“A talking pig?! I never heard of such a thing!”
-my toddlers, fact-checking the Olivia books.
“A talking pig?! I never heard of such a thing!”
-my toddlers, fact-checking the Olivia books.
Me: Okay, I love you. I’ll see you in the morning.
Her: Wait – Mommy. Are there any maps in my room?
Me: Maps? No.
Her: Are there any bees?
Me: No. No bees.
Her: We don’t eat bees. Only honey. Not bees.
Me: This is true.
Her: Are there any flies in my room?
(I shake my head.)
Her: Sharks? Whales? Bat rays? Mites?
Me: No. Mites? No.
Her: Snails? Kangaroos?
Her: Colorado bears?
Her: Colorado bears!
Me: Oh, you mean KOALA bears?
Her: Is there any art in my room?
Her: What about burned out light bulbs?
Me: I don’t think so, no.
Me: It’s bedtime now. Go to sleep —
Her: Do you love me?
Me: I love you SO much.
Her: How much?
Me: This much. As far as my arms can stretch!
Her: Okay then, I am gonna go to dreamland!
Me: (leaving) Good. Have a nice rest–
Her: You know who’s there?
Me: It’s time for–
Her: Santa! Santa is in dreamland waiting for me. With a couple of his reindeer and also Lilli even though she goes to a different school now.
Me: Okay, good! Now–
Her: And you will be there, and daddy, and sissy, and milk and bagels and salami. Oh, I love salami SO MUCH. Do you know how much I love salami?
Me: It’s time for bed now.
Her: THIS much! As far as my arms can go.
Me: Okay, Peach. I love you. Good night.
Her: (a long sigh) Good night.
Her: But you’re sure there aren’t any maps in here?
by Carrie Friedman
We met a friend’s newborn for the first time last night. The minute I spotted their baby girl’s tiny toes peeking out of her bunting as she was draped across her dad’s shoulder, I was done. I started tingling in my lady bits, felt feverish. My heart ached.
A reaction that surprised me, followed by an even more surprising thought: Oh shit. I want another one. Now.
To review: we have been blessed with two amazing daughters, the youngest of whom has JUST gotten out of the baby phase and is finally a bonafide kid, developing her own personality, sense of humor, artistic panache. We are only a few months out of the baby years yet it feels like that was a decade ago. I remember nothing from that first year, save a mix of olfactory memories: the smell of milk, baby powder, rice cereal, the hot plastic of just-sterilized nipples, mashed peas, and that delicious, addictive baby smell.
This baby lust is a kind of amnesia, isn’t it. This is how they get you to come back for more: with the smells and the sight of their wrinkly little feet and hands. Clomid for the senses.
Seeing our friend’s sleeping newborn reminded me of the beginning, how much they grow and so quickly. It reminded me of time passing. If we’re going to do this we should do it now, as I am still technically in my mid-30s, I thought. I had been having dreams about having another baby. It’s always another daughter in my dreams, and we pick out the cutest name for her in said-dream. Also in my dream, as if my unconscious knows what’s up, there is a new “thing” called an “Express Pregnancy” which I opt into and am only pregnant for three months (and they’re the middle months, not the bullshit first few where you blow chunks in your car, nor the last couple of months when it feels as if a human being is lodged in your ribcage because it is). After three beautiful, glowing, blissful months of “Express Pregnancy,” I greet my gorgeous third daughter who has the best effing name, and our family is complete.
I snap out of my revery and look over at my husband to discern whether he is having similar feelings. He is shoveling chips into his mouth while watching a basketball game on our friends’ TV.
I had broached the topic with him once before, when I was drunk at my own birthday dinner last year. Turning another year older mixed with mojitos made for a complicated cocktail. “Do you think we should have one more?” I had asked him then, trying not to slur my words. He had swallowed his bite of food, wiped his mouth with his napkin and said calmly, “This is why I let our kids jump and land knees first on my testicles when we’re playing. Because I knew this day would come.”
But that was almost a full year ago. Now, in our friend’s house, these important few months away from the baby years, I wonder if his feelings have changed. Sure, it might still take some convincing. I start to plot my plan of attack/seduction, when…
…Our friend’s baby wakes up. And starts crying. It’s that newborn cry, the one you try to forget. High pitched, a mewl more than a scream, until it gets going, and then it’s how I imagine a baby pterodactyl sounded when it hatched from its egg.
With that, it all comes flooding back. The wailing, the immobility, the teething, the soul crushing fatigue. The showerless, sleepless helplessness.
My Mom-nesia subsides, and I feel a steel door slam shut in my uterus.
I’m good with two.
(That said, if someone handed me a one-and-a-half year old baby who already had a sleep schedule, my husband’s eyes, and a mouth full of teeth, I could make it work.)
A conversation with my three year old today:
Her: We don’t say ‘Oh Shit.’
Me: That’s right, we don’t.
Her: Kids don’t say Oh Shit and grown ups don’t say Oh Shit either.
Me: That’s correct. No one should say it.
Her: But we CAN say ‘Doggone It!’
Me: Doggone It is fine, yes.
Her: But dogs don’t like that, do they?
Me: Hmm. That’s a good point. I hadn’t thought of–
Her: Do crabs eat peanut butter?
See also: Toddler Talk, vol. 1
This is a real ad, for an actual product, that my kids and I have seen advertised on TV.
Watch and learn:
For the next couple of months, I have two two-year-olds. Two kids going through the terrible two’s, simultaneously: Our youngest turned two the other day, and just like that, she changed. It was subtle, but real. As she was blowing out the second candle, she became just a titch more whiny. Moody.
The soundtrack of my life is now their screaming tantrums. About what, you ask? Good fucking question. The other day, the older one started crying because she wanted to hear a “different” version of This Old Man. Since I was singing it for her (also at her request), I offered a few options (you know: Reggae, Opera), then realized she was only using this as her spring board into tantrum town. For my younger daughter, the catalyst that catapulted her into shitty screamville was the fact that her older sister was crying.
There comes a point during their simultaneous tantrums when I fear the screaming will kill me. That my ears will bleed and burst and I will die that way, on the kitchen floor, and the kids will still be screaming, too wound up to notice or care. Last night, during the moment when I thought I would die, I noticed that our dog was staring at me. At first I thought he felt sorry for me. He’s a beagle – they have those sympathetic eyes. I thought maybe he was commiserating. Then I realized his look was more one of disgust that I let our lives – his life – devolve into THIS. “See what you did?” his look said. “Are you happy now?” I’m pretty sure our dog dreams at night of dropping the kids off at the pound. I can’t say I blame him.
On particularly horrendous tantrum days, I greet my husband when he comes home from work with two simple words, a gentle plea: “Institutionalize me.”
As my faithful readers know, I have a real issue with gender pigeon-holing. A few weeks ago, I took my toddler daughters to the museum. They had a blast, running from exhibit to exhibit, peering up at their favorite animals and dinosaurs in awe. It was one of my favorite days as a parent thus far: I loved their enthusiasm so much as their exclamations echoed through the vast halls: “Oh my gosh, look at that Polar Bear!” “It’s a Walrus!” “Hello baby squirrel!” After a long and wonderful day, as we were exiting through the gift shop (always a mistake, but that’s how they get you), I saw this single bank of shelves:
Now, look, I’ve never been on safari, but in all my travels I’ve never seen or heard of a pink zebra. They must be super-rare. If you look closely at these rows of toys, it is not easy to even identify what some of them are supposed to be. Sure, there’s a zebra, a dinosaur, a hippo (I think). Only when you read the tag do you know that the puffy pink (?) shelf inhabitants are foxes. But the bottom shelf – what are those? Leopard spots, monkey face, enormous anime eyes and eyelashes (eyelashes! Why? To make this animal appear sexier?). What the fuck species is this supposed to be? The makers must think girls don’t care, and their parents will buy this mystery animal regardless.
These are clearly Animals For Girls because it says so right on the tag. Well, kind of. These animals are for “Girlz.” (So the makers think girls can’t spell either.)
I stood there pondering whose hooves are the glitteriest of the animal kingdom, and thinking of where pink occurs naturally (flamingos, pigs, some exotic fish and birds). The Pink Panther wasn’t just for girls, but if it were made today, it would be. Boys’ toys don’t get this treatment. They’re not all blue or neon, nor are animals made less real in strange ways just to appeal to them.
Just then my older daughter approached with a pink animal from a different part of the store, in her arms.
“Can I get this?” she asked.
I knelt down. “What is it?”
“It’s a seal,” she said.
“A pink seal?” I asked gently. “Are seals pink?”
“No, they’re gray!” my daughter said, as if I were crazy for suggesting such a notion. She put the pink one back and grabbed a grey seal. I bought that one for her.
A weekend is rapidly approaching. I vaguely recall when weekends used to be good things, fabulous mini-vacations after what felt like strenuous work-weeks. I was in my 20’s, I thought the work was hard but realize, years later and now a parent, that it was “work-lite” compared to the backbreaking tasks I’m performing on a daily basis with our two toddlers. Mondays are now my favorite day of the week, because our helper returns, with light surrounding her and a chorus of angels singing to announce her presence. Every Monday morning I shake awake from my catatonic stare and embrace her.
But today is Wednesday, and we have a sitter for Saturday night. We have to make plans. This should be good news.
Before we had kids, I told my husband how I would do things. This involved a lot of platitudes and “beliefs,” including this one: “We’ll have a standing babysitter every Saturday night. That way we’ll be forced to check in with each other, and take a little time out of the house.”
A terrific, inspired idea. Romantic. Noble.
In theory. Not so much in practice.
What I didn’t know then: how tired we’d be. How utterly drained, how behind on any and every other task besides going to work and raising kids. How impossibly over talking we’d be.
I think we talked non-stop for the first three years of our relationship. We were philosophical. We were witty. We were the kind of people whose table you wanted to sit at. In the first several years of our marriage, prior to having kids, my husband and I would go out every weekend, to all the newest restaurants, movies, trendy art openings. And we had fun at all of these events. We were glitzy. We were talk-y. We, well, we had energy.
Now, there’s the pressure and expense of a babysitter. It’s a mandate – not just to go out, but to also have a GREAT time. But now, my skin crawls thinking of going to a new or untested anything. Especially a restaurant with avant-garde-sized non-portions or any sort of foam “garnish.” If the restaurant is good, it’ll be around in a year or three and I’ll try it once they’ve worked out their first year kinks and I don’t have to make a reservation a month in advance. I catch movies on-demand now. And art – the viewing of it, much less creating of it – seems like such an indulgence to me now. I no longer have patience for most museums.
Truthfully, I wouldn’t mind spending our date nights sitting in my car listening to an audio book. Or resting in a dark, silent room. If we stayed home while the sitter was there, even if we hid from the kids, they would find us, like drug sniffing dogs. They always find us.
I have been looking for a place where I can get massaged WHILE I eat. A place where I can wear sweats, recline, talk, and eat, but also drift in and out of sleep, read a book or magazine and/or pay the bills without it seeming rude to my dining partner. I believe there is a market for it.
I have decided I will invent this place. Call it Parents’ Pub. It will be dark and quiet, with Lazy-Boy chairs covered in thick afghan blankets and nice amounts of food and alcohol on tap. You can talk to your date, catch up on your weeks, but you need not feel obligated. If you want to sit side by side in each others’ company without even acknowledging each other, that’s okay too. It’s the quiet-car-on-the-train of restaurants. I feel more rested just thinking of it.
A conversation with my two-and-a-half year old last night:
Her: Sometimes, you can be going along and all of a sudden you just feel sad!
Me: Like when? What makes you feel sad?
Her: I don’t like to share with sissy.
Me: I know. Sharing is hard. But it’s part of life. You would want people to share with you, right? So it’s important that you share with others, especially sissy.
Her: Remember Auntie Arleen?
Her: She doesn’t have a beard.
Me: You’re right. No beard.
Her: Ladies don’t have beards. Santa has a beard.
Me: Yes, Santa has a long beard.
Her: And he has a big low voice just like Uncle Doug.
Her: Sometimes Uncle Doug’s voice scares me. But he doesn’t have a beard. He’s not Santa. Ho ho ho!
Her: Mommy, you like yellow because it’s the color of sunshine.
Her: We have to put the caps on all the markers because otherwise, they dry out! And we don’t want that.
Her: Yesterday, when we were using our listening ears, we heard a Dreamington!
Me: A what?
Her: A Dreamington! That bird we all heard outside last night!
Me: Ohhh, the Nightingale?
Her: Yes. Nightingale. It was tired so it said Oooh-Wooo-Woo.
Her: Not Ho ho ho. It’s not Santa.
With preschool fast-approaching for my oldest child (gulp!), I am reminded of the surprisingly grueling application process from a year or two ago (when said-oldest was a mere infant). It’s a bit of a frenzy where we live, but, happily, we got in to our first choices, and are ecstatic about where we’re headed in the fall. 🙂
I am posting here what I wrote back then, in the throes of applying to preschools:
Confession: I didn’t do HALF this much work applying to my own colleges than I’ve so far HAD to do to get our kids in to a halfway decent pre-school. PRE-SCHOOL!
All the applications ask for an “informal” family photo. What does this mean? Are we casually dressed or dressed up? If the opposite of informal is formal, then does that just mean we’re not supposed to hire a professional photographer (which is good since I don’t have one on retainer)?
Confused, we gave it a shot one weekend by setting up the tripod and figuring out the timer function on our camera.
Here are the photos we ended up with:
1. “Lounging” together on the couch as a family (because we do that so often) while wearing our Sunday best. The result? The most strained photo ever committed to film. My husband looks like I ironed his suit with him in it.
2. Then we tried the lounging shot again, this time while wearing jeans and matching white button down shirts. The jeans are faux-messily rolled up and we are all barefoot and breezy and we adjusted the effects when editing to make us looked sunkissed.
“This photo makes me hate myself and us,” my husband says, and I can’t say I disagree with him. Our controlled chaos comes off so fake it makes your teeth hurt.
3. We try the funny route and have beer bottles strewn all over the place, pretend we’re passed out as the kids climb all over us.
But it looked too real.
4. We ended up going to a photo booth at the mall and shoving into one frame. Both kids are in different stages of crying. We call this our Reality shot.
Fingers crossed it works.
It went viral a few months ago – the link is here: a mother’s artistic photos of her son’s “dreamworld”, all taken while he naps. On the floor, it seems.
There are many reasons this bothers me. Let me count the ways:
1. Is the child ever awake? Or has she drugged him? What child sleeps a) that much and b) so soundly, on the floor, through all of this…choreography…that she’s placing around him?
2. It feels exploitative to me. Don’t create your son’s dream world. Create your own dream world and leave your child out of it. It’s so very Tori Spelling of you, lady, to use your kid as a prop, as fodder, before he is old enough to consent.
3. I think this sort of thing, and Pinterest, are contributing to lots of mommy guilt lately. Here’s this woman who clearly has quite a bit of time on her hands. But oh wait – she’s got THREE kids, not just the one. (I found I could do almost ANYTHING with just one kid, while she napped. It was a breeze! Compared to more than one….) So right there, I’m feeling a mix of jealousy, hatred, and shame. After all, I don’t do shit like this when my TWO kids sleep. I watch Real Fucking Housewives and cut my toenails or sleep! Am I SUPPOSED to be doing crap like this? Getting all creative and nutty and mixed media-y? Because I can’t. And I won’t. (But mostly because I can’t. I have WAY too many Real Housewives franchises to catch up on.)
4. I have decided this mother must be on either cocaine or an elaborate cocktail of uppers. Nothing else can explain this level of obsession and energy. There. Now I feel better.
I look great for a woman in her 50’s.
From toting my babies, I now seem to have the arms of a heroin addict, minus the track-marks: all bony and ropy and veiny. Madonna’s arms, only slightly less mannish. And because I got a terrible case of Mommy-Thumb, I now have to wear a wrist brace on one hand and, for carpal tunnel, another brace on the other wrist. So, now I’m THAT woman – Melissa McCarthy in Bridesmaids meets professional bowler.
When I remember to feed myself, I eat like a squirrel: it’s not eating, it’s foraging. I shovel. Food flies. I used to be dainty, for fuck’s sake.
I run my errands in sweats, a hat, sunglasses. In the past, pre-kids, this look could’ve been interpreted as – I don’t know – incognito. I’m not saying I once, not too long ago, looked like a disguised star (or heiress, whatevs) trying to hide from the paparazzi, but let’s just say you could have used the phrase “casual elegance” to describe my former self, if you were partially blind. (Stars: they really ARE just like us!)
Now, because I shuffle out of exhaustion, this same look is less incognito, more homeless woman who has somehow managed to acquire a Coach purse. Shabby Homeless. Is that a style yet? Should be.
Look, I consider myself an avid reader, or I used to be, before I had kids. I was an English major in college, I have piles of books I intend to read on most surfaces in my house, and on the rare occasions when I don’t have kids with me in the car, I listen to audio books. (Related: Holy shit, Gone Girl! Who knew?! Answer: everyone two years ago. No spoilers, please. Not even a third of the way through). Mama loves the heck out of the written word when she’s not butchering it with mixed pronouns and contractions. I will chalk that up to parental fatigue.
But when it’s 7:30 or 8pm and I’m strung out from a day of toddler lifting and mediating their arguments and playing and reading and singing and more lifting and tantrum-enduring and feeding and my kids hand me a long-ass book with blocks of text, by God, it makes me wish they were still reading those mind-numbing, repetitive board (bored?) books.
I LOVE their minds and their curiosities. But when we’re minutes from bedtime, minutes from my much-needed glass of almost anything with alcohol in it, well, this Little Engine…Cannot.
I sang Jimmie Davis’s You Are My Sunshine to our unborn children in the womb and while listening to the words coming out of my mouth, I was a little perturbed. Sure, the tune is singsongy, you hear sunshine, you think warm and cozy:
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are gray. You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”
First of all, pressure much? My ONLY sunshine? Just one? We’re basically saying: Hey Kid, you’re mostly responsible for my moods – especially my happiness – so don’t disappoint me or have a bad day, ‘kay? Also, you’ll never know how much I love you (because, let’s face it, love isn’t quantifiable or ever entirely knowable). Oh, and I am pleading with the universe to never take you away from me. What’s that? You didn’t know that could happen? WELL IT CAN. Hold on tight to me and to love because we are both undependable and transient. (And don’t get me started on the second verse: “The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping. I dreamed I held you in my arms. When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken, and I hung my head and cried.” Really? That’s it? You didn’t also slit your wrists? Because I want to cut MYSELF after hearing this.) Okay, baby, sleep tight.
So my husband (also a writer) and I massaged the language a tad, changing it to: “…You are my sunshine, one of my sunshines, you make me happy when skies are grey. You’ll always know, dear, how much I love you. Because I’ll tell you every day.” And this is what our daughters now sing to themselves and their dolls.
But the other day we overheard our older toddler daughter singing another lullaby to her babies and animals.
“Rockabye baby on the treetop. When the wind blows the cradle will rock. When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall, and down will come baby, cradle and all.”
Fortunately our daughter is still young enough that she doesn’t understand many of the words she repeats, like this tragic story about the cradle in a tree (‘cuz that’s totally safe to begin with).
The first couplet is fine…sort of. Why is the baby in a treetop? Who put the cradle up there?
Then, out of the blue, it’s not a question of IF the bough breaks, but WHEN. The baby falls, presumably to its bloody demise or life with serious brain damage.
I have a problem with my kid serenading her dolls with this death march.
So my husband and I rewrote this too. We’re really hoping it catches on:
“Rockabye baby on the treetop, when the wind blows your cradle will rock.
When you drift off and fall asleep, you’ll have sweet dreams, sleep so deep.”
Now isn’t that infinitely better and less doom and gloomy?
Stay tuned for my next installment on The Sound of Music: “You are 16, I’m a Nazi…”
Since both my children have reached the highly verbal “parrot” age, I’ve had to really watch my mouth. I used to swear quite a bit, before I had kids. Now, I still swear, only I spell it out. Sure, it’s more time-consuming, but sometimes you just need to let out a good “F-U-C-K.” Because “Mother-Effer” doesn’t quite cut it.
Something weird has started happening, though: I now spell TOO much, and words that don’t necessarily need to be spelled.
When talking to the stylist at our local children’s haircut hut, I told her I’d like her to get rid of my younger daughter’s “m-u-l-l-e-t.”
Really? That needed to be spelled? It would have been so damaging if my kids heard that word?
I can’t seem to turn it off. When we go out with other adults, on double or triple dates, I find myself spelling all of my swears. It’s off-putting to our friends. “I didn’t know I was at the Scripps National Spelling Bee,” one friend said after I spelled out the whole word clusterfuck.
It has spread like wildfire. I spell almost everything. “I’m going to get the t-o-m-a-t-o-e-s,” I told my husband last night. He replied: “Oh, g-r-e-a-t.”
Or I misspell words and confuse him. “I desperately need to run u-p-s-t-a-r-e-s for a few minutes to decompress.”
“Wait – what?” he says. “What is upSTARES?”
My husband, a not-terrific speller, chooses instead to speak French, in which he is fluent. Unfortunately, I am not, so it makes for a lot of misunderstandings.
“What’s Maird mean?” I asked him the other day after he said it.
“Maird!” our younger daughter echoed.
“It means shit,” he told me, impatiently.
“Shit,” our older daughter repeated, running out of the room. “Shit shit shit shit shit!”
My thoughts exactly.
Last night, as I dished out dinner onto my kids’ high chair trays (AKA the only time of day when they are immobile while still being awake), I turned on a little music and danced. When it comes to dance, I have two moves, old standbys. There’s the one that resembles a kind of giddy leprechaun skipping around a pot of gold and there’s the West Side Story gang-fight, complete with snapping and jazz hands. Tonight, I started out with a little leprechaun shuffle and I loved it.
Our younger child immediately started to laugh, like she was in on a joke I wasn’t aware I was making. The older one gave me a look I expect in her teen years, not at two and a half. Oh my god, Mom, you’re embarrassing me, even in the privacy of our own kitchen. For all that is holy, please stop.
“This is dancing!” I said with glee as I spooned out some zucchini. “Do you want to dance with me?” I shuffled toward them, this time with my arm in the air waving an imaginary lasso, surprising even myself with moves that can only be described as Southwestern Flair.
The younger one laughed harder, making me realize she was laughing at, not with, me. The older one put her face in her hands.
I shouldn’t be surprised by their reactions. I haven’t been cool for a while now. There are stages to “uncooling,” and I’ve been making my way through them, steadily, over the course of my 30’s.
It starts with denial – doing drumbeats with your hands while driving your midsize SUV (which I did, long before I even had kids to put in the back of my car). You catch yourself doing it but it’s too late – the driver beside you at the stoplight saw you.
Then you find yourself saying goofy things to people much younger than you. Case in point: before I had kids, my teenaged nephews were the objects of my attention and affection. I’d buy their music but I was perpetually 10 months to a year behind on all pop culture, as if I were reading back issues of Wired magazine or something. I thought being keyed into the latest fads made me a cooler Aunt. A hallmark of the bargaining stage. Sentences that have actually come out of my mouth include: “So, Dudes, how ‘bout that cool cat Bruno Mars, eh?” and “Anybody wanna dance some Gangnam Styles?”
And just like that, you’ve arrived at the next step: Adding an S to the ends of words or a The to the beginning of them. I reminded my nephews not to do The Drugs. And I tried new lingo on for size. Sneakers became Kicks, jewelry Bling.
Next thing you know, you’re A Full Phil. You’ve transformed into Phil Dunphy from Modern Family, entirely committed to the fact that you earnestly quest for coolness despite the time-delay. My nephews would wince but humor me every time, politely correct me when I called Facebook Facebox or repeatedly sang the chorus of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” wrong. (“No, Aunt C, it’s not ‘Pop some JAGS’ it’s ‘Pop some TAGS.’ –Oh! That makes more sense.”)
As you near the stage of acceptance, you give up style for comfort. Now, I wear cardigans, jeans that cost well under a hundred dollars, and very sensible shoes.
And the last milestone: The lasso move. My father’s favorite at my high school father-daughter dinner dance in 1995. The only thing that would have made his Southwestern Flair moves MORE embarrassing would’ve been if he’d had on assless chaps, too.
There it is. I’m uncool. It happened, a gradual, slow fade. So maybe it’s time to embrace the fact that I was that mom before I even became a mom. Maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world to show my kids that, like my wonderful father, I will get the party started by any means necessary, even – especially? – if it means sacrificing my coolness.
So, embrace it I will. Now who wants to dance to The Soulja Boys with me?
Few things sound as horrible to me as family camp does.
I walked into a toy store the other day and was greeted by an attentive, gum smackin’ saleswoman who asked what I was looking for. I told her: “Big Legos.”
She asked ages and genders of my kids, then handed me the pastel bag of big Legos with butterflies on them. Legos for girls, apparently.
I put them back and grabbed the bag with primary colors. Same size, same shape, but no pink and lavender, no butterflies.
Later, the same saleswoman circled back to me. I was looking at a toy hammer that makes a pounding sound when you shake it. “Isn’t that adorable?” she said to me, then, “Let me show you the one they make for girls.”
She disappeared for a moment, long enough for me to assume she was going to come back with a pink and purple hammer that sounded like a fleet of butterflies when you shook it.
Instead, she returned with a pink mirror/looking glass thing that, when you shook it, said “You’re pretty!”
I was pissed. Then I skimmed the top shelves for Candid Camera. Then I was pissed again. “How is that the same?” I asked her. “A hammer is a tool, an activity, it does something. That is a mirror. At the most my daughters can passively look into it and be told they’re pretty. My daughters are so much more than pretty.”
The saleswoman just stared at me.
My daughters are like little tiger cubs, playing and exploring. My younger daughter might be a budding engineer for how much she loves to study the way things work. And I might have a future architect on my hands for how much my older daughter loves to build with blocks.
Each time we found out we were having a daughter friends sent tiny, sequined “Diva in training” tee shirts and “Shhh, the Princess is sleeping” door signs. People sent books, too, but I have to say I was a bit overwhelmed by the inundation of soft pink things. I don’t want my daughters casting themselves as princesses. Princess is a title – a figurehead – something you are either born into or marry into. It’s a relatively passive role for them to play: most princesses in fairy tales are damsels in distress. They sit in towers, they wait to be rescued, they wish to meet their one true love. I want more than that for my daughters, and, more importantly, I want them to want more than that for themselves. I’m not trying to raise divas or angels. I’m trying to raise people. Multi-dimensional, interesting, funny, smart, curious people who love bugs and tools just as much as they love their play-kitchen.
As I continued to browse the aisles of this toy store, I realized it only gets worse from here: the older kid Legos seem even more polarized. The ones packaged for boys are for trucks and whole cities and architectural landmarks. Girls, they seem to presume, can (or should) only build castles, pet shops, and beauty salons.
Later, the toy store saleswoman, ever hopeful, found me again. This time with a tiara. That was it. I left. I can buy big Legos online.
Primary colored ones, of course.