Coming up to the Christmas season, we are (I freely admit it) gearing up to spoil our little guy. He’s finally reached the age where he ‘gets’ Christmas, Santa, Family and of course, Presents! So we’re really taking the time this year to ask him what he’d like and doing out best to accommodate without turning him into one of those spoiled, entitled kids who write the pages long letters to Santa. Now, although V gets the concept of presents, he still has no idea about money so what he asked for isn’t that crazy. He has asked Santa for a Habs sweater and some little Super Mario Bros figurines he saw at Walmart. Consider it done tiny man!
Now as the chief shopping officer in our small family I was struck at the divide I found when I entered the ‘Toys’ aisle at our local store. Once you leave the aisle of ‘Infant and Toddler’ selections that are usually made up of generic simple, bright and loud, you have to choose a ‘path’. Do you want the ‘Girls’ aisle full of Barbies, Disney Princesses and Littlest Pet Shop? Or do you want the ‘Boys’ section brimming with Nerf Guns, Ninja Turtles and Tonka trunks? Um what? Okay I understand that there is a social and gender bias in the toy market, but I was unaware that that decision needed to be made as soon as your child fell out of the 12-36 month bracket. Apparently gender neutral is fine for infants and toddlers but as soon as they reach the age of 3+ then be prepared! The sky will fall around your feet if your baby girl loves to play with cars and dinosaurs and your little man likes to play with a shopping card and pink vacuum! I’m really no social activist or feminist but the divide is so spectacular and obvious it’s hard to let it go unremarked.
As parents we really let V choose the direction he wants to take with his interests and toys. Now that being said he really is a ‘typical’ boy in that he absolutely loves baseball, hockey, Thomas the Tank Engine, roughhousing and cars, any type of car. He does also, however, tell us on a pretty consistent basis that he wants to be ‘Princess Sophia’ and ‘borrows’ his 8-year old cousin’s purple ‘Pet Shop’ puppies to help drive his garbage trucks. He has a pink ‘Lalaloopsie’ car and when we let him choose which bottle of bubbles he wants we’re just as likely to have ‘My Little Pony’ or ‘Hello Kitty’ as ‘Spiderman’ or ‘Cars’. It’s really whatever draws him at the time.
As another decision we’ve made is that A and I plan to sign V up for T-ball this coming Spring, as baseball is something we’re passionate about as a family. However, we’re also looking forward to the day we sign him up for dance and theatre. A is a great role model for all of this because he’s such a well rounded man! He loves baseball, hockey and tech stuff as much as most guys, but his ‘extra curricular activities’ include acting and sitting on our local theatre’s ‘Board of Directors’. V also has his Aunt K who helps coordinate the local childrens’ theatre group and directs to boot! Heck V was born during a show and became the honourary mascot for the production, so maybe he’ll find joy in performing like his Daddy.
Now as all ‘real’ men know, pink is the new black, or so I’ve been told. V has been the proud owner of a few flashy pink t-shirts in his day and he rocks them just as hard as the next toddler. Not saying I don’t love to dress my kid up in a good old fashioned tie and ‘old man’ cardigan for the cuteness factor but I am also totally planning on encouraging him to explore other clothing options to cartoon covered hoodies, stupidly sloganed t-shirts and track pants. Sloppy isn’t stylish my man! Now if only I could convince him to try hats….There’s just something about a toddler in a newsboy cap that makes you do that ‘OMG too much cuteness!!!!!!’ squeal thing…
I remember reading a story a few months ago about a little boy who wanted to wear a frilly headband to Walmart and the difficult and upsetting situation the family found themselves in when someone took exception to a baby boy wearing ‘girl’ clothes. We have luckily never run into a situation like that but we do tend to get some sidelong stares when we’re cruising Walmart with V clutching a Disney Princesses bubbles container. The only comment I’ve ever had someone make however was recently at a toy fair that was operating for one week only in our city. I’ve actually worked at this toy fair way back in the day just when I was finishing school, and I’ve made it a point to check it out every year since V was born since it has such amazing deals for kids! This year I was looking for some fun stuff from ‘Santa’ and was blown away when I saw a Dora the Explorer scooter on for just $15! What a deal! I scooped one up immediately and I know when V sees that sucker on Xmas morning he’ll be thrilled! It’s just like his cousin’s scooter so he’ll be able to play with the ‘big’ kids in the summer and to top it all off it features decals of two of his favourite cartoon characters! Dora and Boots! As a parent I was also pleasantly surprised that although the box is pink and purple, the scooter itself is a flashy orange and teal! It is the first and only gender neutralish Dora toy I’ve been able to find. I figured since Santa doesn’t deliver in boxes we’ll just set it up, stick a bow on it and call it a day.
On a sidenote here, those parents who’ve watched Dora know that it is a gender neutral show for the most part. Yes Dora is a little girl but the adventures she has are awesome and usually include trolls, trains, farms, mountains and lakes. It’s fabulous because it appeals to such a wide variety of kids with the added bonus of throwing in some rudimentary Spanish for good measure. On the downside when you go looking for any Dora merchandise it is ALL pink or purple! The shirts have frills, the backpack toys come with makeup compacts, bangles and brushes and the dolls are usually ballet or gymnastic related. Are you kidding me?? So V is the proud owner of a ‘Dora the Explorer’ does Ballet colouring book….
Anyways I’d snapped up the scooter and headed to the cash where the cheerful cashier went to ring it through. She picked it up, exclaimed over the deal and mentioned ‘Well that’s one lucky girl this Christmas!’ I was so stunned I just shot right back with ‘Actually that one is for my 3 year old son’. That put a quick end to any small talk and I really was pretty shocked. Yes I understand that the toy comes in pink and purple packaging but does that really make a difference? Dora is like the Rolling Stones for toddlers and young kids, I really don’t think it matters if the thing was covered in frills and sparkles…although sparkles would stick in the cracks in the hardwood….
What really bothered me later was that that lady’s comment made me second guess my choice for V. I know he’ll like it but I worried that maybe I was buying him a ‘girl’ toy and that the other kids would laugh at him, even though I know he’ll just have a blast whizzing around our complex. Finally I just decided I needed to let it go. Whatever my son likes he likes and people will just have to deal with it! I never ever want to be that parent who asks him to second guess his preferences based on what other people will think. My job as a parent will be to make him strong enough and confident enough to make those choices he believes in and to respectfully stand up for those choices when his colleagues and peers question them, be they social, political, religious etc.
I guess to get right down to it, I don’t think that having pink bubbles, playing with dolls or wanting to wear one of the leftover pink tiaras from Aunt K’s bachelorette will turn my baby boy into a girl or have a lasting effect on his preferences later in life. I do, however, think that it will teach him that Mommy and Daddy don’t care what he wears or plays with so long he’s happy and polite. We want him to be an open-minded, confident and cheerful toddler, kid, teenager and man and we’ll love him no matter what. Isn’t that our job as parents? We let V develop his own interests (except for the slight amount of baseball brainwashing) and discover who he wants to be, not what we ‘expect’ of him. He’s pretty awesome all around anyways!
So to wrap it up, this kid is getting a Cars playset, a Captain Hook ship and a Dora Scooter for Xmas and he’s going to love every darn one. The only thing I expect at the end of the wrapping paper massacre is a thank you!