Do I Really Want My Child to be Unique?

We all say we want our kids to be special and unique and to be themselves. But is this really true? What if their true selves are jerks? Or rude little punks? Should we let them be “themselves” then? If I am honest with myself, what I really mean (other than “civilizing” the primitive cave-man out of them) is, “Be yourself within these socially acceptable parameters.”

A few months ago, my MIL and I got into a rather heated argument on whether or not I would allow Cookie Monster to wear sparkly necklaces to school (the necklace symbolizing all “feminine” accoutrements such as dresses, heels, jewelry, etc.). My MIL was adamant that allowing Cookie Monster to wear a Mardi Gras necklace to school was cruel because I would be setting him up for teasing and mockery. That it was OK for him to be playing with these dress up items in the safety of our home, but that Cookie Monster doesn’t know any better and it was my job to make sure he knew what was and was not acceptable.

I think I nearly blew a gasket.

My MIL was shocked that I would let Cookie Monster go to school with the Mardi Gras necklace on. She said she would talk to Hapa Papa to make sure that didn’t happen. I was honestly surprised that the Mardi Gras necklace would be such a big deal. But to my MIL, it symbolized all the ways that children can be cruel and she couldn’t understand why I would knowingly allow my child to suffer. I was furious that my MIL would want me to suppress Cookie Monster’s natural inclinations in order to “fit in” and why she wanted to instill my son with fear about what others thought of him.

Both of us (well, I can’t speak for my MIL, but this is what I think was going on) were so riled up because of two main issues:

1) The cruelty of children (and by extension, society at large) towards anyone who is non-conforming – particularly in proscribed gender roles.
2) The desire to let our children grow up to be themselves without feeling shame about what they wish and who they are.

Now that I have had several months to cool off, the reality is not so cut and dried. After all, I may not mind Cookie Monster going to school with a harmless (to me, at least) Mardi Gras necklace, but would I be so nonchalant if he wanted to go to school in a hot pink tutu?

If I let him and he got made fun of, should I warn him? But then if he changes his mind because he doesn’t want to be teased, have I failed him and turned him into someone who cares overly about what other people think? Or is that just a glimpse of the Real World where there are always consequences (good or bad) to our actions?

If I didn’t let him, would I be crushing Cookie Monster’s pure little soul and forcing him to conform to what American society deems socially acceptable for males (a VERY narrow band, incidentally)? Would I be providing fodder for self-loathing and therapy in the years to come?

Where would I draw the line? If I did allow him and it was not allowed at the school, would I make a big stink about it so that my child would be free to be himself? What type of lesson would my kids learn if I did make a big deal? That they should fight for what they believe in? Or that rules were meant to be flouted if they made my kids feel bad or “oppressed”?

Hapa Papa says I’m a hypocrite because I am fine with Cookie Monster doing things that seem girly, but I seem far more ruthless about not letting Gamera do those things. Incidentally, that is full of crap because I let Gamera do PLENTY of “girly” things – I just don’t want her to play with Barbies for you know, reasons. Scientifically backed reasons, by the fucking way. Not that I think you’re a bad parent if you allow your kids to play with Barbies. I think the majority of little girls who play with Barbies grow up to be awesome, empowered women. It’s just my personal preference. Backed by SCIENCE. (This dig is aimed more at Hapa Papa, who reads my blog, more than any of my other readers.)

I don’t mind Gamera playing with her baby doll, but I don’t exactly go out of my way to encourage it, either. I supposed I don’t exactly encourage her to play with cars, planes, Legos, and blocks, etc. either, but I approve of it more so. What is so wrong with her playing with dolls? When I think about it, it’s super cute how Gamera puts her “baby” in time out, has her baby cry and need hugs and band aids, and breastfeeds her doll when it is hungry. She’s using her imagination to nurture and take care of her baby. That’s a wonderful thing!

Have I bought into the lie that anything to do with the home or traditional gender roles is bad?

I don’t think so. I am fine with her dressing up as a “Prin-us” (how she says, “Princess.”) with heels and sparkly everything. I am even fine with Cookie Monster doing so. (I bought some sparkly Hello Kitty shoes in HIS size because I knew he’d be so crushed if he couldn’t fit in them and would watch Gamera enviously when she wore them. That way, I also get more mileage out of them for Gamera, too.) I love it when she and Cookie Monster cook in their toy kitchen or push her cars in her toy stroller.

Sigh. Sorry, I think I rambled a bit there and I’m too tired to go back and edit this into a more coherent piece.

At any rate, how do I balance the two seemingly conflicting desires of wanting my children to be who they are yet not suffer from their peers? I suppose I have no control over how their peers or society react to and treat my children so I will just have to help my kids be as themselves as possible. I hope I have the wisdom to know when to intervene and when not to. Seems way more complicated than when I was growing up. Back then, our parents just threw us to the wolves.

My Surprising Lack of Options

I don’t know why I bother clicking on baby dolls or kids’ books. It just upsets me when all the dolls or characters are white and nary a one is anything else. It just makes me feel so sad and disappointed.

At this point, it doesn’t even matter if the doll isn’t Asian or of mixed race (that will be the day). I would accept any ethnicity that is not white. I would also like to see more than one token doll of color – and I don’t consider “really tan” as another ethnicity. But I know that is even crazier than asking for just one mixed race doll.

It’s as if these dolls inhabit a world where there is only one kind of black person or one kind of Latino – but white folks? Legion. Is this how white folks really see the world? That there are a rich mix of features and variety for Caucasians but everyone else looks exactly the same? Or is this what being “color blind” reduces everyone to, causing people to be blind to everyone who is of color?

It really makes me very, very sad. Sad isn’t even the appropriate word. More like angry. Indignant. Defeated.

How many choices of dolls do you think there are out there? Let’s just narrow the field down to that well-known Barbie. Since 1999, there have been at least 2,300 versions sold of the Barbie doll. That’s a lot of dolls. Do you know how many dolls I found when I was looking for an Asian baby doll for Gamera? (Please do not get me started on the creepy, utterly gross results I got. *shiver*) Four. I found FOUR Asian dolls that were reasonable for a toddler to play with (not the collector’s kind and not the squicky sexy kind). There is something wrong with that, don’t you think?

Here’s a great post by someone who loved American Dolls (another super popular doll brand) and their lack of inclusion for Asian Americans. (It’s not like we built a fucking railroad or anything. Oh, wait. WE DID. To be fair, American Dolls does make a custom Asian American doll – but I’m not paying that much money for a doll my kids are going to decapitate someday.)

And for folks who think I am making a big deal out of nothing, do you own a doll of another ethnicity? If not, why? Is it because she doesn’t look like you or your kid? Then why do you suppose I would want a doll that doesn’t look like me or my kid? At best, people have never thought about it much. At worst, they think every one wants to look like them. (My money’s on the former.)

I’m not trying to make people feel bad. To be brutally honest, I don’t give two fucks about other people and the dolls that represent them. (Ok, I do, in a peripheral sort of way.) It’s not the vast variety of white baby dolls that bothers me. As far as I’m concerned, the more the merrier. What bothers me is the LACK of dolls that represent ME and MY children.

What I find even MORE astounding is that I would think that Asian countries would be ALL OVER THIS SHIT. Corner the market for Asian Americans and their offspring! But, no. Not a single one that I could find. I think that depresses me even more. I finally bought a French made one for Gamera. The doll looks kinda creepy, but Gamera likes her just fine.

Anyhow, this post got started because I got one an email from one of those deal sites and they were talking about how they have so many beautiful dolls for our little girls to play with. Six dolls were featured and not a single one of them was of a non-white ethnicity. Apparently, only white girls can be princesses and mermaids.