Sunday, June 15, 2014

Mer-Nate: Pretend play and gender binary

This post has been a long time coming. It's taken me ages to sort out my thoughts into coherent sentences. They probably still aren't as coherent as I would like. I have a lot to say. Most of it boils down to this:

Stop with your stupid preconceived notions.

Nathan is my little boy. He loves to run and jump and crash his trucks and be a super hero and play football. You know what else he loves? My little Pony and dressing up as a princess and the color purple. And every one of those things is okay.

A month and a half ago Nathan decided he wanted to be a princess. He borrowed a dress and a crown from his Auntie Anna. He wore them both constantly for nearly three days.

He told me he was Elsa from Frozen. It was adorable. 
But it also led to questions. More than one person made comments about not showing it to people, or concerns that he could be gay. 

A few weeks ago Nathan was playing at the park. Some girls were playing with princess dolls and Nate asked if he could join. He told them that he loves to watch Little Mermaid and Frozen and that he likes to dress up as a mermaid. They told him boys couldn't be mermaids and proceeded to ignore him. Nate was sad and kind of hurt. I was hurt for him. I think he makes an awesome mermaid. 

Here's the thing: My little boy likes to dress up as a princess. And a mermaid. And there is nothing at all wrong with that. But there are so many things wrong with these reactions. 

Gender doesn't have to be binary
Let's preface this by saying that I'm talking about gender, not sex. Sure, something like 99% (according to some estimations) of people are comfortable with the gender associated with their sex. But a toddler isn't aware of things like that. He is exploring his relationship to the world. He isn't trying to understand complexities or assert his orientation or subvert the gender binary. He's just trying to understand his place in the world. We start assigning gender from birth. We put our boys in blue clothes and our little girls in dresses (Though I though Eleanor looked cute in blue)

We decorate their rooms in the assigned colors. It's a societal norm that his been entrenched for ages. But no person is necessarily all male or all female all of the time. We each have all of our intricacies and subtleties. And reducing it to male or female, black or white robs us of the true complexities of humanity. Moreover, a toddler didn't choose those things for himself. Simultaneously he doesn't understand why they were chosen for him. He is exploring where he fits into all of that. Which brings us to...

The importance of Pretend Play
Dress up, dolls, cooking in a play kitchen. All of these are forms of pretend play. Study after study has shown that pretend play has huge developmental benefits for children, including increasing creativity later in life. Why would we not try to encourage those kinds of things? Yet when you look at the things I suggested before, like dress up or playing with dolls, we overwhelmingly associate them with girls. There are very few boy baby dolls. When I wanted to look for dress ups for Nate I had to think about alternative options (Goodwill, Halloween costumes), rather than simply buying them in the store like I could with princess dresses. In the long run this is only hurting our children, boy and girl, because...

We are teaching them that women are weaker than men
It sounds strange to say it like that at first. Society is perfectly comfortable with the idea of a tomboy. We are okay letting our girls play as boys. Sure, we get a little uncomfortable when women start to look too "butch" but most of the time we don't call girls derogatory names when they like to climb trees or play sports. But what about our boys? When a boy likes to play dolls we start suggesting he might be gay. If he wants to play dress up people start asking what we are doing wrong as parents. I suggested to Dan at one point that I would be offended if someone told Eleanor that she couldn't be what she wanted, the way those girls told Nate he couldn't be a mermaid. I felt it was unfair to him. And it was, but it's more than that. What's happening here is society is placing more value on masculinity than femininity. We are saying it is okay for a girl to act like a boy because we view males as having an intrinsic value to society. But if a boy acts like a girl, we view him as weak and begin suggesting that there may be something wrong with him. Suggesting that femininity is not something of value but rather a weakness. Further, the suggestion that any sign of femininity in a boy is a sign of sexual orientation is a problem too, because...

It sexualizes children
When my son dresses up as a princess, it's because he saw one in a movie and thought she was beautiful and magical and he wanted to be good-looking and magical too. It has nothing to do with whether he likes men or women. You know what he likes? Cookies. We need to stop saying to ourselves, or each other, that pretend play (dressing up, playing with dolls, etc.) is any indication of future endeavors or preferences. Kids aren't sexual beings. So why are we putting that kind of pressure on them? It doesn't seem right. 

There's so much more that could be said here about all of this. It's a complex and complicated pile of issues. But I'll leave it here for the sake of brevity (though it seems too late for that). Suffice to say I want my babies to be who they are. And I want them to be happy. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day

I had a wonderful day with my little people today.

I asked Dan to let me sleep in a bit and then have the babies come wake me up with snuggles. That didn't happen because I was having some pretty severe back pain, but that wore off as the day went on, thankfully.

We started off with breakfast at Dan's parents. We had glorious weather and they recently put up a play set in their back yard. We spent an hour or two playing outside. It was amazing.

Dan ended up having to go in to work for a few hours because someone called in sick, but it worked out because it coordinated perfectly with nap time. Ellie was falling asleep while swinging, so we went home and rested. 

After nap time we went to the zoo. It was packed but we still had fun for the little bit of time we were there. 

After our zoo trip we were originally planning on going to visit my family, but my mom had just finished working seven days in a row and said she was just too tired. So Dan's parent's invited us back over for dinner. We played outside a little bit more until it began to rain and then we just relaxed inside and had a few drinks while the kids played. 

Finally, when the kids went to bed, Dan and I enjoyed some ice cream sundaes. Mmmm!

Best of all, Ellie spent the whole evening WALKING! She's getting so big! My little lady!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

At the Zoo

One of our favorite warm weather activities is a trip to the zoo. We are very fortunate because Milwaukee has an awesome zoo. We are also fortunate to have a Zoo Pass. My mom is very understanding of the fact that little people need things to do rather than stuff, so each year she gets Nathan a Zoo Pass for his birthday. This allows us to get in and park for free, which is awesome because entrance can be really expensive. It also means I don't feel at all guilty if we only spend a little bit of time there if the kids are too crabby or the weather gets bad.

My sisters are in spring break this week and we had lovely weather yesterday so we decided to venture to the zoo for the first time this year. Nathan always loves the zoo but this year Eleanor was old enough to enjoy it too. My sisters are always up for going with us. We went probably once a week last summer. It was awesome. We usually pack a lunch and eat there, then see all the animals. At the end we always ride the train. This time we also rode the carousel because Anna was very insistent on it.

This is the first year I've had a double stroller. Usually I either bring two strollers or I put Nathan in a stroller and wear Ellie in my Maya Wrap:

They did pretty well together. I packed some snacks because they usually do better if they can much as we go. They seem to get less antsy. 

Even so, after a while Nathan feels the need to get out. I don't blame him. It can be kind of difficult to see all the animals. It is tough when the zoo is really crowded because I'm always afraid of him running off, but he was pretty well behaved yesterday and I had the advantage of having two teenagers with me to assist in toddler herding. 

Nathan was most excited about the giraffes. I'm not sure why, but he told us before we even got there that they were his favorite. He also loved the elephants. 

And of course, at the end, we rode the train like we always do. It was even more exciting for Nathan this time because of his recent obsession with Thomas the train. Eleanor thought the train was okay too, but was very unwilling to sit down....

And finally, before we left, we took a spin on the Carousel. They have a truly beautiful one and apparently with my zoo pass I get four free tickets on it. Also You don't have to pay to ride it if you are just holding your child. So Anna, Ellie, and Nate rode it while Mary and I assisted. 

I'm really glad that the warm weather is here finally. It opens up all kinds of new activities for us to do around here. Soon we will be able to go to the beach too! I love warm weather. I'm just so much happier when it's warm! 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Celebrating Easter

We started off our celebration by attempting to attend Easter Vigil Mass. Notice I say "attempting." If you aren't familiar with the Catholic Easter Vigil, then you may not understand, so here's a little lesson.

When you leave church after service on Good Friday you exit in silence. There is no recessional. This helps to mark the solemnity of the occasion. So when you enter the church for Mass on Saturday, it is done in silence. Mass is also held at night. In our case, 8:00pm, so it is also dark. It stays that way until the priest calls everyone out to the bonfire to light the Pascal candle, which will stay lit throughout the year. The flame from that candle is used to light little candles held by everyone (within reason) in the church. The priest then chants the Exsultet in the darkness. It's quite long. Then there are seven readings from the Old Testament, each with a psalm sung in between. Then the Gospel reading and homily. Then the baptism, first communion and confirmation of all those who have decided to go through the Right of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA for short). Then the Eucharist.

It is a truly beautiful service. I've always loved it and I still enjoy it even though I don't really practice that faith anymore. It is one of the places where the tradition really shines through.

But it is also nearly three hours long. And it doesn't start until after the kids bedtime. And like I said, it starts out silently.... So even though it is lovely and traditional and I like it, it was not a great choice for the kids.

We made it through three of the readings before my kids just lost it... I went with my parents and my sisters. Dan had other plans for the night, but I knew I would have enough help.

I stopped at my parents house before Mass and we got an awesome picture of all of us in our coordinating outfits:

Eleanor and Anna were actually wearing matching dresses. Then I found Nate's shirt at Target and was so excited. Then Mary got her dress and I knew I needed one too. So I got a matching dress. We looked awesome! 

Today we went to brunch at the Crouse's. There are always tons of people there because all of the aunts and uncles and cousins are there. My kids are the 3rd generation of that family. All of my father-in-law's siblings come with their kids.... and their kids' kids. Lots of food and lots of noise. The Crouses are a loud bunch. We had German omelette (or Egg dish as Dan's mom calls it), sausage, fruit salad, ham and rolls and all sorts of pastries. They always do an egg hunt too. We had amazing weather for it this year. We spent most of the day chilling on the patio. 

After the festivities there we went to my parents' house. They only live a few minute's away from Dan's parents, which can make holidays easy. Sometimes we celebrate with extended family on my side, and that constitutes an hour drive south, but it is still nothing compared to what some people have to do. 

Things were very calm at my parents' house. My mom made ham and potatoes and a green bean casserole, but it was just my parents, my two sisters and my brother. Only nine people of you count the little ones. We ate dinner and then Nathan informed us that he needed to go outside and try out his new chalk that the Easter bunny brought for him. It was so relaxing. We watched the Brewers game and chatted. 

Here's hoping everyone else had an awesome and at least somewhat relaxing holiday! 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Creating Nathan's Space

For the last 7 years I have been living in "temporary" housing of one form or another. For three years is was back and forth between a dorm room on campus and "my room" at my parent's house, which actually switched several times. I would come home, walk into my room only to find my brother's furniture in there It felt very strange. For the last four years it has been a rented apartment. These spaces have all offered limited ability to really customize the space and make it my own. It's been difficult for me because I'm the kind of person that really bases my mood off of my environment. The inability to make my living space truly my own has had a negative impact on my emotions. 

Some of this made decorating a nursery for a baby really hard too. I could choose bedding, the color of my rocking chair and crib, but not much else. A few pieces of art on the walls, but certainly not paint or carpeting of any kind. It was a lot of working with what I had. I put together Nathan's nursery in our first home with great care. But we only lived there until he was about five months old. I never really put his room together here. 

Until now. 

We recently decided to transition Nathan into a "big boy bed." We have been casually potty training him and I felt that to really get that underway he would need to be able to get in and out of bed himself. I also wanted a room that he could use for himself. I wanted a space that was totally his. This is mostly due to the fact that we don't have a designated play area in our apartment. I think we spend a lot of time telling him not to touch things in the living room. I thought he needed a space where that wasn't the case. 

We settled on doing a Montessori style floor bed for a number of reasons. First, it was cheaper. Nate's crib transitions to a bed, but we wanted Eleanor to be able to use it because the crib that she was in was older and not as sturdy. As she got bigger I felt that she needed something that would stand up to her and I just wasn't sure the other crib was up to the challenge. I didn't feel that spending $80 on an interim bed for Nathan was a wise investment. Secondly, I knew that a floor bed would be easier for him to get in and out of on his own. It didn't require railings or extra hardware to make it safe. He can get in and out of it completely on his own. It is perfect. 

When we moved his crib out of the room I also set about making sure that everything in his room was toddler friendly. Obviously we had already child proofed everything, but I wanted things to be at his level so he could reach his own toys and books. Having everything set up like that meant that he could play independently and he was able to clean everything up by himself too. 

His room still doesn't have a lot of decoration, but it is getting there. Right now it at least feels like the space belongs to him. I've been trying to add things that make it his. I took some of the projects that he made in daycare, which had previously been stuck to our refrigerator, and put them up on his wall with some ribbon and clothespins. We also have memory/ribbon board that we purchased for him ages ago that I want to use for family pictures. Nathan loves to look at photos, especially of family. He has probably looked through my wedding photos a hundred times! I'm sure he would be really excited to have some of those in his room. 

He loves his space. He has actually done a surprisingly good job of keeping it picked up. He puts his toys away every night before he goes to bed now. Having a room he can be proud of probably goes a long way in teaching him personal responsibility for his things and his area. 

Hopefully it won't be too terribly long before I can make the rest of our home feel as inviting and personal as Nathan's room does. In the mean time I've noticed that he and Eleanor have been spending a lot more time in there than they have in the living room. Because of this they have been spending more time together, without parental involvement. When they "play" in the living room they tend to gravitate toward mom or dad rather than each other. Having a child-friendly space has really meant a lot more bonding for them too. 

The very best part of all of this was the cost.... 

  • Bed: Crib mattress from Nate's crib (baby shower gift), free
  • Bookshelf: From my parent's basement, free
  • Car rug: Ikea, $12
  • Bedding: Crib sheets and a fleece tie blanket I made, $25
  • Wire shelving: Leftover from my dorm room, free
  • Toy drawers: Re-purposed from somewhere else in the house, free
  • Wooden Toy bench/storage (you can see the corner of it in one of the pictures): Mine from when I was a kid (made by my grandpa), free
  • Wall Art: ribbon and clothespins left over from other craft projects, free

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spring Time!

I love this time of year. Maybe not the waffling back and forth between snow and sunshine that Wisconsin seems to love so much, but once it really starts to warm up spring is one of my favorite seasons.

I love it for a lot of reasons. Winter is so long here, and I've always had trouble with winter blues. Dan jokes that I am solar powered. Spring just feels like a breath of fresh air. It's like that sigh of relief you let out when you lay in your bed after a long day. Everything just feels perfect. I don't even care when it rains. Thunderstorms are so exciting for me. I never experienced that fear that a lot of kids have when the loud claps of thunder crash across the sky. It feels invigorating. The rain breaths new life into everything. Even more than all that, I love all of the new activities that come with the wave of warmth. We can go to the zoo. We can play outside. We can go on walks. We can go to the park.

My kids love the park. We don't have a yard right now, so we spend a lot of time there when it's warm out. Last Friday we were able to take our first trip to a local park with my sisters. It was a bit windy, and still a little cool, but it felt so great to be outside again. I feel like a new person when I can be outside, even for a little while.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Nathan's 3rd Birthday

When I asked Nathan what kind of party he wanted for his 3rd birthday I assumed he would say Thomas because everything in his life has been about trains for the last several months.
Much to my surprise he said that he wanted a Doctor Who party. My sister, Mary, was already thinking about having a Doctor Who party for her 14th birthday and since their birthdays are only about a week apart we decided to throw a combined birthday party.

Mary and I immediately began pinning ideas on our Pinterest board. We made our own invitations because we knew we wouldn't be able to find what we were looking for. We also didn't have enough time/money to order anything fancy off of etsy, even though there are tons of awesome invites out there.

I was pleased with how many of our ideas we were actually able to follow through on. We decided to have the party at 2:00pm so that we wouldn't have to serve a full meal and so Nathan and Eleanor would be able to get naps before the party. Because of that choice we were able to have tons of hors d'oeuvres that all matched our theme.

We invited a few of Mary's friends from school and some family. Dan's parents were the only members of his family that were able to attend, and on my side we had my grandparents and my aunt and uncle. it was a pretty small gathering, but I think that left plenty of time for everyone to mingle with the guests of honor.

Overall everything went great. I had mutiple people suggest that I become an event planner based on how well everything went. I have to admit that I love throwing parties. I always have. I've actually thought about going to school to get certified (I guess that's a thing?) but as a career it's really tough with family because you are basically working every weekend.

Anyway, without further ado, here are some photos of the soiree.