Monday, November 8, 2010

Who Wouldn't Want To Be a Fairy Princess?

My kids are both home sick today, so my usual Monday morning routine has gone out the window. Instead of hitting Starbucks, Target, the health food store, the dry cleaner and the grocery store immediately after school drop-off, I'm still hanging out in my kitchen with a cup of coffee and The Today Show. (Aaahh. I'm not saying I'm glad my kids are sick or anything, but...) We may not have groceries or clean clothes, but I'll have put in my two cents on this topic.

As I stood in my kitchen, trying to avoid the giant bowl of Halloween candy sitting on my counter, I saw an adorable photo onscreen - the cutest little Daphne (from Scooby Doo) I've ever seen. I'm a sucker for cute kid pics, even when they're not my kids, so I turned up the volume and ignored the candy. Turns out the cute kid was a boy nicknamed Boo, who wanted to dress as Daphne for Halloween. His mom, Sarah, figured, "What's the harm?" and ordered the costume. She was shocked by the reactions of some people, however, who told her she was "making" her son gay. So Sarah decided to blog about her decision to allow her son to follow his heart and wear what made him happy. According to The Today Show, her post has received over 3 million hits and 10,000 responses. Some are supportive, some negative, but all this media attention landed Sarah on The Today Show to share her story.

Along with Sarah, there was another mom, Cheryl, whose 5-year-old son Dyson likes princess dresses and crowns when he plays dress up. Cheryl's written a book about her son, and she discussed how difficult it was for her to arrive at the place she is now: a place of acceptance and support for Dyson's fashion choices during play and pretend time. At first, she said, she went out and bought him "boy" dress up clothes, and told him, "Boys can't be princesses." To which this little guy said, "Then I'm a princess boy!" I'm with Dyson. Who wouldn't want to be a princess? All the beautiful clothes you want, no chores, people bowing and scraping and doing whatever you tell them? Sounds like a great job to me. Where do I sign up?

Both moms were surprised and dismayed by the reactions of some other parents. So am I. What is the big deal? Sarah said it well when she pointed out, "Halloween lets you be who you are not." I mean, I'm not worried that my neighbor's son Zack, who dressed up as Freddy, is going to become a dream-invading serial killer and chop me up in my sleep. A DEA agent friend of mine always dresses as a prisoner - get it? He's a cop dressed as a convicted felon. It's NOT REAL. My own 8-year-old? She's not REALLY a Gothic vampire. I'm pretty sure she's not going to suddenly develop a craving for human blood.

Besides, these kids don't have gender identity issues. They KNOW they're boys. They just think it's fun to pretend to be something they aren't. It's kind of like when I put on a really, really good bra and pretend that my boobs look JUST AS GOOD as they did before I had kids. I know they don't, I know they never will, but I enjoy the pretending immensely.

And what about girls wearing traditional "boy" costumes? My friend's first grade daughter wore an astronaut costume this year and was Spiderman last year. A neighbor's 6-year-old girl wore a Bob the Builder costume. My youngest, at age 3, was Curious George for Halloween - and many, many cold winter days after that. Yet I've never once heard any objection to girls wearing more "boyish" costumes for Halloween or dress up time. Is it somehow more "OK" for girls to dress as boys? And what does this say about our society's message to our kids?

As far as I'm concerned, kids can dress up and play pretend all they want. I see no harm in letting a little boy try on a pink feathered boa and Cinderella shoes, or giving a little girl a Spiderman costume. It's playtime! It's time to be anything you want to be! I mean, hey, Barbie can be a dolphin trainer, a vet, AND an Olympic swimmer, right? My friend Maria has two boys the same ages as my girls, and the four kids were inseparable during their preschool years. Her boys LOVED visiting our playroom, which was full of all kinds of "girly" stuff they didn't have: every princess dress and crown, lots of baby dolls and Polly Pockets, and Barbie's Dream House. I have the cutest picture of her youngest, at age 3, in a crown and tutu. In turn, my girls were in heaven in their playroom: a Thomas train table, tons of race cars, and ninja costumes. (An aside: my girls were given plenty of "boy" toys like cars, balls, etc. And Maria's boys were offered dolls and stuffed animals. But when you have all girls or all boys, your playroom will tend to look a little unbalanced. You get over it.)

Slacker Mom Says... relax. Let kids play act and dress up and try on different roles. Boys playing with dolls? They'll get some practice on how to be a good daddy one day. Girls wearing Storm Trooper costumes? They'll pretend to be strong warriors, which may help them stand up for themselves when it really counts. I mean, c'mon, I'm not a slutty nurse or a Wild West saloon girl, either, but I've got some pictures from the late 90s that would say otherwise. And as Cheryl said, "As parents, our job is to love and support our children." I think that about sums it up.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Our Future Depends on Parents

Election Day has come and gone; the voters have spoken, the political ads are over, and it's finally safe to watch TV again. As usual, I'm glad it's all over: no more negative ads, no more talking heads gearing up for the big fight; no more celebrities thinking their opinion is somehow more valid simply because they are celebrities. Regardless of one's political beliefs, now that the election is over, we can focus on working together as Americans to improve our nation. Like many voters, I'm worried about our country. I'm worried about the future of our country.

But unlike most voters, I'm not so worried about our economic or political future. I believe this country can and will recover from our current problems. I believe that Americans will work hard and the recession will end. I believe that most of our leaders truly have the best interests of our nation at heart. No, right now I'm more worried about our kids' future. In an era where 8-year-olds watch R-rated movies like "Zombieland", 6-year-olds know (and use) more cuss words than I do, and fourth graders not only understand the term "frenemy" but actually HAVE some, what is wrong with our society?

We may be used to hearing horror stories from the inner city, or from developing nations, or from families with substance abuse or domestic violence issues. But there are some shocking things going on among all of our children. Over coffee today, my friend Michelle told me about a birthday party her first- and third-grade daughters attended last weekend. A little boy at the party, a 6-year-old from a "normal" home, told her daughters, "I'm going to wipe my penis juice all over you." In return, I told her about a boy in my daughter's Kindergarten class last year who rubbed his hands up and down her back and said, "Do you like it when I touch you here? How does it make you feel?"

Where are these kids hearing this? What is going on in their lives that they not only know these words, but actually think it's OK to talk like that to other children? And what is wrong with parents these days? Michelle's daughters thought the boy was going to pee on them, and ran away to tell their mom. My daughter told me she got a "yucky feeling" in her tummy, but was too scared to tell the teacher. She waited until she got home to tell me what had happened. (And yes, I called the school immediately, and yes, it was handled to my complete and total satisfaction.)

Less disturbing, but still unfortunate, is the current favorite pastime among many fourth and fifth grade girls on the school playground. Most of their recess time seems to be spent gossiping about other girls. Yes, some of them play soccer, some of them actually hang on the monkey bars, and some of them chase boys, and perhaps chasing the boys is better than when I was young and the boys chased the girls (women's liberation, baby!). But from what I've seen during lunch duty, the majority of the girls stand around trash talking. When did this become an acceptable activity for nine and ten year olds? Why aren't they running around, being kids, sliding and climbing and enjoying the break from class? Who has taught them that bashing other girls is OK? (I'm pretty sure I have an answer to that, but that's another topic of conversation for another time.) When she refused to get involved in a gossip fest, my older daughter had a close friend tell her, "If you don't do what I tell you, I'm not going to be your friend, invite you over, or come over to your house anymore." Emotional blackmail at age 9?

And don't try to tell parents their kids are doing anything wrong. That rarely works; it usually backfires. A friend of mine called a neighbor to ask her to talk to her son about his threatening behavior on the school bus. The two women had been meeting to walk their dogs every day when their kids left for school, but now? My friend says her neighbor not only refuses to speak to her, but lets her dog poop in her front yard, without picking it up. When the grown ups act like toddlers, what are the kids supposed to do? Even the schools can't tell parents their kids are misbehaving; teachers and administrators are often blamed for behaviors that were learned (and accepted) at home.

Kids today are allowed, even encouraged, to grow up far too fast for my taste. I remember hearing a mother of a preschooler tell her child, "Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is for babies. You should be watching Zack and Cody." Really? At 4, she's too old for Mickey Mouse? Another mom I know told me, "I hate fighting with my kids, and I really want them to like me. Sometimes, it's just easier to give in." Ohhhh-kaaaaay. A former co-worker of mine told her daughter, who's 9, "You're way too old for Barbies. You need to give them away." Too old for Barbies? Shoot, most little girls want to BE Barbie - cool Dream House (with an elevator!), pink convertible, more clothes than she can wear, and she can be anything she wants - vet, teacher, dolphin trainer. Sounds good to me!

Ten-year-olds with Facebook accounts. Seven-year-olds with more expensive cell phones than I have. Preschoolers having sleepovers. Teenagers who spend more time online than with their families. Children watching so-called "celebrities" on reality shows behaving very, very badly - and not only getting paid for it, but being praised for it. Sports fans who berate referees - at preschool soccer games. Families who freely admit - almost with pride - that they haven't sat down to dinner together in months because their kids are sooooo busy and sooooo involved in after-school activities that they just don't have time to spend together.

It seems terribly old-fashioned and hopelessly uncool to parent like our parents and grandparents did. To insist on obedience, respect for others and oneself, and discipline - both at home and in the community. What's happened to good manners? What's happened to showing consideration and concern for others? What's happened to "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all?" And, the big question, posed on The Today Show this week: Is civility dead in America? Is it too late? Can we get back to some level of respect in our country?

Slacker Mom Says... I believe we can. I hope and pray that we can. I think civility is not dead, just dormant, or maybe taking a nap. But, like so much else, it starts with us, with parents. More specifically, it starts with good parenting. So many of us seem to be afraid to actually parent, to lead by example and teach kids what's right, even when it's hard. So much of parenting is just that: doing what is right, what is necessary, even when it's hard, even when it's unpopular, even when our kids may well hate us for years (or maybe, really, just hours) for doing it. Parenting means thinking about the long-term, not the short-term, not what is easy and what everyone else is doing, but what will serve our kids well in the years (and years and years) to come. No, it's not fun to have to wait until my kids are asleep to watch "Desperate Housewives." Yes, I'd love to end all arguments with my pre-teen about friends, clothes, allowance, and chores. However, I am the mom. I took the job, I signed up for a life sentence. So no, she can't roam the neighborhood unsupervised or have a cell phone or eat candy for breakfast. And no, she can't have a TV in her room, even though "all my friends have one" (and they don't; I checked) and even though it makes me the "meanest mom in the entire world." Really? Good. If you like me all the time and want to be my friend, I'm certainly not doing my job. Maybe one day she'll understand; maybe one day she'll even appreciate the reason behind the rules. Maybe she won't. But that's the job. Do what's right and what's best, even when it's hard and unpopular. If you're not up for it, don't apply.