I’m being pulled in two different directions. My kids don’t want to do the same things, play with the same toys, visit the same kids or go to the same places. It’s not that they’re suddenly different from one another (I did notice this before), it’s that they’re suddenly so different from one another.
Last year I signed them up for the same dance class. It sort of worked. This year one of them asked for a different dance class: only ballet; and the other one asked for no dance class. Soccer instead. So now we have a girl in ballet and a boy in soccer. Typical.
They’re painting right now. One painted “two rainbows and a pink sky because it’s almost night.” One painted “a robot with a head, a body, a button that flies him in case of an emergency, another button that protects him and he has so many arms and feet that he can walk a lot at one time and he has little skates on his feet and he lets them out when he wants to walk. Inside the skates are tiny bugs and he keeps them in there because he doesn’t want them to get out of his skates. So he can skate at one time without even falling. And the buttons are all for protecting himself and for protecting other people. If there’s a bad guy that’s trying to kill them, he pushes the button to kill. But not the good guys because he faces the way that the bad guy is.” Typical?
Two weeks ago Malli turned four. Right then, something changed: he’s a boy now. Walking up the street, they both made snowballs. Akka patted hers and spoke to it. Malli heaved huge chunks of snow at the telephone poles screaming “fireball!“.
He wants to build Lego. He wants to play with trucks. His blind adoration for his older sister has faded to the point where he does not want to play school and be Akka’s obedient student. He wants to play with guns. That last one sparked the first parenting challenge that Malli has presented to us. Up to now, the parenting questions that I’ve really struggled with have been motivated by Akka: How do we feel about Barbies? How do we want to mark birthdays? What’s with all the rude selfishness? And now, courtesy of Malli: How do we burn off some of this energy and how do we feel about toy guns?
It turns out that the toy gun question and the Barbie doll question are one and the same. This article helped me see that. They’re just toys and they won’t turn him into a violent criminal any more than the Barbie dolls will turn Akka into a busty sportscar-driving doctor with an attentive blond boyfriend. Much like the girly-girl toys, I’ve decided that I’m ok with toy weapons and the imaginative games they inspire but I’m not rushing out to buy them. At the neighbour’s house Malli runs around, bursting with glee, firing sponge bullets and learning how to “hit the dirt!”
Am I parenting sensitively; adjusting to new challenges and taking them in stride? Or am I slowly just caving in to mainstream notions of what boys do and what girls do? Sometimes I feel like I’m letting all my convictions drop away as we steer our kids through year after year of life. Plunk! There goes ‘my babies won’t drink from bottles’ (until I’m three months pregnant with the second one and will do anything to get the first one off me). Whump! There goes ‘my kids won’t watch TV’ (until they start giving up their naps and I can’t last a whole day without some tuned-out time). There goes ‘just a few toys.’ There goes ‘gender-neutral clothes.’ And there goes ‘no playing with weapons.’ What’s next? Are we making too much of all these parenting decisions? Taking the path of most resistance? Are we kidding ourselves about how much influence we really have? Creating little gendered consumers while taking in a little extra reading along the way? Typical? Perhaps.