Friday, April 30, 2010

A Very Healthy Business

"I recall a headline-grabbing 2005 British study that revealed that girls enjoy torturing, decapitating and microwaving their Barbies nearly as much as they like to dress them up for dates. There is spice along with that sugar after all..."

From, What's Wrong With Cinderella?

Peggy Orenstein wrote this piece for the New York Times when her daughter was...3 years old. 

In the article, she interviews the Man Behind the Magic, Andy Mooney, a former Nike Executive who got the ball rolling on the DP industry. 

"What type of bedding would a princess want to sleep in? What kind of alarm clock would a princess want to wake up to? What type of television would a princess like to see? It’s a rare case where you find a girl who has every aspect of her room bedecked in Princess, but if she ends up with three or four of these items, well, then you have a very healthy business."   

And the bedecked room he speaks of?  Not such a rare case after all.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Philosophy on Toys

The less a toy does, the more a child does.

Most parents have a story like this: "Jr. got a Super Fantastic Shiny Toy for her birthday, and played with the box all day."
Or the wrapping paper.
Or the string that held the package together.

This humors the grown-ups, but it is the child demonstrating what we have forgotten.  That the point of play is to create, to make something your own, to insert individuality.  As children show us repeatedly, it doesn't take much.  A pot, pan, a pine cone. 

If you have ever met an 8 year old who states she is "bored", go through her toy inventory.  Chances are there are a lot of exciting things in there.  The more heavily a toy "does", or, the more heavily a toy is scripted (comes with a very specific story line), the more likely a child will end up needing to be entertained rather than creating the entertainment.

I think we are re-entering an era where the common belief is this: Children shall be seen and not heard.  Toys that keep kids perpetually plugged in keep them pretty much out of grown-ups hair, for a time.  It also keeps them from observing the adults in their life, from seeing how grown-ups interact, and handle difficult emotions.

Play is continually underestimated.  It is through play that children learn problem solving. It is through play that children channel aggression, fear, annoyance, joy, and all the other intense emotions that they are learning to cope with.  When they can figure out how to manage emotions, pretty much anything can be learned.  Play is their work.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Admitting There Is a Problem

Step One in recovery: We admitted we were powerless over Disney Princesses---that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step Two: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.   
Although in addiction recovery this step refers to God, we found that in our house, it was Grandparents.

Loving, doting Grandparents, the other Big G.

Grandparents who simply want to wrap their grandkid up in hugs and butterscotch cookies.  And on one side, Disney Princess films.  And on the other side, Disney Princess dolls.  It was all so well-intentioned.  And it allowed me to grocery shop by myself.  And to get to work on time without paying a sitter. 

In the school of personal responsibility, we parents have only ourselves to blame for each and every mistake we make.  Mine, here, was not speaking up loudly enough.  I expressed concern.  I shared my opinion.  It was a gut instinct, but sometimes, I think, when our parents hear us express a gut instinct, it might remind them of the time we were 7 and reaaaaallllly waaanted ice cream.  That kind of gut instinct.

When I returned with a court order forbidding any further contact with Disney Princesses (written by me and enshrined in heart stickers), I also brought some research.  And you know what?  The research did the trick.

This book.  It's part of our recovery program.  And I think it should be given at all baby showers.  "Here's some pink booties, and a book about sexualized childhood.  Good luck."


I got this copy at the library, thus the 257 post-it notes instead of double-underlining and penciling "Exactly!" in the margins.  The authors are Diane E. Levin and Jean Kilbourne, and here's the book's website:

A snippet:  

"Little girls have always indulged in princess fantasies, and many parents don't see the inherent harm in letting their little girls indulge them today.  But playing princess was never the way it is with Disney Princesses.  The overwhelming message the Princesses convey is to look pretty, aka sexy, so they can hook their prince.  Everything else is secondary....What surprises us most is that the role the Disney Princesses phenomenon plays in the childhood culture of young girls seems to be off the radar screen in most discussions about the sexualization of childhood.  Indeed, we feel that Disney movies and the princesses featured in them provide one of the first avenues for luring young girls into the sexualized materialistic world.....Disney Princesses tend to enter the lives of girls earlier than many of the other sexy products."

I wish I'd gotten a copy at my baby shower.  It would have been more useful than that book about sleep schedules that never seemed to work.

Her Life, Rescripted

Me: "Look what I found!"

C:  "What is it?"

Me: "It's a superfast power princess dress!"

C: "Which princess?"

Me: "I don't know.  The princess who dropped it off was so fast that I didn't see her!"

C: (doubtfully)  "Not Ariel, she swims."

Me: "No. Not Ariel."

C: "And not Cinderella.  She doesn't run."

Me: "Hmm."

C: "And I already have her dress."

Me: "That's true.  And you don't need two princess dresses.  Should we send it back?"

C: "Wait. Wait a minute."

Me: "What?"

C: "Well.  You know." (touching the dress) "I was thinking.  Maybe I don't need Cinderella anymore.  Maybe I could give it to Eva.  She loves Cinderella."  (now fully holding the dress in both hands) "Or maybe to someone who never had a princess dress."

Me: "I think that is a great idea."

C: (tries it on.  stands stiffly.)  "Do you think I could jump in it?"

Me: "Oh yes.  You could certainly jump in it."

C: "And she was fast?"

Me: "Like the wind."

C: "I'm fast too.  I'll show you."

She sprints the circle of our house 9 times in a row, jumping spastically, tripping over the dog, and collapsing into a panting heap at my feet.

Cinderella: 0  Mama: +1

Monday, April 26, 2010


If I'd known then what I do now, I'd have sent out the birth announcement as such:

"Please welcome the newest member of the tribe, 8 pounds even. Nursing like a champ. By the way, it's a girl. Please do not misunderstand this: yes she has a vagina, and no, you may not let her watch Cinderella, Ariel, or Snow White while I'm grocery shopping. And no, you may not get her a giant Barbie head complete with eye shadow and lipstick for her 2nd birthday.
Much Love,
The Proud Parents."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Filling the Void

I once attended a talk at a local library titled, How To Raise Ethical Kids Without Religion. There were 8 people in the audience, and the lecturer, a man in his late 50’s, sat at a table and began by poking fun at various religious beliefs. I assumed this was the introduction to The Talk, but over an hour later, his poking fun at religion was more aggressive, and then the talk ended and he took questions. I had brought a notebook and pencil to jot down all the great ideas I was certain I’d learn, and as I looked down at my blank page, I wondered if I had missed some integral part of the lecture. Perhaps I’d gazed out the window when he’d gotten to the actual content.

A woman beside me raised her hand with the first question. She relayed that she and her husband belonged to a church, and that she really did not want to belong to that church, or that religion, but her whole family and her husband’s whole family would be so devastated if they were to make a leap into the great void of Nothing. The lecturer responded by asking her about which church and religion, and then he promptly listed all the dumb things about it. The woman sat back down, and nodded along initially, then she became still as the speaker went on. I was gathering my bag at this point, about to slip out, when a woman sitting ahead of me spoke up. She had long white hair and looked to be in her mid-60’s. “I find,” she interrupted the man, “that if you are going to raise children without religion in a religious world, that it helps to create something to fill the void.” The man fell silent for a moment. “Kids will learn all about their friend’s holidays, their Chanukah and Christmas, and if the only thing happening at their home is a mockery of these things, there is no true bonding within the family.” The speaker looked ready to counter, but the woman went on in such a politely persistent way. “With my kids, we came up with fun traditions around those same holidays, and we did them each year. It gave them something of their own to look forward to when all their peers were looking forward to something too.”

This comment comes to mind as I slip around my home in the quiet hours after bedtime, taking note of what has to go. There are the dresses, each with a picture of a princess stitched on the front. My daughter puts one on and acts accordingly. And there are the glass slippers, a current favorite. Things that have entered our home as if through a window we left open overnight. Things we haven’t bought or brought into the house are what my kid is playing with. She brings them home from play dates, she gets them from a well-meaning neighbor. These props are sought out by 8 am and used every day. They have to go.

Part of me, like the man giving that lecture, wants to sweep them out the door and tell my daughter how these things are harmful, that they are tools that limit her. But this, right now, is her religion. And so I think of the woman with the long white hair, and I know I must move more carefully.