Pink Strollers vs Monster Trucks

I recently read a debate on a public forum where mothers were discussing whether it was appropriate for their boys to be playing with dolls and toy strollers, pink or otherwise.

The arguments on either side were fairly simple. One side put the choice onto their husbands, who apparently would rather their toddlers were playing with footballs and toy cars, and felt uncomfortable with their manly babies being exposed to too much pink. The other side took the banning of ‘girl toys’ to be the parents way of bringing up mini chauvinists, who would shun both cooking and childcare, and treat their future wives as second class citizens.

I was particularly interested to note that from what I saw, no-one was making the argument that it simply doesn’t matter. Toys are toys. No one was insisting that your son either cooking up a frenzy in a plastic kitchen, or angrily causing mini car pile-ups has no effect on what kind of boy or man they will become.

So does it? Personally I found the conversation slightly ridiculous. If your son wants a buggy, let him have one, If you can find a blue one, great. Otherwise, get the pink one!  The idea that by your child playing with a fake baby they are going to be anything less than a “proper boy” is frankly ludicrous, and yes, as I saw one mother say, bordering on homophobia. Pretend play, which includes feeding a fake baby, cuddling it, kissing teddies, and taking care of a toy in a nurturing way, is an important developmental milestone which every child, male or female should be experiencing and indulging in.

Just in case anyone needs any help working out what is worrying male behaviour, it includes wearing female undergarments and recognising shoe designers by the heel size. Your toddler is simply learning and growing. In my opinion, there is no difference between your son hugging his Action man and hugging his sister’s Barbie doll.

On the other hand, I also had to stifle a laugh at the mothers who are rallying against the wife-beaters of tomorrow. If for whatever reason, our sons do not end up with buggies and dolls, because they are simply not interested or perhaps because we can’t all afford to indulge this weeks interest, I think there are far more important ways of showing them how to grow up to be well rounded and sensitive men. You want your son to know how to cook, even without a plastic kitchen? So take him into the full sized one and let him pour the flour. You want your baby boy to be a hands-on father, then lead by example and be the kind of dad that inspires that behaviour in his kids. Shoving a pink plastic buggy in front of him isn’t going to make him a nurturing parent, any more than it will make him gay to be frank. Both concerns seem to me to be rooted in social ignorance. This idea can only be reinforced when you realise how little you worry that your daughters enjoy playing with cars and planes.

On a personal level, after an afternoon at a public stay and play, where R spent an hour cuddling and feeding a baby doll, I decided to get him his own. Due to his sight, his developmental play has been somewhat behind, and this was the first instance of pretend play I had seen him take part in. I was delighted. We got him a blue ‘boy’ doll, (as if he knows the difference) and a pink stroller, mainly because it was cost-effective and cute looking. He loves putting the baby’s clothes on and off, taking him for walks in the stroller, and giving him cuddles and kisses.

Just in case that worries anyone, he also loves throwing the baby against the wall, building towers on its face, and discussing the football scores with him at length. At least that’s what I assume his babbling must be when he chats to it. They are both boys after all.

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Carousel Conflict

I don’t mean those big merry go rounds you find at travelling fairgrounds. The ones with the giant horses that go up and down which are fun for about twelve seconds before you start to feel nauseous. I mean the teeny tiny kids sized ones you find outside of supermarkets and in malls, meant to placate your kids into thinking the grocery shop or browsing excursion was in any way meant for their own amusement.

We have a couple such rides at our local shops, and R is completely at the right age to find them fascinating. I often see small babies placed on them, with parents looking eagerly at their little nonplussed faces, camera phones at the ready, while the baby in question continues sucking its hand or gazing into the semidistance in total disinterest. The parents-unwilling to admit they just wasted the extortionate sum of money paid, start pulling faces and making noises to elicit the desired smile or giggle. When successful, and photo snapped, they consider the job well done and no doubt head off to develop the photo and frame one of many pictures in every parents home which basically depict a lie. Ruby had so much fun on the merry go round today-just look at her little face!

Slightly older kids have the opposite problem to poor bored Ruby. Too much excitement. When R was about a year, he loved the rides probably even more than he does now. But all that excitement, expressed mainly with clapping and bouncing, meant that he was constantly on the verge of falling out of the mini seats as they went round and round. (Why are they open like that? How much could they possibly save by omitting doors in the design-and surely any saving is offset by lawsuits anyway?) It basically meant I had to dance like a moron around with him as it rotated, holding him up or filling the gap so that he didn’t land on his head every 4 seconds. Fun for R? Maybe. But far too few photo opportunities to prove what a fun mum I am, and certainly no fun for dizzy ol’ me.

I am pretty certain that in a few months time, he will pass the age where he enjoys monotonous music and repetitive motion, and the rides will be boring once again, so I am taking as much advantage as possible of these few enjoyable weeks where I can snap away to my hearts content while he smiles and makes happy noises and presses the buttons and turns the steering wheel correctly and has a whale of a time for about 45 seconds and what can reasonably be called the cost of a small property.

But this precious time is being spoiled for me by the pure evil of The Other Parents.

I can guarantee you that they have a plan. When I get to the shopping mall, they are nowhere to be seen. The aisles are empty of pushchairs, I can hear no whining or pleading in my earshot, and there is certainly no one waiting for or participating in a ride. But they are there. Skulking in the dark corners of the shopping centre, these parents wait until they hear the clink of the pound coins falling into the machine, and then jump out with their toddler, avoiding all eye contact, and placing their kids onto the adjacent seat.

NO. For those unfamiliar with the concept, normally the rides have about 3 seats, which all move together. By putting in my coins, I have paid for all three seats. They are mine. I own them for the next minute. If you want to use one… it is not only polite, but it is only legal to ask me first! And to pay me half of what I have put in for that matter. If I wanted to give your kids a free ride I would have offered. You might say why does it matter, I’m not using all three seats, but I think anyone with a toddler will attest to the fact that they may in fact want to change seats midway, possibly multiple times. All of which is besides the point, it’s the principle, you just haven’t paid for the ride!

Why do I feel so awkward telling them to cough up or get off? I know that it is unfair, and I know that they are trying it on by either avoiding eye contact or giving me those brazen smiles. I also know that if I just summoned up the courage to say “that will be £x please” they would probably all stump up the cash. But it’s just so embarrassing asking actual strangers for their money. And as it is normally quite a small amount, it makes me look like the tightest person ever!

This is becoming one of London’s most heinous parenting crimes. And yet it is an increasingly socially acceptable form of thievery. Well I’m not putting up with it any more. The next parent that carousel-jacks my son is getting asked straight out, to dig deep or move on.

If I can summon up the courage that is.