When Buzz was about 2, a friend asked me my thoughts on Fairy Tale books. Buzz was in her animal phase then and I had not really given fairy tales much thought. I gave a very jumbled reply, if I remember correctly. Something along the lines of, yeah.. sure.. maybe.. when she is over her animal books.
Buzz is growing up, has her wishes and her wants. Says things like, ‘this is my choice’ and stands strong for it. But as a parent it is my duty (not choice) to look at the bigger picture and guide her through her choices. It is very easy to give in to a simple demand of ‘that dress’, ‘those shoes’, ‘this book’, ‘that toy’ as an isolated ask. The picture however is not made up of singular events.
We all love our kids, there is no questioning that. We all think they are the best thing there is. We want to dress them pretty, ooh and aah over them, click their pictures and in this age of social networking post them on Facebook for others to like. I love to do all of these things too, barring a couple that is. I never vocalize how cute/good I think Buzz (and now Bugz) looks. I in fact got really mad when a friend said Buzz looked very nice that particular day because her hair was tied differently, while in Buzz’s presence. There are a few messages I don’t want my daughters to be growing up with (inevitable as it may be). Looking cute or beautiful is one of them. The way to impress others is to get all dressed up, is another. Here I am not saying that I don’t complement Buzz at all. I am very free which them when she helps others. I tell her she did great when she does her art projects. I tell her I am super proud of her as she rides her bike without training wheels. I lavish her with kisses and hugs for the little things she does. Complements on clothes and looks on the other hand, no I don’t.
I dress Buzz up mostly based on the weather but it is important to me that she for now wears all kids of clothes, in varied colors. Her closet has jeans, tights, shorts, pants, T-shirts, tops, skirts and dresses in shades of blue, green, pink, orange, purple, yellow, grey and white. I was shocked a few months back when Buzz one day refused to wear Jeans and said, ‘Boys wear jeans and not girls’. Since then we have had this conversation about what girls do verses what boys do, a number of times.
D loves to watch NBA and Buzz sometimes sits with him. One day she said, ‘only boys play basketball’. D told her that was not true. We searched and showed her videos of girls playing basketball and since then every time we come across women playing a sport of TV, which sadly is way fewer in number, we record it in order to show her the girls indeed play varied sports. On our drive to and from school, she always asks if a certain song has been sung by a boy or a girl. The music industry thankfully does the boy vs. girl ratio well. One day we were talking about various things and she said, ‘only boys can be fireman’. I told her that girls can in fact be fire(wo)men. ‘No’ she came back, ‘xyz in my school said only boys get to become fireman’.
School and what other kids wear/do is such a big influence on our kid’s life. I knew that, but the sheer impact of it has taken me by surprise. Princesses, getting dressed up, wearing jewelry, cartoons now rule Buzz’s world. And this is when she has not been exposed to any of this at home. There is little or no television viewing for her, she does not see me wear any jewelry or put on any kind of makeup and there is little or no talk about dressing up. But she is seen wearing a necklace and a ring. I almost ruptured a nerve when we opened a goody bad from a friends son’s birthday party and saw the necklace and ring in it (for both Buzz and Bugz); plasticy, blingy, junk jewelry as a gift for little girls!! Apparently girls from school wear them all the time. I still deal with her wearing these at home (stand strong against wearing any of it in school) but I can see D’s eye itch every single time he sees her with one of those. She once colored all 20 nails of her’s with sketch-pen because a girl in her class came with nail polish on. It took multiple scrubbings to get is back to their normal color.
They asked all the kids in school, what they wanted to be once they grew up. Princess cried a few girls. The rest followed. So Princess it was. I asked Buzz what a princess does? She said, ‘the princess wears a long dress and a crown, spins in circles and waves to everyone’. Cliché Disney image of a princess anyone? I started talking to her about the importance of various professions after that. Fireman, gets fire under control and saves lives; Construction worker builds the house we live in; Pilot flies an airplane and so on. What is so important that a Princess does, I asked? She had no answer. The trip to India and back helped as she thought about it and said she wanted to be an airhostess. The way they were dressed had a big role to play but she had an answer to what they do. A giant step forward in my mind. This past week she was called out in school for not telling the truth. She thought something had happened and went and told the teachers. It in fact came out that it really had not happened, she perceived it that way. Not really lying but it was an opportunity to talk to her why lying is bad and how we should always tell the truth. She asked me, ‘if I don’t ever lie can I be a Police Officer then? I want to help everyone’. ‘Yes, you can’, I told her and did a mental dance.
I wore ear-rings one day. She asked me why she could not wear one as well. I told her she did not have her ears pierced. She wanted to know when she could get them pierced. I asked her when she thought was a good time. She came back with when she turns 6. Fair enough! I know there is a tradition in some parts of India around getting ears pierced and I have been now told that it is less painful for little kids but it somehow was never a matter of urgency for me. I remember sitting in my mother’s lap when my ears got pierced, so I don’t really have a precedent on getting the piercing done at a early age. When she turns 6 and still wants to go ahead, I will let her. Her choice as she so often says.
One day I was at the library picking books for her and came across one of the Fairy Tales. Keeping aside all my prejudice for Disney that I have build up since I have had Buzz, I picked up the book and did a quick scan through. Evil witch, damsel in distress, handsome prince, fighting, running away – is this what I want my daughter to read? No, I said and kept the book back. Buzz got ‘Hansel and Gretel’ as a gift. I have such a hard time explaining why the step-mom is evil and worse why the Dad left the kids alone in the jungle even when he loved them so much. ‘Chicken Licken’ is so much easier to explain.
It is very easy for me to keep the Jeans aside because she does not want to wear them, or let her think that only boys can be firemen, or put nail polish on, or let her thing that wanting to become a Princess when she grows up is OK, or get her ear-rings today, or get her the Disney princess books that she so wants. But I ask the very basic question every time. Why? Her reason behind it is what makes me decide what path I am going to take. It is my responsibility to give my kids choices, all the choices. I have to have the world opened for them. I have to let them see the entire spectrum and not get bogged down by marketing gimmicks, color coded dresses, what others are doing. Why narrow the scope by following what everyone else is doing or what the film industry and the marketing talking heads are telling us? I also don’t want to be a friend to my daughters at the expense of not being a mom. Discipline, is important for the kids. I don’t believe in letting them have their way in everything in the name of choice. As a parent I need to set boundaries and I would rather be on the stricter side than have the kids misbehave.
One thing I have recently started working on with Buzz is to tell her, ‘it is ok to be different; to think different’. Chicken Licken comes to the recue. We never know what the future holds but I am making this parenting thing work in the way it makes sense to me and hope that the kids grow up thinking it was not all bad. I hope both Buzz and Bugz learn to think freely and know the true meaning of choice.
Do read this article if you have a chance. Food for thought for sure. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-bloom/how-to-talk-to-little-gir_b_882510.html?ref=fb&src=sp