Still forcing gender roles on kids. You know. In case they’re confused.

The girls’ daycare center/preschool is closed every year on Good Friday, which always leaves us scrambling, since, A, we always forget until the day sneaks up on us; and B, neither Joe nor I have the day off of work, obviously. But this year, Good Friday coincided with the first night of Passover, so Joe could easily take off from his (Jewish) law firm after putting in a half day; and because I had a play to review that evening, I was home during the day.

We decided to embrace the chance to get some of the kids’ doctor’s appointments taken care of, so we divided and conquered: Joe took Lily to his office for a half day, fed her lunch, and took her to our dentist; Neve, meanwhile, stayed home with me, and I got rare one-on-one time with the baby (as well as a nap when she nodded off – SCORE FOR MOMMY!!)

Neve was due for her 9 month check-up, so I’d scheduled an appointment at the pediatrician’s late that afternoon. By then, Lily had come home and wanted to tag along – with an old Easter basket in-hand, specially packed for the trip with a couple of Barbies, a necklace of gold plastic beads, and small rubber doll versions of Belle and Ariel.

While sitting in the ped’s waiting room, a boy Lily’s age made a bee-line toward her, and Lily happily laid out the contents of her basket for his consideration. Drawn by the gold Mardi Gras beads, the boy picked them up, only to have his mother, from across the office, say, “That’s for girls. Put that down.”

The boy did so, reluctantly. (Seconds later, he picked up Belle and Ariel, making them face each other and talk. Why THIS was OK with the boy’s mother, and the beads weren’t – I’m a little fuzzy on that.) The irony is that just as the boy’s mother spoke up, I had been thinking how sweet it was to see two kids just start spontaneously playing together without shyness or self-consciousness. The fact that Lily’s white, and the boy was black, wasn’t an issue, nor was the fact that one kid was a girl and one was a boy.

But the mother’s paranoid assertion threw a bucket of freezing cold water on my warm fuzzy moment. I thought, “So this is how we learn to beat ourselves up; how we learn to make judgments about ourselves and others based on difference; how we develop a rigidly inflexible sense of ‘male’ and ‘female’; and how we reinforce a gendered hierarchy. This is how the seeds are planted.” (And God help this poor boy if he’s gay; he’d have a terribly painful and hard road ahead of him.)

This is how I went from feeling charmed and happy in a pediatrician’s waiting area to being depressed – in a matter of seconds. I hate that my daughters will grow up in a time when these stupid, outmoded ideas about gender are STILL being planted in kids’ heads. I thought, in my more optimistic moments, we might be beyond this nonsense.

Ah, well. Hopefully Lily’s playmate will grow up to think for himself. It’s our only hope.

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Critics, Hitler, and other “bad guys”

This is a pretty close approximation of my appearance while finishing up a late night theater review, actually.

Last weekend, we had a couple of tough conversations with Lily.

Just weeks shy of turning four, she has fully arrived at the endearing, but exhausting, stage wherein she has a million questions about everything, all the time.

And the questions cut a little too close to home, in a comical way, as she watched portions of what she calls “the movie about the rat who likes to cook”: Pixar’s “Ratatouille.”

You may remember that in the film, a tall, menacingly angular and humorless food critic named Anton Ego, voiced by Peter O’Toole, poses a threat to Remy (the rat) and his human collaborator, Linguini. In one scene, Linguini has inherited a restaurant and is holding court at a press conference that’s disrupted when Ego makes a Darth Vader-like entrance.

“Is he a bad guy?” Lily asked.

“Well, yes and no,” I said, knowing that as a working theater critic, I might want to tread lightly here. “He seems kind of mean, and a lot of people are scared of him.”

“Why?”

“Because he goes to different restaurants, eats the food, and then writes about what he thinks of the food so other people can decide if it’s a restaurant they might want to go to or not.” Pause. Gulp. Here goes. “It’s the same thing that Mommy does when I go to see shows at night. I write about what I think about the play, and other people read it.”

“But why are people scared of him?”

“Because his opinions, what he thinks, can at least partly affect whether a restaurant succeeds or not. For better or worse, people listen to him. And he’s intimidating because he has very high standards, and he’s honest, no matter what. So if he thinks someone’s food isn’t that great, he’s going to say so, even if people don’t like him for saying so.”

(Wait – who were we talking about? Oh, that’s right. Anton Ego. Right.)

In this moment, I had the sensation of being on a therapist’s couch while simultaneously talking to my 3 year old. Or at the very least, talking to Lucy Van Pelt as she sat in a booth behind a sign that reads, “The doctor is IN.” Continue reading