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.

“Rapunzel dollie!” = Kill me now.

My long-haired, sweet nemesis

To tell the story I want to tell, I have to backtrack a little in order to provide context. So bear with me.

Lily is just now getting her first experiences with money. At a neighbor’s suggestion, we recently encouraged her to help us pick up sticks in the yard, and we gave her a penny for each stick. After a while, she’d earned $3, so we took her to the nearby CVS and told her she could pick out something that cost that much or less. (She chose glittery gold nail polish, naturally.)

Plus, a couple of weekends ago, I took her to Toys R Us to pick out a present for a preschool friend who was having a birthday party. In the past, in similar circumstances, Joe had also let her choose something small for herself, so I did the same. But the first thing she gravitated to was a Rapunzel doll that costs $20 (“Tangled” is probably her favorite movie). I told her it was too much money, and she didn’t cry, she didn’t throw a fit. She found other things, and each time, when I explained they were too much money, she put them back without a fight and looked for something more appropriate. We finally settled on a lower-key doll that was $8 – more than I initially intended to spend on her thing, but she’d been so good about all the “nos” that preceded it that I cut her some extra slack – and I told her that Hanukkah and Christmas were coming up, so maybe she’d get the Rapunzel dollie then.

“Rapunzel was too much money,” she said several times on the drive home, lovingly stroking the red hair of the doll we actually purchased. “But maybe I can get it for Hanukkah. When is Hanukkah?”

“Well, it’s several weeks away yet,” I said, looking at her in the reariew mirror. “But if you’re a good girl, like you usually are, I think you’re chances of getting a Rapunzel dollie are good, sweetie.”

OK. A lovely experience, generally, and I was proud of Lily. She hadn’t acted like an entitled brat in the store, and she seemed to be in the early stages of learning the value of money. All good.

Then, last Wednesday night, I’d wished I’d never had this conversation with her. Continue reading