence of less than satisfaction, then “Any more dreams? Visions? Anything else you’d like to share?” But the silence is now permanent. It might be anarchy theatre, I’m thinking, but the audience knows what the teachers want. After the performance Barbara, Paula, and Elle come up to me. “She’s just great,” says Paula again. “Marion, if you ever need a part-parent,” adds Barbara, “I’m sure Rites of Women would be interested.”


“Oh, I would too, DEFINITELY,” I beam, but no one takes me up on it (then or later). I’m pleased, however, that these lesbian separatists are accepting Elle, and therefore me as mother. Soon, in the car on the way home, after cleaning up and jump-roping, Elle calls from the back seat, “Paula?”


“Yes, Elle.”


“Would you hold me?”


“Of course.” So Elle climbs into the front seat. “Gee, that was a great performance,” I say. “Thanks for telling me about it, Barbara.”

“Oh, thank YOU for coming,” answers Barbara. “And thanks for bringing Elle.” And then it just suddenly slips out, whether or not it should have. “Yeah, SHE’s the one you REALLY appreciated.”


“I’m glad YOU came, too,” says Barbara.


“Thanks,” I say, momentarily resting my head on her shoulder and assuring myself that yes, I’m doing that correctly. “I’M also glad you came,” says Paula, and I momentarily rest my arm on hers. Yes, I think, I seem spontaneous, I seem sisterly. And I did  contribute something to the performance. Yes, just this once I can allow myself the luxury of giving myself credit for my child’s achievement. For I contributed Elle to the performance. I contributed the monster dream.


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