Cinderella Ate My Child… And I am perfectly OK with it

Cinderella ate my child… And I am perfectly OK with it. The difference, Ms. Orenstein, is that my child is a boy. That is I was OK, until he started wearing Cinderella panties.

I introduced M-man, then two years old, to Cinderella out of desperation. My cousin was getting married and we faced 16 hours of family togetherness, in a car, with a two year old. Desperate to entertain and constrain an active two year old, I turned to my old favorite – Disney movies. Only little M-Man was going through some tough nightmares at this time, so whatever he watched could not have a scary bad guy, any monsters, or really sad parts. That means: no Toy Story (I mean, really, Sid is one scary kid), Monsters’ Inc. (a funny monster is still a monster), and definitely no Lion King (Mufasa. Sniff.). I landed on Cinderella, thinking the mice and animals could be fun. He LOVED it! He loved the funny mice and birds, he loved the bibbity, bobbity, booing Fairy God-Mother, he even loved Lucifer the evil step-cat! But mostly he loved Cinderella and Prince Charming. He watched Cinderella countless times. His stuffed animals attended royal balls, drawings of castles filled the gallery wall, and dress up always included a prince element. Then we visited Disney World and he met “the real” Cinderella. It. Was. Love. Pure love. After meeting her, he was so aw-struck he literally could not talk for a solid 5 minutes, which, as anyone who’s ever had a two year old knows, is a significant amount of time.

I thought it was wonderful. We talked about optimism and the power of hope and the importance of dreams as Cinderella sang about her dreaming heart. We talked about kindness. Love, different types of families, how men should treat women… I covered all of them with my two-year-old boy within the story of Cinderella. Then came potty training. As a reward for doing such a good job with his potty training, I let him pick out a new pack of underwear. He studied each pack intently. This was a serious decision and not to be taken lightly. Then, eyes shining, he turned to me and proudly showed me his selection. Cinderella panties. White with powder blue and purple trim and a picture of Cinderella on the front. My hand froze. Watching the movie was one thing, but wearing Cinderella panties? In what I believe was a defining parenting moment, I swallowed the no in my throat and said, “Those look great, dear,” and carried on shopping.

M-Man is now four and still wears Cinderella underwear. One time recently he wanted to wear a Cinderella pair instead of a Spiderman paid I had grabbed. I asked him why. He very plainly said that he likes the Cinderella ones better because they do not have a “penis pocket”. This means the picture is on the front instead of the back (or butt) and he can see it better. Though this moment did crystallize why he insists on wearing his all of his other underwear backwards, I felt sick at the thought that someone would tease him as school. Still, I dropped him off at school with his Spiderman shirt and Cinderella panties.

Yesterday The Boston Globe Magazine ran an article about the problem with separate toys for boys and girls. Not surprisingly, it’s negative. Boys stop playing with girls earlier than developmentally appropriate, thereby strengthening gender stereotypes and deepening gender inequalities. It is natural for boys and girls to play together. Through this play, children gain a foundation of respect for the opposite gender because they realize that the other sex really isn’t all that different from them. Playing together teaches that everyone likes to play, and is therefore equal. From this equality comes respect.

As a mom of two boys, it is extremely important that my sons respect women. I want my sons to value strength, independence, and kindness in girls and later in women. But our children live in a blue and pink world. So it is up to us as parents to get our boys and girls to play together. It is up to us to teach them to see that blue and pink are simply colors. When Mother Nature creates a rainbow or paints a flower she doesn’t let the color dictate where it goes. Neither should the color of the toy aisle dictate what toys my child plays with. Neither should a cartoon picture on a pair of underwear lead me to discourage my son from wearing them.

So I am going to let my son wear Cinderella underwear as long as he wants. I am going to set up play dates with boys and girls. I am going to buy toys based on his interests, not aisles. I am going to model that certain colors do not belong to one gender or another (“Yes, Mommy wears blue shirts. And Daddy wears pink shirts.) I am going to ask him which girls in his class are strong, fast runners, and funny; helping him create concrete examples. And I vow to keep doing this, even when girls become gross and then not gross again. I will talk with, listen to, and observe my son. I will remember how I act around “boy things” and “girl things” matters. Because when he is in college and at a frat party, I want to know he will respect the girls there. I want him to date girls who are smart, interesting, and adventurous. I want one day for him to find his Cinderella, and for him to be one heck of a Prince Charming.

Until that day, I want him to wear Cinderella underwear.

Things to Do When Stuck Inside with a Preschooler

IMG_3913Winters in Virginia will always make the New Englander in me smile.  Snow storms are few and far between, but when they come they bring with them snow days a plenty.  you’ll hear a lot about how “Virgina doesn’t have the equipment or the snow budget…”, but I think M-man hit the mark best.  When driving him back to school after four days off, he asked with a look of utter confusion on his face “But Mommy, we can’t go to school.  There’s snow on the ground.”  Well, snow is still on the ground, the weather forecast calls for another 6 inches tonight, and schools are fully expecting another couple of snow days.  So parents will dress the little guys head-to-toe in marshmallow-filled snow suits and send them outside to play.  Until the inevitable lost mitten, wet hands, snow ball to the face, or (and this is the worst) Mom gets cold.  Too soon the winter wonderland adventure ends and cabin fever sets in.  Pair that with the fact that in our house snow days mean drinking copious amounts of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows plus baking cookies or brownies or both and you can quickly have a preschool disaster.  There are only so many crafts you can do and pictures you can color before one of you starts climbing the walls.  So for all the parents gearing up for another snow day, here’s something I wrote during my preschool teacher years when you just can’t weather another snowman, but your little person needs to move. (Wall climbing not included.).

 

Here are a few ideas on how to keep a preschooler active when stuck inside:

 

Freeze Dance Party

Grab your tot and turn on the tunes! Anything with a beat will work. Dance and be silly with your child as you listen to the music. Help teach impulse control and listening skills by having the child freeze when you briefly stop the music. An added element to the Dance Party could be “dressing up” prior to the party – raid mom and dad’s closet and don silly hats, ties, make-up… anything can go as long as the child will not trip over it.

 

Obstacle Course

Turn your house into a personal training course. Run up stairs, climb under tables, tag walls, crab walk (or any other animal walk) across the living room, climb through hula hoops, lift up old sheets like parachutes, hop over jump ropes on the floor… the world (or your house) is your oyster!

 

Treasure Hunt

Arrrgh, there be rough weather outside and a slurry of pirates inside. Your dining room table becomes a pirate ship when your tot finds a treasure map taped underneath! Use picture clues of items throughout the house to lead him or her on the hunt. At the end hide tissue paper coins inside a treasure bag along with a healthy snack. Share the snack together onboard the pirate ship (underneath the table) while counting the coins and reliving the hunt.

 

Yoga

Encourage your child to appreciate the quiet beauty of a snowy day while you find your inner peace from your mats (or beach towels). Downward Facing Dog, the Cat Stretch, the Camel Stretch, the Tree Pose, and the Heart Pose are all child friendly yoga moves.

 

Book Acting

Draw your child into reading by acting out the book together. My family’s favorite is “The Gingerbread Man” as our little man “runs, runs, runs as fast as he can, but we can’t catch him because he’s the gingerbread man!”. Mom and Dad then take turns being the other characters. Click here for a list of recommended books.

 

Poetry Slam

Ask your child to listen to a poem as you read it. After you are finished, discuss the poem with your child. What were the favorite characters or event that happened? Then encourage the child to act out the characters or actions as you read the poem a second time.

 

Shape and Movement Game

Cut out various shapes from construction paper. When you hold up a triangle, your child can only move his or her head. When you hold up a circle, the child can only move his or her legs. For a square, only move shoulders; for a rectangle, only hips. For an oval, the child can move his or her entire body! Change shapes quickly and play music during the game to add to the fun.

 

Become

Let your child act out the features/characteristics of some every day items such as a bike, rake, hose, wheelbarrow, beach ball, kitchen mixer, etc.

 

Line Challenges

Using masking or painters tape make a line on the floor. Encourage your child to see how many things he or she can do on the line: jump over the line, walk on the line, hop along the line, stand on the end of the line with one foot, stretch out on the line, slide on the line, tiptoes across the line, roll over the line, lie beside the line, run or skip around the line, etc.

 

Classical Music and Movement

Play classical music to encourage creative movements. Selected sections from Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals are excellent for inspiring animal movements; Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Little Swans” from Swan Lake is a natural for tiptoeing; Herbert’s “March of the Toys” from Babes in Toyland or Grieg’s “Norwegian Rustic March” from Lyric Suite; etc.

 

And when you run through these, “Do you want to build a snowman?”.  Thanks for reading!

 

XO

Jane

Yes, there are boy fairies!

photo(25)When I signed my child up for the local park’s preschool “Fairy Chase” program, I had a pretty clear idea of what it would consist of – exploring the gardens, chasing fairies with nets, and maybe a craft of building a fairy house with sticks or making fairy circles with rocks. My assumptions were mostly right. It was a charming program. The day was sunny and bright. The staff members were warm and welcoming. It was the perfect day for a fairy chase. And yet we left early.

The problem was my child is a boy. He is a sweet, typical three-and-a-half year old boy. He loves playing pirates, soccer, and super heroes. And he believes in fairies. We build fairy houses in our garden, imagine the world fairy-size, and have watched every Tinker Bell movie multiple times. So when spring break rolled around, he begged me to sign him up for the Fairy Chase program. I knew it was going to be geared towards girls, but it was a preschool program. I figured it would be like a little boy in a ballet class or a little girl in pirate camp. It might be going a bit against gender stereotypes, but big deal. It was a big deal. Many times the instructor referred to the group as “girls” this, and “come on girls” that despite the fact that my son was a part of the group. During the fairy circle time the group was asked their favorite colors, yet pink and purple were the only colors offered as suggestions. All of these bothered me, but I could shake off. Then the lead fairy told the group they would all make lovely fairies, yet the instructor then turned to my son and said “and you would make a lovely pixie or an elf”. That was it. No one tells my son he can’t be something because of his gender. Even a fairy. I whispered to my son it was time to go and we quietly left the group.

I understand that these were all innocent comments and in no way meant to be harmful. However these innocent comments are noticed. On the drive to the program my son’s car chatter centered around how to find fairies, whether he’d be fast enough to catch one, and hoping the fairies saw the bright colors he wore. (“Everyone knows fairies like colors, Mommy. That’s why flowers are so colorful!”) On our drive home from the program my son was quiet for a long time. Then he quietly asked, “Mommy, why don’t fairies like blue and green? Why do they only like pink and purple? Don’t boy fairies like blue and green? Are there no boy fairies?”

Yes, there are boy fairies! In both the old folklore of the English countryside and the modern day stories of Tinker Bell and Pixie Hollow, there are boy fairies. For anyone who needs a quick fairy education, here you go. (Listen up, Ms. My-son-has-to-be-a-pixie-or-an-elf). Fairies are most closely associated with the British countryside, especially England, Scotland, and Wales. They are magical, usually tiny, winged creatures that live in nature. They are fond of pranks, often get into mischief, and tend to quick tempers. And there are both female and male fairies. So, why can’t little boys like fairies? Nothing in their historic roots seems extremely “girly”. Yes, Disney markets their fairies to girls, but Tinker Bell and believing in fairies a fundamental part of the Peter Pan – Captain Hook myth that appeals to the masses of preschool boys. Fairies teach children to be kind, clever, and imaginative, while appreciating the beauty of nature. These are not girl-only traits last time I checked. If I had a little girl who wanted to go to “pirate school” I would hope she would have fun pretending to be a pirate while learning to be brave, bold, and strong – not return wondering why girls cannot be pirates.

So my son and I returned home and did our own Fairy Chase. We watched Disney’s Tinker Bell and talked about how Terrance (the BOY fairy) was a good friend. We hunted for rocks and sticks to add to our fairy houses, and ran around the yard trying to catch bugs who could be friends with the fairies. My boy went to bed happy, believing in fairies and himself. The time he will believe in fairies will be brief and fleeting, and I want him to be allowed to enjoy it. I will not let some park-led class tell him otherwise. All children should have chance to believe in the magic of fairies.