My Son Has a Doll. The End.

When my children wrote their Christmas lists for Santa, the contents were not that surprising based on what their interests are.   My daughter wrote hers very studiously and in great detail.   I helped my son with his, given that he is only three.  His list was just the loveliest list.   It comprised two things: Loads of Ninjas, and Loads of Babies. Ninjas being the Lego craze he is obsessed with.    And Babies because of the love he has for doll babies at the moment.

Santa delivered the requested items and he brought a baby doll for each of them.  The children named the baby dolls Wendy and Michael, of Peter Pan fame, and they have quickly become part of the family.

So far, so uneventful.

The reaction to Michael, however, has been somewhat interesting, and a little surprising.   Not because he’s got a random name.  Not because he goes everywhere with us.  But because he is my son’s doll.   And for reasons not made clear to us, he inspires surprising reactions everywhere he goes.   From raised eyebrows, to ‘oh, ok’ comments when we introduce Michael as our son’s doll and not our daughter’s, as people initially assume.  We’ve even had people commending us for giving our son a doll.

How strange, eh.  Welcome to 2017 folks.  Gender stereotyping is alive and well.

I was a little bit used to this before Santa brought Michael, as my son liked to dress up in Princess dresses a lot.   This made some people deeply uncomfortable and had the added side effect of making my husband and I feel deeply amused by their reactions.   It feels much the same with the presence of Michael, but this time it makes me feel a little sad.   Sad that a little boy having a doll is such a surprise to people.  Sad because they feel the need to point it out or patronise us in a ‘good for you’ way.  Sad because in 2017 people still carry around some very defined expectations of gender that they assign to children.  My son is a boy with thoughts and feelings, with loves and likes, with things that piss him off and things that confuse him.   He loves many different toys and pastimes.  He loves cars, Ninja Lego people, toy kitchens, making pretend tea, wearing Princess dresses, building toy towers, destroying toy towers, singing to Frozen, and he absolutely loves Michael.

I have read a lot about the campaigns to change the way retailers sell children’s toys, such as Let Toys be Toys, and I think they are fabulous campaigns making a real difference.   But I can’t shake the feeling that, for all the change we might bring about in retailing, there is a huge change needed but not happening with the way we ourselves see children and gender.   How can real change happen if the adults around children continue to express surprise when children don’t conform to a stereotype?  I’ve seen this much more since having my son.   Little things such as the way some people react when he is upset by things.   Where they might physically comfort a little girl if she cries, by hugging her and providing the affection that children need, some adults find this difficult.    And I’ve heard differences in the way people have spoken to him – he is ‘kid’ or ‘mate’, whereas his sister is ‘sweetheart’ or ‘darling’.   Not from everybody, of course, and not all the time, but enough for me to notice.

And I see it a lot when I’m around and about, watching other grown-ups interact with children.  From the little boy in the playground who is distressed by something and being told to ‘man up’ by his mum, to the little boy engaged in full tantrum mode in a country park whilst his parent tells him to ‘stop crying, stop being a baby, and stop behaving like a little girl’.  Nice.   Progressive.

But how do you change decades of narrow-minded thinking?  How do you rise up and challenge the status quo?   Well, how about we take it back to basics and start at the beginning, by letting children be children.  Stop judging them when they buck the trend.  Stop imposing our own value judgements on them.  Stop plotting out their whole lives based on the actions they engage in as children.  Stop defining their futures by the toys they choose and the activities they enjoy.  Stop making them feel that showing emotions is a female trait and that they have to select activities and interests based on old-fashioned and dated thinking.     Let them know they are accepted and valued, whatever their interests, preferences and opinions.   Let them know the world is theirs for the taking.   Wouldn’t that be a great start to 2017.


President Trumpypants

So, here we are, watching our friends on the other side of the pond as they begin a new era with a new President.  I know emotions are high and there are many feeling a lot of anxious feelings today about what will happen now.

I watched the inauguration with my children.  I’d like to tell you this was an educational decision based on what I thought would benefit them.  In truth, it was entirely selfish as I just wanted to watch it all unfold, and to watch an amazing man depart gracefully as a not-so-amazing man took over.

But it was interesting to watch it with the children.   Firstly, I was amazed that they didn’t have a full on meltdown about the fact that CBeebies/Peter Pan/Superheroes/Lego (delete as appropriate) was not on the TV.  Usually, it’s a bit of a hard negotiation to get any type of grown up programming (news) on the telly during the daytime.  This time though, they appeared a bit transfixed.  Visually it was quite a stunning thing to watch.   Everybody looked very polished and beautiful.  There were lots of people in uniforms.   The cars were state-of-the-art, the buildings were glorious, the red carpet was blue, and everything was precision-choreographed.   My daughter likened it to watching the war commemorations and I understood that.  To her, it did look like that, just without the Queen.

They both enjoyed watching and my daughter talked a lot about the outgoing and incoming Presidents, though she had no clue about their politics but she had a deep fascination with their ties.   Donald Trump was ‘Mr Red Tie’ and Barack Obama was ‘Mr Blue Tie’.

As the inauguration went on, I tried to explain little bits to the kids.  After the start, my son was not too bothered.  He’s three and playing with Lego Superman was hands-down more exciting.   But my daughter paid more attention and I tried to explain to her, in words a four-year old could comprehend, what was happening.  I told her that a really good man was leaving his job and a man who wasn’t so good was taking over.  I pointed out Hillary Clinton and told her that she was a good lady and a lot of people were sad as they had wanted her to be the President.  When the images of protestors breaking windows came on, she asked me what they were doing.  How do you explain protesting to somebody so little? No, I don’t know either.  I made some rubbish attempt to explain it, but included a caveat that breaking windows was never good.

It was very much unplanned to watch with them and try to explain things but it did get me thinking about how to explain politics to children.  I don’t have the first idea how to do this, and indeed if I should when they are so little.  I remember having no interest in politics as a child or young adult.  The only thing I paid attention to was the general message around me that the Prime Minister at the time (Thatcher) was not liked.  I didn’t even pay any attention when Tony Blair took office in 1997.  I was sixteen and there were much more important things in life – boys, pop music, trying to be cool, discovering hair straighteners, and boys again.

But politics are all around us, they matter.   So how do we make that important to children and young people and, crucially, how do we make it interesting?   I think in the UK it is an uphill struggle.   To most of us, our political system looks like a bit of a farce really, controlled by a group of people who share with each other their privileged lives and have little in common with and little understanding of the people they are supposed to represent.   Now I know this doesn’t account for everyone and I know there are some wonderful elected people working locally for their communities who do fabulous things, but this is rarely shown.  Rather more we see a lot of shouting and jeering by political opponents sitting on dark green benches, not actually appearing to make any progress working together to run a country, because they are so busy insulting each other.  Bizarre.

Anyway, these are just my thoughts.  I have no answer at the moment for how to make it interesting or relevant to young people.  I would like one day to see somebody leading our country who inspires the same awe and respect and wonderment as Obama did and still does.   For many of us in the UK, we almost envy that America had him even for a short while.

I’ll leave you with this.  Towards the end of the inauguration viewing, my daughter decided President Trump could be upgraded from Mr Red Tie and now he will forever be known, in our family at least, as President Trumpypants.

Finding Your January Happy Things

Tuesday.  Not quite a Monday but edging closer to the beginning of normal life resuming on Wednesday, and the official proper start of January.  Ordinarily normal life would resume today, but an inset day at my daughter’s school has given us a brief reprieve.

So this morning we (me, the kids) allowed ourselves to be a little bit lazier.  Breakfast was later, getting dressed was a relaxed affair (although it was punctuated with my daughter’s new favourite game – showing me her bum and singing ‘bummy bum bum’).  Morning telly was still Christmassy thanks to on-demand TV.  We even managed a stroll out to the park and a bit of windsweptness.      And then when we got back, while the kids played, I sorted a drawer.   Isn’t it funny how you can spend the whole of the rest of the year filling a drawer with crap – in our case usually post, unused notebooks, empty batteries, and appliance manuals – only to have a sudden urge in early January to sort it out.  Perhaps only to refill it again.

In this particular drawer, I found a few half-used and a few completely empty notebooks but two in particular caught my eye.  In order of year, they were titled ‘Mad’s Keep Fit Book 2015’ and ‘Mad’s Getting Healthy Book 2016’.   Sensing a theme?  It would appear I have the same thought process at the end of every Christmas and the beginning of each January and I was perilously close to creating a new notebook (I had one ready) called ‘Mad’s Getting Healthy and Fit (Again) Book 2017’.  Thankfully, I stopped myself.   It clearly doesn’t work.  I start the book each year.  I go running, I write it down.  I eat some fruit, I write it down.   Somewhere between February and March, I give up and confine the book to the bottom drawer for discovery at a later date by a future (and probably not healthier) me.

I also find myself having the same thought processes about how best to start the year in terms of making resolutions to make myself generally better/happier/more successful every year.   But I do wonder what the point of this is and why we pick that moment every year to make ourselves feel that we are in some way not good enough, so that we need to start fresh for the new year?

I’ve read a few fab blog posts about making or not making resolutions, so this won’t be one of those.   All I will say about that is that I clearly am bad at keeping resolutions.  There is one thing I’m good at though – lining up fun things to look forward to and fun things to think about, to combat the January blues, which I suffer with every year.    And right now, I bet I’m not alone.   Depending on how full or empty your glass is, January can be a month full of potential and opportunity or it can seem like a massive crash after the Christmas celebration.  I’m in both camps.  Somethings I feel excited that it’s a new year, and at other times I feel sluggish, tired, and a bit low that Christmas is done.   It’s like I’m now on the wrong side of Christmas.  So, I think about good things to come – not in the year but just in the month.  Start small, baby steps, and take little bits of niceness and fun as they come.  Eventually, the January blues will start to lift and I’ll be back in the zone.

I’ve taken the liberty of suggesting a few things from my own brain about how to have a happy January, if you too get the blues.

  • Arrange a birthday – admittedly I have a head start on this given I was born in January some years ago.  But if you don’t have a birthday in January, you could  always copy the Queen and have an official birthday.   This then means cake, presents, party, awesome.
  • Line up a new box set to watch on TV until the nights are getting a bit lighter and you can venture out of your mole den.    For us this year we’ve chosen Sherlock, from the beginning.
  • Don’t throw out the spare Christmas chocolate during a moment of guilt – keep it in the fridge to have in bits throughout the month.   None of this diet and detox rubbish.  Chocolate makes you feel happy.  Happy is good.
  • Go for some walks.  I know, boring boring.  But, it’s a happy medium in between burpys and press-ups, and feeling bad doing no movement at all.  Plus the fresh air actually will genuinely make you feel better.  And if you live near some moors you can pretend you’re a heroine in a classic novel.
  • Arrange a cinema night.  Check out the listings – I know you’re all excited about Trainspotting 2.
  • Have some ‘present appreciation’ time.   Spend just a few minutes, line up your presents and look at them.   However old you get, this never stops being enjoyable.
  • Go for a drive and sing really loud in the car to some inappropriate music.   If you want to feel truly liberated, carry on singing at traffic lights and look at the people in the car next to you.

I’m sure you will have your own ‘happy things’ that make you feel better if you get the January blues but these might get you started.  And on a more serious note, if the blues get too much, talk to somebody, let your friends and family know you’re not in a good place, and you need some TLC.

Wishing you all a happy January.


Image by Mike Linksvayer under Creative Commons

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