Thursday, September 1, 2011

Monkey See, Monkey Do

My kids are two years and three months apart. This has been really good spacing for my kids (although it can be rough sometimes on us parents). They get along really well. This makes me more happy that I can adequately express. I know that this is not the situation for all families. And I don't know if it will last, but it's absolutely heart-meltingly awesome to see my kids play together, hug each other, care for each other and generally enjoy each other.

Of course, they don't always get along. They fight and bicker and scream at each other and mess with each other. They are still siblings, after all. And I never want to put some rose-colored view of parenthood on this blog. But probably 80-90% of the time, they get along really well. They love each, and they love to do things together.

The Pumpkin is the oldest at almost 4.5, and she is used to taking charge. It's not that she is bossy, because she's really not bossy at all. It's more that she comes up with ideas of what she wants to do and she does them. Usually it is something really active and imaginative, and it looks like a lot of fun. So other kids tend to want to do what she's doing. And even if no one else wants to do what she's doing? She does it anyway. She loves to play with others, especially her brother, so she will encourage people to join her, but she won't stop her game if no one else is joining in. But because she has so much fun doing fun things, kids often join in. Especially her brother.

The Pookie is almost 2 years and 3 months old, and he loves to join in just about whatever his sister is doing. Not just because it looks fun, and not just when she encourages him to join her. Pretty much whatever she is doing, whenever she is doing them. Even when it's something she shouldn't be doing.

I'm sure you've seen the same behavior in action, perhaps in your own house or those of your family and friends.

In our house, we call this common and well-known phenomenon Monkey See, Monkey Do. The monkey in both cases is usually my son, though it can be my daughter as well. The Pookie sees his sister doing something or acting some way, and he does the same. I will then refer to him as Monkey Boy. And he will respond by saying, "oo oo ah ah." (It's very cute.)

The Monkey See, Monkey Do phenomenon can be a wonderful thing. When the Pumpkin is listening and helping clean up and sitting at the table for dinner and doing the things she's supposed to be doing, the Pookie follows right along! He listens, he behaves, he helps clean. But when the Pumpkin is acting up and misbehaving and not listing and not doing what she's supposed to? Well, Monkey See, Monkey Do. Which means it's TWO children misbehaving and having tantrums and killing us parents!

We have pointed out to the Pumpkin that her brother will do whatever she is doing, so she needs to be careful about what she does in front of him. This is especially the case when she is able to physically do things that he can't, because the situation can become unsafe. And she is starting to take that to heart.

However, we do worry about putting too much pressure on her modifying her behavior because of what her brother might do. That's just doesn't seem fair to a young child. So there is a balance somewhere that we are trying to find.

And I'm sure at some point the Pookie will not want to do anything his sister is doing. He certainly doesn't always do what she's doing now or want to play with her all the time. He does like to do play on his own (something my daughter almost never wants to do), sitting quietly and contently with his train set or blocks or books. And there are plenty of times that the Pumpkin will join in whatever he is playing and doing.

I'll take the Monkey See, Monkey Do phenomenon, even when they are both acting up and driving me crazy. I'm just so happy that my kids get along and like to do what the other is doing. Yes, it can make for some difficult parenting moments, but as I've even told my daughter before, they are siblings and should be on each others' sides. And if I'm yelling at them? They should especially be there for each other and support each other*. I didn't say this part, but I'd rather they bond together, even against us parents, than be divided from each other.

And isn't imitation the best form of flattery?

*This was when my daughter started mimicking me and yelled at her brother, who then yelled back at her. That's not the Monkey See, Monkey Do that I want to encourage. More a situation of Do As I Say, Not As I Do.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why Girls Wearing Blue Isn't Enough

My husband and I had an interesting discussion last spring about raincoats. Kids raincoats and the gender implications of what is socially acceptable for girls to wear versus boys.

In this discussion, we talked about how my daughter has a dinosaur rain coat. It was a hand-me-down from a family friend whose two boys had outgrown a bag full of clothes, which they gave us for the Pookie. But the clothing, including the really cute dinosaur raincoat, were in sizes 3T and 4T. The perfect size for the Pumpkin, who loved that raincoat the minute she saw it.

The Pumpkin has always liked dinosaurs, which we've encouraged as much as we've encouraged dolls. So there was no issue in either of our minds that we'd let her wear the raincoat and that it would be socially acceptable. In this day and age, it is most people don't think it's a big deal if girls wear blue and dinosaurs and play with cars and trucks and be into most of the same things that boys are.

But what about the Pookie wearing his sister's green raincoat with pink strawberries and a pink lining? That does not yet seem socially acceptable, but why not? And will we, as parents of a young boy, let him wear a girl's raincoat? Will we let him wear pink as he gets older? Will we care if he still likes to play with dolls in front of his friends in a few years?

This is a big feminist issue for me, and has been for a long time. I feel like women have fought hard to come as far as we have with it being acceptable for us to wear blue, play with "boy" toys and run around in the same games and sports as males. But men, especially boys? They don't make pink clothes for boys (although my husband has some really nice pink shirts and ties). It's not socially acceptable for boys to play with dolls as they get older, unless they are "action figures." Older boys aren't generally invited to go to tea parties or have their hair and nails done at a party.

First of all, this is a shame for boys and men, this limiting of them from a young age on. Why is there an issue if boys mimic their moms and their dads in many cases by taking care of a baby doll or cooking in a play kitchen or playing with little dolls in a dollhouse? What if a boy really likes playing dress up and painting his nails and has a fondness for unicorns and pink and purple? Really, what is so wrong with that?

And what is it about the color pink that is so appalling to some men? Why do we call it pink instead of light red, which is all it is. (White added to red is called pink, yet white added to blue is called light blue.) I just don't get it. Nor do I get what makes a color a girl color versus a boy color. I don't believe it's based in anything evolutionary or innate. I think it's more likely due to marketing strategies by clothing companies.

Let's talk a little more about the raincoats, as a true example of how limiting society and marketing is to boys. During our discussion about the raincoats, we went to a website that had the dinosaur raincoat that my daughter wears, and we evaluated the raincoats on the site. This may be the same site that Londo and I looked at, but it was half a year ago and doesn't have exactly the same raincoats. However, it is very similar and has many of the same raincoats, including the same dinosaur one. I'd love for you all to follow along with the little exercise Londo and I did, so click the link and the site will open in a new window.

There are 15 raincoats on that site (when we looked, it had 16). Of those 15, how many do you think would be socially acceptable for a girl to wear? How many do you think would be socially acceptable for a boy to wear? If you walked into a physical store, which do you think (and count how many) do you think would be located in the "boys" side of the store and which (and how many) on the "girls" side?

Even if you subtract those three patterned but obviously girl-shaped ones at the bottom, there are still more than half that most people wouldn't put a boy in. But for girls? I honestly would think that a girl could get away with wearing ALL of them. Some people might not be comfortable putting a girl in the pirate or fireman or maybe even the space hero, but I wouldn't think twice about a girl in those.

But what about the boys? You know that most people would pick only five of those, and only five of those would be found in the boys side of a store. And honestly? I wouldn't have a problem putting my son in all but the bottom three, and then because those have that belted style is feminine, not because the pattern or colors. But if my son loves to dance, why not put him in a raincoat with ballet shoes? Why should he stifle his love for cats or fairies?

Not everyone would put their sons in all the ones I would, but don't you think we could start to stretch the boundaries a little for our boys? The ladybug one surely should be okay, as should that butterfly one. Those are bugs, after all, and boys are supposed to love bugs, right? Or do people pick only the parts of the stereotypes that they want to follow, with certain ones trumping others?

Just as I believe my daughter can do anything she wants and I encourage her interests in all (age-appropriate) areas, I think the same should be for my son. But I know that it's socially not (yet) as acceptable for a boy to do and like all the same things as girls. At a certain age, he and his peers will start being cognizant of what is considered okay and what is not. But how do (general)we change that for our kids?

But limiting our boys is not the only issue.

Let's now think about what all this says about typically "girl" things. Girl things are not good enough for boys. Girl things are simply too girly, therefore lesser and unacceptable. The "girly" things, from colors to toys to sports, are discriminated against.

What does this do to our girls as they grow up? What message are we sending to both sexes?

Women are expected to do it all. We are now expected not just to take care of the majority of the house work and childcare, but often we are expected to work full time too! To break through glass ceilings, we are required to talk and walk like the men around us who are in control of the business world, but we are also expected to still remain lady-like, keep our femininity, be sexy and nice and all that other crap that is lumped onto us.

Funny thing about my rant is, I like to be all those things! I love to wear skirts and makeup and jewelry to work, and still cuss like a sailor when we can't fix the defects in the computer system I work on. I like to talk trash in my fantasy football league, then sign off at the end with "Hugs and kisses!" I love having both worlds open to me.

But I've also felt the sting of sexism in the office. I've also been very aware when the men around me get certain opportunities that I don't get. I've also seen how maternity leave affects my assessment cycles, which are tied to my raises. And I've regularly been expected by some people to be the main person in charge of the grocery shopping and cooking in my house, even though I work as much as my husband. (For the record, he does almost all of the grocery shopping and cooking meals, while I have other household responsibilities like doing the majority of the dishes and bathroom cleaning. And no, that does not make him some wonderful, special man. It makes him my equal partner in our household. And I'm just as appreciative of him and all that he does as he is of me.)

I look at the women in politics or Fortune 500 companies, and I see the expectations for women who rise to the levels that were historically for men and the double standards regularly applied. Yes, women are "allowed" into the man's world. But we are still expected to retain the feminine.

The feminine that is considered lesser. The feminine that a man wouldn't dare wear/play/do. The feminine that is STILL considered lesser by men, because if it wasn't lesser then of course they would want to be able to wear/play/do it, too. And even though some might want it, even though our boys may have a ton of fun having tea parties, playing with princesses, taking a dance class or wearing a kitty cat raincoat, society will eventually either stamp it out of them or cause us parents to limit them so they won't be teased or bullied.

And that, my friends, sucks for everyone. Because it affects everyone. Not just us who are women, but also women's and men's mothers, wives, partners, friends, sisters and daughter.

We do have the opportunity to change this. Those of us with kids, we are raising the next generation. Let's raise them by showing them that girls things are fun and good and NOT lesser. They are just as good for boys as they are for girls. And those without children still are part the society who can either shame parents into following the limiting behaviors with our children or proudly support the changing of this paradigm.

We can change this dis-equilibrium, this discrimination. I hope we will. One raincoat at a time.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Question of the Week - New Passions

I've been thinking about Jac and SarcastiCarrie's comments on my last post. Specifically, I've been thinking about how becoming a parent can bring out things we didn't realize we cared a lot about until we had children. Whether it's realizing we think more about feminist issues after having a girl as opposed to boy or about the institutional sexism of school systems that are geared towards girls over boys or even about high fructose corn syrup in bread, there are topics and areas of, well, life that simply didn't cross our radar until we had kids.

As I said recently, I've always been a feminist. I've even always been a bit of a hippie. But since having kids, I have become passionate about topics that I hadn't even thought about before. I'll bet you have too.

This week's question of the week is:

What have you become passionate about since having kids?

I've become passionate about feminism from a mother's perspective and how sexism will affect my kids. I've become passionate about eating healthy foods, organic foods and cutting down on sugars, artificial dyes and other processed foods. I've become passionate about breastfeeding and supporting breastfeeding. I've become passionate about infertility and the availability of fertility treatments to everyone. And I've become passionate about the Montessori method of teaching and Montessori schools.

It's not that I always rant about these things, or even follow through with the support I want to provide others and myself. But internally, I feel the passion for these things. I may not be able to afford to buy all organic, but I do prioritize some organic foods, especially the foods the kids eat. I may not want to give my son processed chicken tenders with high fructose corn syrup, but since it's all he'll eat most days I do give them to him. I may not be breastfeeding my kids anymore, but I do give a smile of encouragement and support when I see another mother breastfeeding in public. I may not have a lot of time to be involved with my kids' Montessori school, but I do explain the method and why it's been so good for my kids to people around when the topic of my kids' pre-school comes up.

As the kids get older and I start to have more time and money to myself, I do plan to support my new passions more. But even before then, I do feel the passion. And it amazes me that things I feel passionate about I didn't even have a clue about pre-kids.

What about your passions? Have you developed new ones since having kids? Do you feel fired up internally about feminist issues or race issues or the state of the schools today? Do you do anything to support other parents or their kids under the umbrella of your passions? Do you now buy all organic, locally grown foods when you used to live on Hot Pockets? Which new interests have you developed since becoming a parent?