My friend Laura is quite the feminist. She has worked hard in her job and has gone straight to the top. When she was 30, she and her husband decided to have a child. She got pregnant and had a beautiful baby girl, Maddie. Laura always swore that she was going to do whatever it took to make sure that her daughter didn't become a "girly girl" or find herself "pigeon-holed" by being a girl.
To combat this, she decided that she would only buy trucks and cars for Maddie to play with. It seemed to work for a while but then one night Laura came into Maddie's room to check on her girl and found that Maddie had tucked her Tonka truck in beside her, taking care to make sure that the blanket was up nice and high so her dear truck wouldn't get cold. The next day Laura went out and bought Maddie a doll. Maddie kept playing with her trucks and cars but she was opened to a whole new world of being able to care and nurture her baby.
So when I took Ethan to preschool, I was faced with a similar situation. We have never really purchased a lot of toys for him so everything he plays with is a gift from someone else. He loves to play with cars and trucks and blocks. But when we got to his class, Ethan made a beeline directly for the baby dolls. He picked one up so tenderly and gave it a hug. I thought it was the sweetest thing. And excellent preparation for the new baby on the way. Then another little boy ran over and did the same thing. His mother, however, was not as pleased.
"Oh, no, Junior. That's for girls." She looked at the teacher apologetically and said , "and I can't seem to keep him out of his sister's play kitchen set. I try to tell him that the kitchen is for girls." Ethan's preschool teacher made a joke about how she wished the kitchen was for girls because her three grown sons can cook up a storm but her daughter can't even boil water.
I almost hyperventilated at the thought of a kitchen being only for girls. I instantly thought of my friend who told me that her 16 year old son still expects her to make him a snack when he comes home from school every day. When this friend told me that, I asked if he had anything wrong with his hands. I cannot even imagine any child asking me to make a snack at 16. I'm trying to figure out now exactly how much longer until Ethan is self-sufficient. I didn't bring it to this woman's attention that some of the most famous of chefs in the world are men and that if she played her cards right, she could have dinner on her table every night without ever having to lift a finger. I wondered if her daughter was stuck cleaning the bathrooms and the dishes while her son would eventually only have to take out the trash as a chore. I don't have a daughter, but I do know that my husband is messier than me in the bathroom. And my son is learning fast. As far as I am concerned, as soon as his little hand can operate a toilet brush, he has a new job.
So why are we so concerned about our sons wearing our shoes? If wearing women's shoes as a small child causes any sort of issue when a boy gets older, nearly every man in the world would now be a cross-dresser. I don't know of one person whose mom doesn't tell a story about how they used to try to walk in Mom's shoes when they were little. It doesn't seem to be as big a deal if our daughters are walking around in Dad's shoes. And why do our sons try on our shoes, our clothes and carry around our purses when they are little? Maybe because they are more colorful, shiny, fun and different from what they normally wear. Little brothers like to wear what their big sisters are wearing sometimes too. Ethan wears Dad's shoes too, but who wants to clomp around in those 10 pound boots when you can try to balance your foot on a shoe with a tiny little heel? Now that's a challenge. Let's be honest. For all those of us who have been forced to wear high heels for years--once the novelty wears off they are a pain in the calf.
By making a big deal out of what is proper for a boy and what is proper for a girl, we just might be stifling our children's willingness to explore and learn by trying new things. And let's be honest. It's either stilettos now or stilettos later.
It has happened with each of our children around the age of four.
"Papa, you are brown!" Lucy proclaimed while she stroked his arm the other day.
"What color are you?" he asked.
"I don't know..." she giggled. "I'm cream." she finally replied.
"You aren't brown?" he returned playfully.
"No, I'm cream." she decided.
We looked at each other from across the room, the same look of surprise it was happening again. When Josiah was four, he lamented that Jorge wasn't gray like the rest of the family.
We chuckled over the color gray and tried to figure out where or why he came up with it.
He seemed genuinely sad over our differences in skin tone.
I have felt a little more uneasy each time it has come up wondering if we have failed in helping our children identify with the beauty of our bicultural family and more importantly, their Latino heritage. Was their interpretation just a literal observation completely appropriate in their development or was there more to it?
My obsessive parenting brain went straight to analyzing. We moved from Miami when Josiah was only 8 weeks old. We left an extremely diverse area with full immersion of the language and culture that had been so familiar to Jorge and I for so long. We found ourselves in the place that was the capital of the confederacy, north for us yet so more the south than we had ever experienced in our lives. Sunday dinners of our favorite Nicaraguan food from the fritanga and greetings of kisses cheek to cheek were very much over. While Jorge spoke some Spanish to our kids here and there, but with no local family to help fill in the gaps it was hard to keep the bilingual train going. Even with all the excuses, it just came down to a lack of intention and effort to stay connected to all the parts of who my children and husband are.
How much does our cultural identity shape us? What happens if we lack the exposure and immersion of a particular heritage? So here we are, brown, gray and cream, wondering what to do next. Is it too late?
If you are part of a bicultural family or of a different race or culture, how have you preserved your roots? Even if you are not, what are your thoughts or suggestions on the subject?
Please share in the comments.
Tomorrow we'll gather friends from around the world to celebrate what means the very most--family, friendship and the kind of connection that makes love, joy and happiness possible. And to make sure our gratitude generates hope right beside our friends in Tanzania, we'll also have a computer set up so kids and grownups alike can "tweet" their thanks for this year's Tweetsgiving. You can do the same at your house and be part of one of the biggest celebrations of gratitude the world has ever seen.
What are YOU thankful for? Will you join me?
My mom flipped through her camera to show me the pictures from the day. It was only a matter of time before I came across this one.
Mom: I didn't tell you about Santa?
Kristen: Uh, no.
Mom: Ethan saw Santa when we went to the craft show. He wanted to get his picture taken with Santa but Santa was walking through the show. I was worried that Nate would run off so I sent him running after Santa.
Kristen: Where was Santa?
Mom: He was about 20 feet away. Ethan came back with a lollipop instead. But he didn't have one for Nate so I sent Ethan back to ask Santa for one for his brother. Ethan then told me that he also wanted his picture with Santa.
Kristen: So what happened?
Mom: Kristen, I told him that if he wanted a picture with Santa he was going to have to ask him for one. You know that when you girls were growing up that you had to ask for what you wanted. It taught you to be independent.
Kristen: So what did he do?
Mom: He weighed it. Then he went over and asked Santa for a picture. Santa said, "Of course."
Kristen: That's my boy. And Nate?
Mom: Not so much.
Kristen: Also my boy.
So when you were young, would your mom have asked Santa for you?
I pulled up to the car pool line, the door flew open and the kids jumped in.
"Guys, I have terrible news." I said.
"What?" They replied in unison.
"I totally mixed up the dates and we missed Sammy's birthday last night!" I explained.
"Oh no! Poor Sammy! We missed it?" Jack said.
"I know! I feel terrible, so I invited Charlie and Sam over for a birthday playdate." I returned.
"Woohoo! It's no problem Mom, we know exactly what to do." Josiah piped in.
We went straight to our local grocery store and the five of us headed to the bakery to pick out a cake. Lucy loved the cake with the alligator on top, Jack refused saying it was way too baby for turning seven years old. Josiah was trying to recall which flavor was Sam's favorite, chocolate or vanilla. In the end we decided on Boston creme which covered all our bases and seemed the most logical to everyone.
The boys ran to the door proclaiming a party for Sam, apologizing profusely and explained the mix up. It is always like a vortex when we pick up or drop off the boys together. Instant games of tag and rock, paper, scissors erupt and there is lots of whooping and hollering, pure joy.
I warned the kids this playdate would be in a house that was quite a mess.
Charlie didn't miss a beat. "No problem Patience, I love a good mess."
The kids ran into the house and I went to dig in the party box. I found some old pirate napkins, eye patches and earrings from a party long ago. There was some discussion if we should have a pirate party or not but Sam decided it was a good idea. Josiah cleared the table off, Jack got the cake ready, we all sang.
The moment was over as quickly as it came. It was one of the nicest parties I have ever been to in my entire life. There were no invitations, no music, no presents, no goodie bags. The house was a mess, the guests rowdy, the joy deep, it was perfect. I wonder how often we plan so carefully to create moments when the best kind seem to be born on their own. Kids know this better than most I believe, living fully in the moment before them.
Do you have any stories ot spontaneous joy your kids cooked up? Please tell us in the comments.
If you wanna add some fun to your spontaneous celebration, check out the cool party ideas here.
I found this old cartoon I drew on the sideboard at my neighbor Meryl's house last night when we were eating dinner. I had forgotten all about it, I told her. I can't seem to part with it, she replied.
Three years later, and I can tell you all my attempts at passing off propaganda as the best advice for children ever have a very short shelf life, but still. I can't help but love the non-violent nature of at least trying to teach kids how to self-evaluate where they are on the cooperation continuum.
What do you think? The power of positive thinking or skirting the issue--listen or else!
We got on a plane with three children under the age of five. Five people, four seats. It was awesome. Okay, not so much. But here are a few tips for getting to the plane without the hassle.
Drop the luggage (and your spouse and children) off at the curb.
Unless you are taking a cab to the airport or getting a ride, you have to figure out a way to get all your luggage and all of your family onto that plane before it takes off. I remember (before Ethan) when Derek and I each had a roller carry-on bag and his and hers laptops. We made it from the front door of the airport to the plane in under 20 minutes without fail. Then we had a baby. Didn't that all change? Now we have 3 huge bags, car seats for the other end (and to be honest, a way to strap down Nate on the plane) and whatever else we manage to find that we just HAVE TO HAVE with us on our trips.
From our first trip after Ethan's birth (when he was 7 weeks old), our policy was that the driver dropped the passenger, all the luggage AND THE BABY off on the front curb. The driver then drove to the parking lot that seemed to be miles away. The dropped-off person can either choose to transport said child in a backpack or a stroller--dealer's choice. When it's me, I prefer the backpack because I like to have my hands free. A stroller means you are going to get stuck pushing with at least one hand. Either way, this is better than the alternative. On one trip, I watched a family of five try to get their luggage onto and off of the parking lot shuttle bus and it was not pretty. That's a lot of carrying that you wouldn't have to do if you had just swung in front of the terminal before going to the parking lot.
Pay the nice porter for curbside check-in or use door-to-door baggage delivery. At $2 a bag for cheap people such as ourselves, that $8 can really put a dent in the old wallet. Of course, instead of trying to lug a baby, 3 bags and car seats into the airport, you never have to pick up your luggage again until you reach the other side of your journey. Well worth the $8 to me. Another option is door-to-door baggage delivery. For some airlines, this service starts at $79. It seems like a lot but since nearly all airlines charge per bag these days, your convenience and reduced hassle might be worth the extra.
Leave a little extra time so you can make your children walk. If you are going on a long plane ride, there is going to be plenty of sitting time. We always try to get to the airport early enough so that after we pass through security, we let Nathan walk the rest of the way to the plane. It may take a while to get to our destination but the little ones are guaranteed to be all tuckered out by the time we get there. It certainly raises our chances that someone will take a nap at some point on the plane or that the kids will be content to just sit.
Get on the plane last. That five hour flight isn't going to seem any shorter if you are the first person to board. Sure you want to guarantee room in the overhead bins for your things and you don't want to rush, but extending your plane travel time just might send your kids over the edge. We send one parent on at the beginning to install car seats or pack everything away. The other parent waits until final boarding call and then corrals the kids down the aisle of the crowded plane to the last seat. That way you also get an opportunity to see the sheer panic on other people's faces that yes, you are bringing a baby on their flight. No backing out now.
These tips have saved me either lots of time or lots of stress. Do you have any more to add?
We haven't talked about games very much since the last lesson in losing we all got. My nature as a parent is to pull back, if I'm honest, maybe even avoid such situations. My kids taught me there might be yet another option this week.
Jack and Josiah disappeared up into their room one night for hours. They were laughing and talking so I never checked in on them to see what they were up to. They bounded down the stairs very excited. They created they their own board game.
It is a fantasy style game, similar to those they have played on the computer. Each character was a kid, had a name and special powers, perfect for re-claiming your own.
The game has a complete set of rules and cards. It seems a little easier to follow rules and lose when you have ownership in the design and thought of the game.
I'm realizing that art can serve kids in a different way of process besides just the act of creating itself. This little game is a way to introduce a previously hard subject with a new and positive angle. It gives a chance to explore losing and gain strength and knowledge in knowing how to handle disappointment in game play.
Once again, I can see how kids can find their way by using their intuition and minds. Even when I'm not exactly paying attention as a parent.
What kind of role does art and creativity play in your house? Do you wish there was more? After this experience, I realized how much more I want to create a culture of art and discovery in my own home. How about you?
I recently found myself in a crisis in the back of a Land Rover in rural Tanzania. We were on a tour of the poorest of the poor--a gentle-hearted group of families suffering from malnutrition and abject poverty in a tiny drought-afflicted village. This was one of those heart-stopping moments that stays with you forever--and none of it was registering with my kids. One was reading a comic book and the other was two hundred pages into a vampire book. Neither looked up when we pulled up or left. They had something else to do. They were tired. They were bored.
I wasn't sure whether to pull the old mom card--you know, the hissing command issued in the ear that says get it together now--or else. I didn't know if i should just let them be because the situation was so intense (even for someone thirty years their senior) or launch into some self-righteous speech. In the end, I decided on something in between: a firm request to put the books down and pay attention--at least while we were on the tour.
In the end, I'm not sure if any of it made a difference.
I know it's probably naive to expect more from kids, but I was really affected by their apparent lack of interest. "I don't know what to say," one child explained later in the day without an ounce of guilt or concern. "I have my hands full with my own life. I don't have that much space to think about helping someone else."
I still haven't completely recovered from that statement. It leaves me without any words at all.
Reflecting on it now two weeks after the fact, I can see that my concern is centered around values--that set of guidelines or principles that we've chosen to give our lives direction and meaning. How is it that my kids in that instance so quickly passed over something that fully engaged my values? How is it that an experience that was rife with opportunity for a response and the most simple kind reaction seemed to strike them as no big deal? And maybe this is the most important question of all: how can we know if our children are internalizing at all our most essential values?
After this trip, I have no idea.
I want my kids to understand they have choices. And I want them to feel connected to a personal sense of power as well as the consequences their choices generate. But what happens when that understanding of power, choices and consequences leaves out caring? What happens when kids decide being compassionate is optional? Do you pass it off as just a phase? Or is it time to march everyone to Habitat for Humanity every weekend for the rest of their childhood lives?
I'm still asking myself these questions.
What matters to you when you think about who your children might become? What values do you hope they decide to carry with them into the future? What do you do when it looks like they're missing what you'd hope was an obvious invitation to what matters to you most?
photo taken after meeting with some of the poorest people in Tanzania; by Stephanie Roberts, Arusha Tanzania
Tomorrow we will be wishing a big ol' Happy 40th to our friends at Sesame Street. In the last 40 years, Sesame Street taught us to celebrate our differences, to bask in our own individuality and has continuously redefined "normal" to fit us all. Sesame Street taught us to read, to write, and yes, to count. It opened our eyes to cultures beyond our cul-de-sac and taught us global thinking. Sesame Street made us believe that we could be anything and that anything was possible. Sesame Street taught us to love music and laughter and learning.
Thanks, Sesame. We love you lots. We hope you have the best birthday ever.
I leave you my all time favorite as an adult...
Why don't you tell us what your favorite Sesame Street memory is?