Princess Party Redux

The Princess Party has come and gone and Ruby is none the worse for wear.  Despite the omnipresent generic princess decor, Ruby has yet to ask to be saved from any dragons (although she does need rescuing from the occasional uncooperative button).

Pretty Passive Posing Princess Pastry<br>(yes, that's a cake)

Pretty Passive Posing Princess Pink Pastry (yes, that's a cake)

Ruby chose to dress in her bee costume (her other option was ladybug) and she was the only non-princess among the half-dozen girls.  But crinoline and satin bodices notwithstanding, it was about what you’d expect from a gather of three- and four-year-olds: chasing, screaming, stickers, face painting, and juice boxes.  Ruby made the most of being a bee among the lilies of the kingdom and spent her time chasing everyone around.  She didn’t seem to mind that she was the only non-princess among the girls.  The fact is, I really wasn’t worried so much what she would think — it was the parents I was worried about, and what they’d think of the dork who brought his kid in a bee costume to the princess party.

Which brings us to the best part of the whole experience: spending time with Ruby’s classmates and their parents.  I only get to make a very brief appearance at Ruby’s school once per week before rushing off to catch a bus, and so I don’t get much opportunity to chat with the parents or get to know them or their kids.  But Ruby is going to be spending lots of time around these people for the next few years, and she’ll be invited to more birthdays, playdates, and the like.  It was good for me to have some pleasant conversations with several of the parents and get to know them a bit better.

The Bee Gets A Bee

The Bee Gets A Bee

p.s. The decor (princess decals strewn about the house) and a Princess Pageant Castle Cake did confirm my earlier conception of the Princess meme (or at least the way it is marketed).  These ladies do nothing but stand around — can’t one of the them hop on a horse, pull out a book, or even, you know, walk somewhere?  Even a model’s strut would be a step up from the static subvervient pose these princesses present.

Pretty Pretty Papa Princess

It was bound to happy sooner or later. Try as we might to shield Ruby from the infectious outside world, we knew that eventually she’d be exposed.  Sending her to preschool only increased the odds, and now, finally, it has happened:  she’s been invited to a Disney Princess Birthday Party.

original by flickr user PinkMoose

original by flickr user PinkMoose

Kate and I both anti-princessification, for reasons I’ve mentioned before. Looking at the cheap invitation (printed at home, not Officially Licensed Merchandise) a whole new objection sprang to mind: they’re posers.  Literally — all they do is pose.  They’ve been stripped of their original, entertaining and worthwhile myths and stand inactive and vacant. Instead of watching their actions, you should just watch them…  as they do nothing.  Added to our original objections over the cultural appropriation, incessant marketing, pressure to conform, and rigid gender roles and segregation, and you can guess how we want to RSVP.

But ultimately, we decided she should go. These are friends she sees at school every day and it’s good for her to also see them outside of school.  And she’ll be exposed to the princess culture whether we like it or not, so at least one of us can go along and frame her experience in ways that we think are important.

Still, we’re not going down without a fight.  And so, gender roles and pretty princesses be damned, it is I who will be escorting Ruby to the Disney Princess Birthday Party. I won’t be surprised if I’m the only non-related adult male in attendance.

Actually, I’m kind of looking forward to it. Ruby is just starting to learn how to play with (instead of alongside) her peers and it’s a pleasure to watch her social skills develop. I don’t get many opportunities to watch her play with her schoolmates — complete strangers (to me) she’s developed complex personal relationships with. It’s fascinating to see her trying to flex her leadership muscles, or be polite and kind, or be totally socially oblivious.

I’m sure Ruby will have fun, and I’ll do my best around the grown-ups, and this little foray into the world of princesses will soon be forgotten amidst our summer of swimming and building and jumping and thinking.

Oh, and the invitation encourages children to wear costumes. Do you think Princess Ladybug will work?

Swimming Lessons

Ruby and I are spending every Tuesday this summer down at the Green Lake pool, taking a half-hour swim class. While Mama is off playing racquetball, we get to bob and bond among the splashing toddlers.

Ruby can’t swim, of course, but she’s getting more comfortable in the water.  She generally hangs onto me as we wander around the pool (Ruby occasionally shouting “Ride the Papa!”).  On the second day, though, something incredible happened: she let go!

She was hanging on to a water noodle at the time, her arms draped over the top for buoyancy. For just a second or two she panicked as she drifted away, kicking madly, but then she realized that she could do it by herself! A light went on and she broke out in a big grin. She was swimming by herself!  She spun around a few times, getting the hang of things, and then, legs thrashing under the water, started making some progress towards her destination.
I was incredibly proud and happy. Not just proud of the physical feat, but happy to have gotten a chance to see that moment of doubt turn into a moment of triumph.

During and after the swim class I told Ruby how proud I was.  It was also gratifying to see that she responded to my statements of pride as well — that she was happy to hear how proud I was.

Since then she’s continued to swim around on the noodle by herself. Every time she climbs on her legs start kicking wildly and she turns away from me to explore the pool on her own. Of course, she doesn’t get very far — she’s not very fast. We have also done a class with a lifejacket and had a similar, but better result: now, Ruby could use her hands as well as her legs to slowly thrash around the pool.

As an added bonus, now that she’s on the noodle I can use it to give her some gentle dunks in the water. I lift her up slightly, just a few inches, and her momentum then carries her down under the water. But she kicks her legs and hangs onto the noodle, and quickly comes bobbing to the surface, a big grin on her face.

Trust and Failure

Earlier this month, the NY Sun published an article by Lenore Skenazy, a woman who let her nine-year-old son ride the bus home from Manhattan, unaccompanied, as an exercise in building confidence and independence. She was subsequently labeled the worst mom in the world.

I’m totally in support of her goal to break us out of the deer-in-headlights state of fear that so many parents fall into: “Children are precious. The world is scary. We must protect them at all costs…”

Except, of course, that we shouldn’t protect them at all costs. That’s a conscious choice I made when Ruby was born: that I would not do everything in my power to make her happy, comfortable, and safe. She will, for the most part, be given a relatively luxurious life (globally and historically speaking) but she’ll also be given the opportunity to fall off the monkey bars, trip on the sidewalk, embarrass herself, fail, and have her heart broken a few times.

I don’t wish these on her, and my heart will be broken every time hers is. But I also understand the importance of letting her choose and take her own risks so that she can truly appreciate the consequences of her failure and her successes. When she wants to, and when we think she’s ready, we’ll let her take the bus home too. And of course we’ll sit anxiously on the porch awaiting her arrival. But that anxiousness is the price we pay for the joy of parenting the best way we can.

[Ms. Skenazy now has a blog devoted to this subject: Free Range Kids]

Missing Ruby

Work is ramping up for a big release next week, and so I’m working longer hours than usual. And that means I’ll be spending less time with Ruby.

Right now my work hours are shifted a little early than in the morning so that I can come home and have dinner with my family. That tends to not work so well during crunch time, though, as the principals tend to work into the evening and things can really get interesting at work around 5pm or 6pm. So, for this week I’m working into the evening and not getting home until around Ruby’s bedtime.

Ruby’s day is only about 12 hours long, and with the bus ride I can easily be away from home for all of it. Today I managed to catch her for a few minutes at each end of her day but I could, theoretically, go an entire day (or days) without seeing Ruby.

It seems particularly hard to spend significant amounts of time away from Ruby — harder than it is to be away from Kate. I’ll think about Ruby and Kate spending time together and feel like I’m falling behind. I want to be just as important a figure in Ruby’s life as Kate is, but of course in reality that’s impossible. One of us needs to work (and actually, I’m quite happy to be the one earning a paycheck right now).

This Morning On The Bus

On this morning’s bus ride there was a woman with two little girls (2 or 3 years old?) in a double pram.  One of the girls was unhappy and would occasionally scream.

This was a bus at 7am, full of morning commuters.  The pram took up a bunch of extra space.  Screaming on a bus at seven in the morning is kind of hard to tolerate.

But still, one can only assume that she wasn’t happy about the situation either.  It’s hard to imagine that she wasn taking a 7am bus ride with two unhappy toddlers just for the sheer joy of it.

Shout out to the G-units

Kate and I have been suffering the past few days. I injured my back playing soccer on Thursday and have been barely able to stand. Kate picked up a bug on the way back from Mexico, and so she’s been feeling drained — and hasn’t been able to relax because I can’t step it up (quite literally) to spend more time with Ruby.

Fortunately, Ruby’s grandparents have come to the rescue! We spent last night at Kate’s parents’ house so they could watch Ruby while we draped ourselves over their couches. And tonight, my parents are taking Ruby up north so we can spend all day Sunday doing the same to our own couches.

We’re really fortunate to have parents who live so close (although it is a two hour drive from here to my parents’ house) and are so willing to step in at the last minute give us a hand when we need it. It made a huge difference when she was a newborn, and it made a huge difference all last year when I was juggling Feedwhip and stay-at-home-dad-ness. And I’m sure it’ll continue to make a huge difference in the years to come.

Thanks, Mom and Dad and Mom and Dad!

More on Princesses

Kate’s Mom sent us a very good article from the NYT about the Princess trend. I expect to be dealing with a lot of the issues raised in the article over the next few years.

This paragraph from the article sums up my objections pretty handily:

“Playing princess is not the issue,” argues Lyn Mikel Brown, an author, with Sharon Lamb, of “Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters From Marketers’ Schemes.” “The issue is 25,000 Princess products,” says Brown, a professor of education and human development at Colby College. “When one thing is so dominant, then it’s no longer a choice: it’s a mandate, cannibalizing all other forms of play. There’s the illusion of more choices out there for girls, but if you look around, you’ll see their choices are steadily narrowing.”

The Benefits of Boredeom

A recent ParentingIdeas.org article talks about the benefits of boredom:

Strange as it may sound, bordom [sic] promotes happier, creative kids who are better problem solvers. When children use their own creativity with unstructured play, they find ways to amuse themselves — even if it means simply daydreaming.

This has been our plan for Ruby all along.  It’s why she doesn’t watch any TV right now, and why we’ll keep her organized activities to a reasonable level when she’s older.  It also makes me feel better about the time she spends exploring the playroom alone while I’m in the next room writing blog entries.

Don’t Think Pink

We’re anti-pink in our household. It’s not just that we don’t like the color (which, for the most part, we don’t). It’s also one front in our battle against the princessification of our daughter. We want Ruby to be an independent thinker. We want her to experience every color of the rainbow, and then decide for herself which one is her favorite.
DaddyTypes posted about this today:

The answer: far less than 2.5 years.

The question: how long before your soul is crushed and your kid’s soul is stolen by the whole pink-blue steamroller?

Don’t get me wrong, I still think it’s worth resisting, and truth be told, we decided to let some pink into the kid’s life early on, rather than burn 75% of the gifts she receives. It’s a losing battle, but it’s not like you can just stop fighting and turn your kid over to the Disney Princess-o-lizer.

The source of the frilly pink-for-girls hegemony in our culture is still a mystery, and frankly, the first couple of waves of feminism haven’t really helped clear things up–or stem the tide, for that matter. My money’s on, well, money. Somewhere behind and under and at the root of it all is gender-coded capitalism, with products and marketing and design that are designed to reinforce gender-specific roles, but only/really as a means to a sale-making end.

Or turned around, if people didn’t buy more pink Pottery Barn kitchen toys, Pottery Barn wouldn’t be making and flogging it. If Toys for Boys and Toys for Girls weren’t a more profitable segmentation strategy, someone in the increasingly desperate toy industry would surely figure out a better way to separate you from your money.

With respect to the last paragraph, above, I think the inverse is also true: people wouldn’t be buying it if Pottery Barn wasn’t making it. The gentrification of the American shopping experience means that every mall has more-or-less the same assortment of national chains. To maximize profit, each of those chains attempts to find the fewest number of things with the broadest appeal to their designated market segment. Pink sells, so they sell pink. People buy pink because pink is for sale.

Stores also sell pink because it is a safe, easy choice. Is green a girly color? How light can the shade of green be before it’s effeminate? Can girls wear brown? Beige? By dividing everything into blue and pink, stores make our shopping experience quick and painless.

The best way we’ve found to spare our eyeballs from pink overload is to avoid shopping at the mall altogether. Local destinations such as our favorite used clothes and toys store and the Cotton Caboodle outlet store ensure that Ruby’s sense of style is preserved intact for her to enjoy when she’s older.