Diatribes [Updated]

I thought I’d take a moment to share a couple diatribes I’ve written in my journal. These two both happen to deal with how kids are raised. I had a third one that wasn’t about kids, but I can’t remember what it was right now. If I remember later, I’ll put it after these two. 

1

[I had been reading The World Without Us on a Wednesday at a park that I go to sometimes, pretty near the house.] 

As I was finishing the book at 6, a gaggle of parents and their preschoolers came by. The parents herded all the kids, with varying success, into playing various kinds of soccer games. It made me really sad, and I’ll tell you why: preschoolers shouldn’t be herded. Organized sports are almost certainly way down on any preschooler’s list of fun things to do, but these parents were giving their kids a grown-up idea of fun, and reprogramming them to think of it as actual fun. I would much rather see kids that age running around aimlessly, preferably ina forest with a friend. What I saw was the acculturation of the suburbanites of 2030. Next time I see something like that, I may have to give someone a stern talking-to. I may make a point of going there next Wednesday at 6.

2

[I had just finished a doctor appointment. This one has a cuss or two.]

Before I came back, I went to Toys “Я” Us to buy a Go set. But they didn’t have a single one in the whole store. Seems wrong. Especially given that they had Hannah Montana hand sanitizer. I never guessed Toys “Я” Us would be the base of so much Trendy Green shit, but I saw “Earthopoly” (Celebrating Earth… one turn at a time!); either a board game or a video game somehow related to the Planet Earth series on Discovery Channel; and even some Gorilla Snacks made of all organic ingrediendts and then processed and packaged in five times as much plastic as necessary. It advertised that organic food is “great for the environment… and great for kidz [sic] too!” All this horseshit was in the same store that sells every unnecessary, gaudy, batteries-not-included piece of creativity-inhibiting schlock known to man. The woman in front of me in line was buying her son of about four years a plastic jackhammer that broke up plastic rocks. I estimate he’ll play with it for four minutes before he chucks it in his toybox never to be seen again. These things come in all the different models that toy company executives can imagine, and yet despite that abundance, not one set for a classic game of intelligence that’s endured since its invention in China thousands of years ago. I didn’t mean to write such a diatribe, but that place nearly made me ill.

So, that’s all. Maybe I’ll remember the third thing soon, and then I’ll put it here. Until then, have fun with these.

P.S.: Ah, I remembered it! This isn’t one I’ve written down before, so I’m writing it now for the first time.

3

I’ve noticed that, whenever I think of something that took place in, say, the 1930s or before, I think of it taking place in black and white. I never really thought about this before, because it never really caught my attention. After all, before 1930, the world was in black and white, right? But now I’ve realized that the very way I think about the past has been shaped by the history of film. It was suddenly jarring for me when I saw this early color picture of Leo Tolstoy taken in 1908.

A diatribe usually blames something on something, and blaming my misconception on something else might seem a bit excessive. But I don’t like it, and I’m pretty sure it’s not my fault, so I’m going to blame it on the fact that in this society we get so much of our information about the past from the media and so little from other people telling us about it. I’m just thinking about the pre-Columbian days of America, and considering that it never would have occurred to the people then to imagine their ancestors in anything but full color. Whereas it’s taken me until now to even notice that I’m thinking of the past inaccurately. It’s not something that makes me really angry at society, but it did weird me out to realize that society was inhabiting my brain so deep down and without me even noticing it for so long. So I suppose what makes me more angry is how deeply my mentality is shaped without my permission or knowledge. It bothers me.

File under: deep thoughts, technology, kids, bad culture


Anonymous

History

You are so right about the color/black and white images. Even for someone like me who "lived" in color but saw mostly black and white pictures of myself for the first 20 or 30 years of my life, I find my thoughts altered by those and other black and white photos of the world in the past. My biggest shock was to see Auschwitz in 2004 in all it's glorious green trees and grass, and to realize it was that way when those horrible atrocities of WW II were taking place. Even worse was to see the huge bin full of bundles of long hair, once vibrantly colored while on their owners' heads, faded now to various dull shades of gray, brown, and white. But it was still color. Wars were far worse than any of those old black and white photos relay.

Aunt E.

Reply

Oxtrox

History

Well, I’ve gotta jump on ya for this one. Don’t take any of this the wrong way, I’m just pushing your buttons… I like doing that sometimes.

Diatribe 1
Here goes: organized sports for preschoolers a bad idea? Well, I guess you haven’t thought that one out. It teaches them attention, organizational, communication and leadership skills not to mention teamwork, and respect for the instructor. Yeah, those are all bad ideas for kids getting ready to enter school for the first time. That said, if a kid really doesn’t like doing these activities, they shouldn’t be forced, that just makes things worse. If that’s the case a parent should find other ways to expose their kids to these skills and help them learn and grow. Before bashing organized sports, I suggest you try one, just once.

If nothing else, communication is such an understated skill in the world. In my work, current and past, communication has always been the biggest barrier to executing projects with efficiency and effectiveness. It’s unbelievable how few people are able to pick up a phone or bang out an email to communicate what’s going on.

Diatribe 2
What’s wrong with Hanna Montana hand sanitizer? If it gets kids to use sanitizer and inhibit the spread of viruses… well, yeah I guess your right, that’s not a good thing.

So are you suggesting that the 4 year old should be learning “GO” a game that is described as an exercise in concentration, balance, and discipline. At what age should you push this game on your kid? 4, 6, 12? Ah, maybe you’re right. A fake plastic jack hammer is probably a lame toy at any age. However, I had a crappy plastic tool set when I was about 4. I apparently got nothing out it. And how about the lawn mower that popped balls around a clear dome as the engine? Terrible toy.

Diatribe 3
Not much here. Nobody’s to blame. It’s simply a technology gap. Mass produced monochrome media was invented and it took quiet some time for it’s color counterpart to catch up. We are simply living in a time adjacent to the closing of the gap.

Chew on all that for a while. Chomp chomp.

Reply

Chuck

History

Righty-O!
Diatribe 1:
I'll focus on your touted benefits of preschool soccer in order. 1: I think preschoolers can learn attention perfectly well without playing soccer, perhaps by spending time in the woods paying attention to all the many, many sights and sounds. 2: I don't see how soccer teaches organization. 3: I'm pretty sure preschoolers would learn communication skills better in a leisurely conversation with a friend than in a high-stress game where they have to focus on everything at once. 4: Why would preschoolers need leadership skills? They're in preschool! They're not just short adults! 5: Soccer may well teach teamwork, but then what teaches them individualism? Same deal with 6: They should be encouraged to think for themselves, especially in their formative years.
    I agree that communication is important and neglected. But I don't think sports are the way to teach it.

Diatribe 2:
What's wrong with Hannah Montana hand sanitizer is that it's identical to regular hand sanitizer, except that it has a sticker on the front with a picture of Hannah Montana, which makes it cost at least twice as much. Parents are perfectly capable of teaching their kids sanitation without Hannah's help. If it takes Hannah Montana to make a kid wash her hands, then that kid and her family have some serious problems.
    I wasn't suggesting that kids learn how to play Go; that was something else that I was annoyed about. Your tool set helped you be creative, because they were just general tools, and you had to use your imagination to figure out what to do with them. Not only is this jackhammer a highly specific tool, though, but they've provided the rocks, fixing the jackhammer (which was already only for breaking up rocks) to these specific rocks. That's what I meant by creativity-inhibiting. Not all toys are bad—Legos are a fine toy, although it'd be nice if they made less noise as you rooted around in a big pile of them—but most of them these days are way too specific, and don't encourage any thinking. They're made to take up time so a parent can stop parenting for a while. Imagination is also effective at that job, but apparently no one believes that anymore.

Diatribe 3:
I guess I don't need to argue with you on this one.


Because you will soon be the parent of a preschool-age kid, it's very important to me that you realize that I'm right and you're wrong.

Reply

Chuck

History

Or at the very least, that you promise you won't raise Cammy as a princess. I have a lot of difficulty stomaching all the pink gossamer and wands and wings and fairy godmothers and everything-everywhere-being-pink that a princess upbringing entails. If I have a daughter, she'll never hear the word "princess" until she learns about monarchies in history class.

Reply

Anonymous

History

Just a few comments from my point of view – I guess I have a few pushed buttons, too…

Our thinking is limited in many, many ways, even byt the very language we have available to communicate ourselvs and our thoughts. Since we start out with nothing, we can be glad for anything we have. We can be very thankful that we have even black and white photos of Lincoln and the Civil War, for instance. Imagine if we had a photo of, way, George Washington inspecting the troops, or the Pilgrims descending from the Mayflower – marvelous photo op – or, get this, a video of the original cast production of Romeo and Juliet, featuring an interview with the playwright on his conception of the play and the writing process.

All the things we have are just windows to much more. You can consider it a kind of game or mystery to find out more about anything for which you stand at a threshold, and then start thinking to a deeper level. Seems to me you're well on the way to finding ways to dig deeper and broaden your own thinking.

Auschwitz is only green in the summer. Any photograph is just a tiny droplet of stopped time in an ocean of moving moments.

From my teaching experience: pre-school is a little early for heavy group work, which is not seriously effective until second or third grade or later. Lettle kids are still learning to be individuals. I don't thinki it would hurt them to play team sports, but it's not the same thing at that age as it will be later. I suppose parents are only trying to do what's right and best for their kids. Nobody really knows what that is.

So, Hannah Montana may seem like a cheap and chintzy, overpriced way to get kids to do what's considered healthy for them, but…well, when you are battling your four-year-old – and four year olds have very powerful minds of their own, which you are shaping to the best of your ability into something healthy and happy and that will serve the child well throughout life – and the kid simply will not brush his/her teeth without a Mickey Mouse, or Hopalong Cassidy, or Smurf, or Star Wars, or Princess Jasmine, or (my personal choice for most disgusting) Barbie Ballerina, or Power Rangers, or Dora the Explorer, or etc. ad infinitum toothbrush, what will you do?

Seems to me the essence of life is compromise.

Love, Irene

Reply Reply Reply

Anonymous

History

I tried to stay out of this, I really did. However, as a parent with EXPERIENCE with children, super duper active boys to be exact I really, really have to say something about item 1.

You have no clue. Kids NEED to run around. Kids NEED to learn to work/play in a group, the simple concept of sharing and taking turns does start to come into play in situations like that. Parents of small children NEED to interact with other adults or face mental break downs and hysteria if they have to recite Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star just one more time.

I think I nearly burst out laughing with your statement of preschoolers spending time in the woods. Holy Cow! You need to devote more time with little children, may I suggest a summer job at the local day care. And leisurely conversation MAY occur after running their little butts all over the soccer field. It’s hard to converse with a hyped up, pent up, energetic preschooler, and no, I never fed them sugar, that is a boy in his natural state.

And by all means, be sure to go up to these people and offer your 'expertise' on how they should raise their children. I'm sure they are just dying to hear from you on how they are doing a terrible job and you know so much more. Honestly, I have had know-it-alls try to tell me that 1) I'm too strict, 2) I'm not strict enough, 3) basically how my 24/7 EXPERIENCE with my kids can't possibly be as insightful as their 5 minutes.

Why do kids need to learn leadership skills? Easy. As they grow they need to be independent thinkers and not followers AKA a little more resistant to peer pressure. The lessons we teach our children begin at day one, not beginning at 13.

Soccer with preschoolers isn't 'high stress' games, its running and kicking and squealing usually with delight. And if those parents were on the field with them, then all the better. To many parents don’t play with their kids.

As for the herding, yes, as a parent you are constantly herding your child. Away from the street, away from leaping off the 5th stair, out of the trees, off of their brothers head, away from putting that screwdriver in the outlet (the same screwdriver they pried the outlet cover off with). Parenting of small children is constant herding. Preschoolers aren't ready for unattended time and surely not being off in the woods with friends. I hope when you suggested that you meant that an adult was present?

Of course in the woods small children will need to be herded away from fast water, off of the high rocks, away from the ledges. With kids these lovely leisurely actives become amazingly stressful for the adult in charge and no fun at all. Hence a soccer field with a ball and mess of pals, ultimately more fun for everyone. The probability of serious injury just went down.

Item two – if it bugs you so much don’t do it when you are a parent. Go ahead and fight a headstrong, opinionated child on something. Pick your battles is huge in parenting. Of how about a compromise – buy the regular stuff and a pack of stickers and let them have at it. Then they have ownership; much more productive and cost effective and it may not offend your tender sensibilities. If my kids needed that kind of compromise, that would be my route. However, they don’t care what type of bottle the stuff comes out of; guess I’m lucky that way.

Best of luck.
T

Reply

Oxtrox

History

Well, that was total obliteration! I'd say that "T"oy agrees with ME and she has some serious experience to back her up. I have little experience, yet far more than you. After all, I herded YOU when you were a preschooler, not very much, but I did.

Game, Set, Match!

now go to camp.

Reply

Chuck

History

All right, your experience trumps my gut feeling. But I still think I had at least one or two points about kids that can stand. Like the one about thinking for themselves. I think what angered me more wasn't that they were playing soccer (shock and horror!! a game!) but that the parents seemed to be having them play it in a really bureacratic way. They would all but hold the kids' hands as they had them kick the soccer ball from one place to another very nearby one. I thought it should be way more freeform than they were letting it be. I stand by that.

By the way, I planned to be in camp right now, but 44 miles into my trip, the car gave out. I was cruising along at 70 mph, and I put on the blinker, and noticed my rpm gauge flicking up and down in a worrying way. So I pulled over at the next exit, where it refused to start again, and called Dad for advice. He was unable to fix it by phone, so he came over a little while later and diagnosed the problem—the alternator was dead. He bought me a new one and the car works fine. I thanked him plenty, and now I plan to be there tomorrow.

Also by the way (since I may not do a full post for a while), I came up with my new signature a few days ago. Maybe sometime I'll post a picture here, but where I'm going there are no scanners, so it'll have to wait awhile.

Reply

Anonymous

History

OK, here's what Mom says:
Nathanael, you wanted to try teeball when you were in kindergarten, but once in it, you much preferred sitting down in the outfield to get a taxonomy of every single plant around you, and you really didn't pay much attention to the game. I encouraged you to finish the season, and you did, and you didn't want to re-enroll. So I encouraged you very much in what you DID want to do, which was to study plants. We went to the woods and parks, I got you books on plants, we started the cactus garden, you talked about plants NONSTOP from about ages 4-5, at which time your obsession became Attack Packs. You never lost your zeal for the woods and trees and plants, though, and at age 20 here you are. What you don't realize, though, is that some of the other kids really did enjoy teeball. It was a fun game and everybody got a trophy at the end. Some of those kids didn't give one iota for naming the plants, and probably those kids are playing soccer in college instead of walking in the woods in college. To each his own. I encouraged you to follow your own interests. As an extremely gifted child, you had many interests, some which became virtual fixations for a while. Font design looks like one that stuck.
You really do have to watch kids, woods or no woods, because they DO overestimate their own power and invincibility, especially boys. We have an instinct to protect our kids and sometimes when there's a lot of them they have to be "herded". Independent play is a good thing, but sometimes having a grown-up around to moderate things reassures both the kid and the parent.
If you have a daughter, please don't deprive her of the princess experience. Ok, it doesn't have to be princess, per se, but little girls love to dress up and that is part of their growth and development. Your daughter may or may not be content with being in the woods and in nature. What if HER nature is to play with Barbies and she gets all into fashion and this type of play? Your kid may NOT be anything at all like you were and you will have to nurture her/him in a way that satisfies what they are interested in, NOT necessarily what YOU were interested in at the same age. Like it or not, your kids may turn out ENTIRELY different from what you did. You may have a son that really, really eats, breathes, and lives teeball and IF he DOES, PLEASE encourage him and invite me to the games and cheer him on and don't hinder it. PLease!
So you got 2 Hebrew names. They are pretty names. I didn't set out saying your name had to be of Hebrew descent because we did consider other names, but those were the ones that at the time seemed most beautiful. There are worse things than being called a gift of God. I personally think it's a bit more noble to be called a gift of God than Sir-Yawns-a-lot.
But I digress.
I also didn't like my name, either. And I got 2 Hebrew ones, too. I thought my 1st name was too short and always wanted a different name. Now I realize how I hurt my mom when I said all that because she chose that name for me with love, just as we chose your name with love, and it hurts just a little that you're dissatisfied with it, since it means so much to ME. Now I realize how my complaining about MY name hurt my own mom so Mom, I'm sorry. But I do want to see what Hobo name you come up with.
I never have thought about old times in sepia tones, and this is why: I watched too much TV re-enactments. Therefore, Laura Ingalls Wilder grew up in a very colorfully green area with lots of friendly folk around. The schmaltzy violins left my thoughts, though, when I tried to imagine what her life was really like. And now I'm trained to understand that the times everyone grew up in were as colorful as mine.
MOM

Reply Reply

Anonymous

History

Ann, do not apologize for not liking your name. Every parent takes a shot at getting a name the kid will like, and a lot of them miss. I'm not offended, but I still love your name and would name you that again. Would you have preferred Kelly, which was second on the list? Then you could have been teased with Jelly Belly Kelly or something like that. At least your name is short, unlike Nathanael's. I can't believe in all these years he hasn't had a nickname stuck on him by his friends. Dan tried with Nate the Skate. Maybe he should be called Shoeless. It fits. Grandma

Reply

Oxtrox

History

Yay! I think, from what I read, yo momma agrees with me too. And well stated I might add. Someone’s on top of her game!

Okay, enough with the diatribe junk. You lost and you admitted it. That’s the mark of a true gentlemen. Or loser…you choose.

I want to talk about names some more. I wasn't particularly satisfied or dissatisfied with mine. It's just a name. Nicknames are far more personal because they often reflect what or who you have become. Well, maybe anyway. I have become "Trox" big surprise huh? But it doesn't say anything about me, although I do like it. Actually come to think of it many of my friends nicknames are derived from their last name like Smith-Smitty, Neeb-Neeber, Cowman-Cow, Stewart-Stew, Buerk-Buerkster.

Well that's all well and good, but some nicknames derived from of your last name could be disastrous for some people, and especially for a straight white guy. I mean imagine… "Bonny" or how about "Bon Bon", YIKES! "Nelly" might be cool but it's kinda already taken by a high profile dude.

Maybe choose a derivative of your first name, that's also common with my friends, George-Geo, Jake-Jakey, Griffin-Grif, John-Jaydog, well maybe not so much that last one. How about "Nat" that's what the owner of the former Maisonette goes by and he's pretty cool. Or how about "yell"… Hmmm. Maybe not. "Yeller", maybe. "Than" with emphasis on the “th” would be original, but it sounds a bit stupid. "Thanalator" has been around for a while, but never really taken hold, so I guess that's out.

Some people get nicknames from the names of places where they came from. Like my one friend "Saluki" named after the Southern Illinois University "Salukis" (when he moved to town everything he wore had the Saluki name and logo on it so it stuck to him, literally). Or what about “Tex” that’s a cool nickname, but I guess it wouldn’t be quite right.

How about a combo of above nickname origins. You are after all from Cincinnati right? And your name has "Nat" in it doesn't it? I Therefore declare and dedicate the nickname of "Nati" to you. Now go pop a cap in some sucka’s ass gansta.

You're welcome…maybe!

Reply

Anonymous

History

Nathanael already got the nickname Natty Snaps at Grinnell, and in high school his nickname was Neo (because he was spacey like the guy in the Matrix). He dressed up as Neo one Halloween for band and he looked dead on Keanu Reeves's Neo.
Mom, I thought your second choice was Laura Suzanne. But in my class there were a lot of Lauras and way too many Kellys. Since Kelly K. was so popular, she would have been the real Kelly, and I would have just been the "other" Kelly. So I am glad I wasn't named Kelly.
Ann

Reply

Anonymous

History

And I will never feel guilty for buying you the Thomas the Tank Engine watch you wanted for your birthday, which sang "Happy Birthday" for you. Even though after all that time wanting it, for some reason shortly afterwards, you decided you didn't like it that much anymore. Kids change their minds a lot.
I will always remember you at age 2 playing with the Fisher Price cash register for HOURS. It had 3 sizes of big plastic coins. Maybe that's something like the plastic pick and rocks. But you enjoyed pushing those levers and watching the coins come out. That kept you occupied and absolutely entranced, and watching you play with that, I saw the wheels in your mind turning. SOMETHING about that really stimulated your curiosity.
You did not like music class at school one iota, even in preschool, and for years you refused to participate. You didn't like group stuff much at all, and the pressure to conform to parental ideas of cookie cutter cuteness culminated in my taking you out of preschool and your teacher about having a nervous breakdown because you were reading the newspaper when you were 4 and just didn't "get" the "this is circle time to talk about the letter M". Then in kindergarten you were correcting the teachers' spelling, and you complained that you didn't have "real" homework, but I do say that many of your classmates truly enjoyed Dumble the Dinosaur and doing that silly thing was good for them. MOM

Reply

Anonymous

History

I guess I am late to this thread.

1) I think you are on to the " I am the uber parent. Watch me raise the next ultimate rounded child while I relive and correct all of my faults living vicariously through my child", which is everpresent in society today(and many yesterdays).

Nobody likes a parent who can't keep their own failures between themselves and the therapist!

You naturally read at three. If your mother could have sold that today, she would be filthy stinking rich.

My opinion:

As preschoolers let them be and find their own voice and place in life. Soccer as a preschooler is a stretch for me. Tricycle races and hide and seek would be a little more age appropriate.

I've had enough of the Oprah Winfrey, "live your best life now" mentality. It's creeping all the way down to the kids with "raise your best kid now". Those condescending, while paradoxically insulting your intelligence at the same time parenting rags are enough to drive you crazy.

We are regressing.

Leave five kids in the woods for an hour and they will have built something, created a game, or explored a large portion of the area.

Leave five kids in a room with a TV, and in an hour you will have five kids whining about what channel to watch and fighting over the Dorito's bag.

Dave

Reply

Chuck

History

I just got back from a four-day trip out on trail, and now I've read everything you all have written. The driving current seems to be talking about raising kids.

First off, I want to talk about princesses. There is absolutely no biological reason that girls should like to dress up in fancy clothes any more than boys should. All that comes from socialization. The idea that dressing up is part of their growth and development leaves me a bit flabbergasted. Yes, a knowledge of fancy clothes is an essential part of the development of a girl who wants to grow up and be Paris Hilton, but for girls who haven't decided to be pimples on the butt of society, fashion is about as important as a thorough knowledge of different types of light switch covers. And I shan't be raising any daughters I might experience to be pimples. I will encourage any kids I might have to follow their interests, be they professional tee-ball or fashion design. Never doubt that I'll encourage my kids in what they want to do. What I won't do, though, is raise a kid who falls into sports or fashion as a default because they're just not thinking about their life. Nor will I raise a kid whose purpose in life is to go with the flow.

Dave, I don't want to compensate in raising my future family for what I got from Mom and Dad, simply because the way Mom and Dad raised me was not bad. The only thing I can think of that I would change if I got the opportunity to go back in time to when I was a small boy is that I would drop something heavy on our TV. (And on that heavy thing would be a note: "And don't buy a new one! Signed, The Future. P.S. Really.") But I take the blame for that, since I'm the one who would come home from elementary school every day and watch Pokémon for upwards of an hour.

I don't know this "Live your best life now" mentality of which you speak, Dave, but I definitely plan to raise the best child I can. Whether or not Oprah says I should. I don't plan to get my advice from O magazine, though. I agree with your thoughts about the woods versus TV. They also apply to places that aren't as stereotypical of a tree-hugger as the woods are. For example, the local park, or Crowduck Lake, or anything. The important part is that the kid is growing up - inside or between friends - as a result. I think friendship and intelligence are more important than sportsmanship.

Dan: in fact I already do go by Natty (same as Nati), but not with very many people. Apparently it always reminds people of Natty Light. One guy last year insisted that it must be my favorite beer, even after I told him repeatedly that I don't drink. It seems more like a shortening than a nickname, though. A nickname would be what Mom mentioned, Natty Snaps - which has something about me in it. I guess Tex would qualify too, although the only thing it says about Tex is that he probably grew up in Texas - likely not something he had much choice in. It works better if he's got tons of Texas pride. I suppose you could say I'm trying to come up with a nickname for myself, although it's a little bit different. Also, usually other people come up with your nickname, but all people have given me so far is shortenings. Well, one guy gave me a shortening and then called me a "Skate", whatever that means. But it looks like I'm going to have to do the hard part, since no one else really did.

Reply

Anonymous

History

Girls like to play dress-up. A lot of boys like to, too. Some girls get into their mother's clothes and put them on and try the makeup and smear lipstick all over their face. I DO think this play is normal and probably DOES has a biological basis in the brain. In every culture girls seem to do this and try out the various roles ascribed to "mother" or "female". Boys will like to dress up, too, though USUALLY (not always) they want to dress up as a superhero of some type. This is also normal and boys are learning "maleness" and doing this in a healthy environment helps them identify with their father or father figure. I realize that these situations are not always the case, and the boy wants to dress as a female, or the girl a male, but in the vast majority of cases you have this in every culture on earth. Dress-up helps children form attachments to their same-sex parent. Micah used to dress like an army man or as Anakin Skywalker. No matter where you go you will see the same- children dressing up and re-enacting the roles of someone in their culture's mythology (and mom and dad are part of that mythology, too). It IS normal and helpful in the development of a child's gender identity and bonding with the same-sex members of their society. Thus I don't see anything wrong with the fact that Jackie and Sierra used to like being a princess. I know it gets annoying to everyone else around them, but it IS healthy play and that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
By the way, I got a job. MOM

Reply

Chuck

History

Will you give me some examples of dress-up being present in every culture in the world? I'll give you that it's probably present in all industrialized countries, where fashion has become very important. But in developing countries? My gut feeling - though I can't do a bunch of research here - is that it happens a lot less. I just can't see San Bushmen children playing dress-up.

But besides that, I want to point your attention to this sentence of yours: "It IS normal and helpful in the development of a child's gender identity and bonding with the same-sex members of their society." Why in heck do children need to develop gender roles? There's pretty much just one situation in which gender is of critical and objective importance, regardless of the society around it, and that's in what you could call romance. (Well, also in sports I suppose, since women have less muscle mass on average.) In any other situation, there could perfectly well exist a society in which genders are invisible. And that society, I feel safe saying, would have no power imbalances between the sexes. Women would earn just as much as men. Anyone could wear whatever clothes they wanted. In order for equality to happen, there have to be no distinctions made between people in society. That's what we're trying to do with race, and it seems to me that we should try with gender too. So I don't think children need to develop their gender roles by playing dress-up, and I especially don't think they need to develop (and feel the need to live up to) hyper-masculine or -feminine roles, like they do with superheroes and princesses - or, at an older age, with sports stars and supermodels. That just leads to impossible goals and bad self-esteem when the kids can't live up to those role models.

By the way, congratulations on getting a job! I told you you could! What's the job?

Also: I'll be on trail for six to eight of the next 11 or so days. Starting tomorrow morning.

Reply

Anonymous

History

Aunt Irene checking in again. I just couldn't let this one go by.

Wow. I don't know about all children dressing up, but I know that they all like to imitate their elders, and all societies have dress traditions – special clothing worn at certain times, things that are worn only by leaders or those who have proved themselves in some way, even masks and robes and stuff used ceremoniously. The kids in any society do play at those things and try on the different roles of adulthood, unless they're absolutely taboo.

As for gender roles, I applaud and admire how you want everyone to be equal. It's noble and besides, I want equal pay for equal work, for sure. However, there are some instances when there is, and needs to be, a definite difference between the sexes, or where's the attraction? Also, I firmly believe that some of the differences in thinking between male and female are hard-wired. Granted that my students in drama, who have ranged in age from six to fourteen, are already partially socialized, but I know for certain that whenever I give them the chance to do improvisational scenes of their own choosing the boys' scenes ALWAYS have some kind of physical fight in them, and the girls' scenes almost never have anything of the sort. What do you make of that?

And then, of course, if in your ideal society anyone can wear whatever they want, the girls will dress up as princesses – I guarantee it – and you won't have an argument against it!

Have a great time on the trail. It sounds wonderful to me, stuck here in the city.

Love, Irene

Reply

Anonymous

History

Nathanael, the concept of style is NOT a "western" concept. It exists in every culture. I am thinking of lots of cultures- Native American, African, etc. etc. etc….and every one of those has male and female distinctions. Males have boy clothes and females have girl clothes. Style constantly emerges and changes, and every single culture has their aesthetic ideal. The Native Americans in S. America, for example- for them it is beautiful for a man to stick a labret in his lip. In our culture it is beautiful for women to put earrings in their ears. As in our culture, style changes a little with each generation. I cannot think of any culture where everyone grows up sort of neuter. The Hopi, Lakota, Navajo, Masai, pygmies, Welsh, Tartars, Lapps- heck, whoever I think of have much more rigid male and female roles than in our society right now. That is not to say that gay people in such a society are always ostracized. For example, in the Sioux tradition there are berdaches- men who prefer a female role- and women who prefer a male role who are called "manly-hearted women"- and they can even marry and take on the role of the gender they want. In some other cultures, they are ostracized. In a lot of Indian cultures men who prefer drag dress become eunuchs and their job is to dance/bless new baby arrivals and other things. They often show up uninvited but people are obligated to pay them because if not, they are afraid the eunuchs can/will curse their child.
EVERY culture has style/fashion! Ours is nowhere near unique. You can do research on this stuff if you want to, and if you find any culture where most people go through life as sort of neuter people, I will eat my hat.
And if kids can wear whatever they want, and your daughter wants to wear a princess dress, I hope you let her!
I feel pretty sure in saying that most people are hard-wired along gender lines in many areas of development. FOR EXAMPLE, research (you can google this if you want) shows that about 50% of the noise little boys make at play is words, and the other 50% imitations of sounds- cars, trains, birds, animals, whatever they grow up around. Nearly 100% of the noise little girls use consists of words. I'm sure you can think of why this is beneficial in bands of small groups of people.
I myself didn't go through a princess phase, I don't think. But I had one dress with lots of black polka dots that was my absolute favorite. And I didn't try on my mom's clothes. I did have dolls and played a mommy role. I am wondering just how Sierra or Jackie was harmed by being a princess.
I took Sierra aside once and we looked at real princesses on the internet and I told her they really are princesses (like of Monaco, Jordan, England, etc.) and are normal girls "just like you are, Sierra."
There are many times that gender development is important- not just romance. Really, you can google this, too- male and female brains are wired differently. You are mistaking that as implying that acknowledging that will have women in an inferior role. Not so! I, for one, believe that we're different, but equal! And certainly I would never want women to be second class citizens since I am one myself. I have been a woman now for 44 years and I do not feel in the least bit discriminated against or the need to feel defensive. In fact, I am glad I am a woman and that I think like one! And YOU- you should just celebrate being a dude sometimes. WHY NOT?
MOM

Reply

Anonymous

History

PS: I do agree with your statement that girls should NOT try to emulate supermodels. This leads to so much body dysmorphic disorder- the base cause of bulimia, anorexia, etc. I like the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty- this is an example of a corporation taking some responsibility for telling girls of all sizes, colors, etc. that they are beautiful as they are. Haven't you noticed in Dove ads that they do not airbrush or photoshop the models, and use many kinds of people in their ads. The body dysmorphia in boys culminates in them taking steroids to have impossibly muscular bodies- they are also trying to live up to the "ideal", which is nowhere near what humans are supposed to look like.
Having realistic expectations and roles is the key to developing a healthy body image.
MOM

Reply Reply

Anonymous

History

Great answers!

And what kind of hats will they be? Fedoras? Pill boxes? Bushmen headdresses? Poke bonnets? I have a rather nice collection I need to clear out.

(Not that I think you will have to eat them because I agree with you entirely.)

Love, Irene

Reply Reply

Chuck

History

I'll write more later tonight, but in the few minutes I have before dinner, I want to say that I'm not so quick to accept the ideas of hard-wired differences between males and females. In my intro to anthropology class last year, I did a project where I went to Wal*Mart and looked through the toy section to see what it could tell me about gender roles. What I found was that, even from the very earliest ages, everything marketed to girls is pink, hypercute, and overwhelmingly motherly, whereas toys marketed to boys are undisguisedly marketed with the intent of violence and fighting and loudness. I found "Littlest Pet Shop" toys for girls, which were animals with giant heads and faces that were fully half taken up by giant sparkling eyes, and the package prominently pointed out their style. And I also found wrestling action figures for boys with amazing, unabashed names like - no joke - "Deluxe Aggression" and "Extreme Adrenaline". Is it any wonder, with a culture that gives them toys like those, that boys come up with fight scenes and girls don't?

Be back later!

Reply

Anonymous

History

My two cents. I just know that your mom, at the age of eight or nine months, would play for hours with pieces of lint on the carpet, hardly moving, but very intensely figuring something out. Your three uncles, on the other hand, by nine or ten months were holy terrors, climbing, falling, scooting, moving, moving, moving. They'd never have seen a piece of lint. And I didn't do the pink thing, or the action toys, because they were too little for that stuff, and anyway, pink wasn't such a deal in those days. You weren't like your uncles, but your brother sure was. Never sat still a minute, action all the time. You figure it out. I sure found the two sexes very different, and I did nothing to encourage it. Grandma

Reply

Chuck

History

You already mentioned me as a counterexample to the tough-guy baby idea. But also, never underestimate how early socialization starts. In intro to sociology, we read that when people are told the gender of a baby, they immediately start assigning it the stereotypical qualities of that gender. When they were told a baby was a boy, they would often say something like, "Look at how strong his muscles are!" And for girls I don't remember what they said - something about how cute she was, if I remember right. And this is for babies - for babies, differences between genders are practically indetectible except under the diaper.

All cultures that I know of (though there may be some I don't know anything about) have some distinctions between the roles of men and women. I've seen it suggested, and I agree, that the main reason for such big distinctions is that men can't get pregnant or nurse babies. So they have to be the ones who go out and hunt, while the women take care of babies, or do something less energy-intensive while they're pregnant, like gather plants. This is sensible. I just don't think it should be magnified like it is in lots and lots and lots of societies, Western and non-Western alike. I'll never claim that any Native American society was perfect in every way - even if I do think they were immensely better for the planet, and very likely for their members, than the society we've got going on now. Every society can use some improving, and that's all I'm saying. I think it's worthwhile to try and get rid of unnecessary gender roles, such as the superhero or the princess.

I do celebrate being a dude, I suppose. I just don't feel like it's a special achievement of mine, since it was really you (Mom) and Dad who made it happen. I'm totally content with it, but at the same time I don't think manliness needs to be all grunting, bacon, and football. Well, maybe the bacon.

I'm on my night off here, and I went to a local restaurant with some people. One guy had a Crow Duck Lake Camp keychain. How insane is that?! I didn't get the time to talk to him much about Crowduck, but we both agreed that that was crazy. "So you must know Bill, then! 'Oh, you got da nice walleye, there!'" Man, I'm looking forward to Crowduck.

Reply

Anonymous

History

Oh, I do agree that we don't want to emphaize the mindless and trashy modern symbols of whatever. But of course every child has to be socialized in some way. And who knows what the actual differences are between any babies' thinking? We just don't know what's really going on in there. Thankfully, they mostly turn out pretty well.

You might be interested in the raising of a friend of mine. I was close friends with his grandmother, and I worked in the theater with his mother, so I've been watching him grow up. The mother was determined not to imprint any sexual stereotypes on him. She gave him all kinds of toys to play with, including dolls, and encouraged his play so he didn't just leave the dolls sitting there, and she brought him to see me in the ballets. He really liked the dancing and at the age of three was trying to imitate putting his legs high in the air like all the ballerinas. (There are usually a few males of all ages on the stage as well, so it wasn't an entirely female thing.) In spite of all this carefully balanced environment and the encouragement to use and enjoy all sorts of toys, he still developed a solid love of cars and trucks and wasn't much interested in dolls. He has grown up quite balanced with a lot of interests and definite ability, and a lot of caring about people, but very much male. (He's now about twelve.) I'm interested to see how he turns out in his teenage years. You can be sure his mother never pressed either princess fluff or superhero accoutrements on him. He doesn't do any ballet but he did study general dance, and he's into theater. Maybe he's one of the few kids who would NOT do a fight scene when left to his own devices. His use of weapon toys was highly discouraged and prohibited, I think.

You're right, all this is socialized behavior, and we've been arguing for centuries over just how much that socialization builds on whatever is already in there. I don't suppose I am going to come up with the definitive answer, but maybe you can. I'm very glad to know there's somebody young and smart thinking about all this stuff. Chalk up a point in the world's favor.

Love, Irene

Reply

Anonymous

History

P.S. – a trip to Wal-Mart is also a study in modern marketing and what sells the best at the cheapest prices. You have to figure that in. I.

Reply

Chuck

History

That's an interesting case. I hope to do something vaguely like that, not setting a kid in a predetermined gender role, just letting him/her come up with hies/her own identity as much as I can. It's difficult, though, because socialization comes not just from the parents but also from the peers (and other places), and those kids will likely be playing the sorts of roles I'm trying to avoid. Another thing I read about in sociology was a sociologist who was raising her daughter without gendered toys. Her daughter got all upset when she bought cars and non-pink toys for her and said, "Don't you know I'm a girl?" Well, good things aren't always easy. Or simple. Thanks for chalking me a point in the world's favor, Irene.

Mom, you never did tell me what your newfound job is. How is it so far?

Reply

Anonymous

History

I am in customer service for a cake decorating supplies distributor. So far I like it a lot. You will find the link to it on my blog. All the cakes in Walmart, Kroger's, etc. need the little cars and dolls and bells and lace to go on the cake, plus the cake decorating tubes and bags and all of that. So they call us with their orders. I'm in training right now but everything's going well. I will do biligual support, and there are several people here who are also in bilingual customer support.
Nathanael, I didn't push "boy" stuff onto you but you did gravitate to those Attack Packs, which were quite boyish. However, when you got into Beanie Babies I let you have that fixation, too. I didn't say "it's too girlie", as perhaps some parents would have done.
Your dad and I didn't like toy guns that looked like the real thing (your dad especially was against it). However, you guys did have a couple of those toy guns. Micah liked the whiffle ball type things and then b.b. guns. We didn't object to you guys having lots of water pistols. I have just never been an extreme "my child isn't going to grow up with gender preferences at ALL" parent or "my kids are boys and will play with boy toys PERIOD, y'all" parent. You had your interests and unles it was unhealthy or something, I didn't discourage you guys. Not to say that I wasn't involved because I did try to involve myself in your play. But I didn't micromanage you by being some sort of progressive super-duper recycling green tree-hugger gender-neutral parent OR a gung-ho war-loving gun-totin' kill 'em all tough boys don't cry type parent either.
MOM

Reply Reply Reply

Hit Enter twice for a new paragraph. You can use asterisks to make *italics* and **bold**, and you can make links like so: [link says this](and goes to this address). Other fancy formatting possible via Markdown. (More)