I’ve been wondering why I write so much about my daughter and so little about my son. The former is 5-going-on-15 and the latter – still my big baby – is approaching 3 years old. To redress the imbalance, here is the story of one boy’s obsession with Play-Doh, Cookie Monster and YouTube.
I am preoccupied with the idiosyncrasies of my daughter. Perhaps it is because she is older than my son and is blossoming (nay, erupting) into an independent being that makes her so fascinating. I’m not sure I’d go as far to say that I understand her – some days I don’t understand my her at all. She’s 5 years old – I shouldn’t expect to. As a female I am sensitive to what she might come up against in life and topics involving women now make me rantier than ever before. My daughter thus provides plenty of writing inspiration, directly and indirectly.
When it comes to my son I seem to have missed (or at least underestimated) his power to make me to write. Whilst worrying about the surge of pink in the house, I’ve taken my eye off the ball and this baby boy of mine has grown into a fully functioning, determined and funny little man. He has the randomness typical of all toddlers, but, when he wants to, he has the focus of a laser beam – ie, he gets inexplicably obsessed with unusual things.
Nothing demonstrates this more than his current obsession with watching YouTube videos about Play-Doh. Somehow he stumbled across a review of a Cookie Monster set and his passion has known no bounds since. I suspect that a good proportion of the 7 million plus views this particular video has had can be traced back to our house. There is something wonderful about his fascination with something so simple: a blue plastic monster being fed Play-Doh fruit and vegetables. Nothing more, nothing less. Over and over and over again.
In the last few days his YouTube obsession has manifested itself in the real world. (Let it not be said that an addiction to technology stops children from engaging in ‘proper’ play.) Ten empty tubs of Play-Doh later and we have a whole box full of Cookie Monster’s favourite foodstuffs. I’ve had to hide the remaining tubs of Play-Doh lest they lose their virginity to the swirling, sticky mass that is Cookie Monster’s lunch.
Here is the thought process of a 2-year-old boy in pictures. Only three pictures. He’s a simple beast. (I suggest you look away if you can’t cope with more than one colour of Play-Doh mixed together.)
In my preoccupation with the complexity of a 5-year-old girl making her way in the world, I’d forgotten that simplicity is just as wonderful.
Next time: The one where my son watches a video (13m 14secs) on loop of someone opening 100 Kinder eggs. No, really.
As parents we like to think we know what’s best for our children. We want them to have a good start. With our benefit of hindsight, we don’t want them to make the same mistakes we did. But ‘knowing what’s best’ is a spectrum, one end of which is occupied by the unpleasantly Pushy Parent. At what point does pushing your child stop being for their benefit and start being detrimental? It’s a tricky area for parents to manouevre in and one that’s perhaps impossible to get right.
Every Saturday morning my 5-year-old daughter has a drama class. Fifty per cent of the time she’ll happily dress herself in the kit and bounce off down the road. The other fifty per cent she will cry, refuse to get changed and spend an inordinate amount of time sitting on the toilet to avoid going. On those weeks – and following a long battle – she will finally get ready and leave on the condition that if she says she still doesn’t want to go when we get there then she can come home again. Invariably, she is coaxed by the teacher to stay and will bound out at the end of the class having had a wonderful time. Kids don’t know what’s good for them.
Or do they? I feel for her entirely. She’s not being completely irrational (for once). It wasn’t until recently that I realised quite how much like me she is. I’ve always described myself as a closet extrovert – some people never see the extrovert whilst others would never believe the introvert existed. When I tell people that my daughter is shy no one can quite believe it. Nor can I. The little girl I see dancing, singing, bossing and going bonkers at home turns out to be quite different from the little girl in the classroom. She’s like me and this is not what I want for her.
I remember very clearly how hard it was to put my hand up in class. Even at university I would sit silently in seminars afraid to put myself forward in case I got it wrong. What remains now is a real sense of frustration at what could have been had I just had the guts. Maybe I could’ve been an astronomer had I not been afraid to take a degree course that involved going on field trips abroad. (Now I press my nose against the velux window in the loft room and look up.) Tempting as it is, I don’t want to live ‘my life that wasn’t’ vicariously through my daughter – that would be just plain selfish. What I do want though is for her never to have to look back and wonder what she could’ve done had she not been shy.
It’s hard to persuade a child to be brave – that it’s okay to get things wrong. They don’t have to be perfect. After all, mistakes help us learn. Children naturally seek comfort so why should they push uncomfortable boundaries? How far parents should push those boundaries for them is not an easy question to answer. There is a point where you must stop and ask yourself why you are pushing and who you are pushing for. If it’s for yourself then hopefully the bad parenting klaxon will sound and knock you squarely on the head.
Whilst my daughter continues to dash out of the drama class bursting to tell me what she’s been doing – the earlier tears a distant memory – I will continue to push her to go. It’s painful to see her cry but each time she will take a little step towards being brave enough to go out and grab life by the horns. And I’m tremendously proud of her.
I interrupt this broadcast with important news for all women out there. Are you fed up with watching dull documentaries about history that are just so last season? Bored of that Professor Cox who claims he was once a pop star but never seems to be in any of your issues of Closer? Television can be so tedious can’t it? All too often it goes a little bit above your head and deals with issues that quite frankly aren’t worth busting a nail over. Well fret no longer women of Britain with your tiny brains: ITV is launching a channel just for you.
I often have to check the date to see if it’s April 1st. This was one such occasion. But it turns out that ITV really are tuning into exactly what women want. Men have been trying to figure this out for years and ITV seem to have cracked it once and for all. ITV say ITVBe will focus on entertainment and “reality and non-scripted shows” which are, according to ITV bod Peter Fincham, “very popular with young women and housewives with kids”. That’ll be the two most vacuous sections of society then Mr Fincham? The latter certainly has plenty of time to put their feet up and consume meaningless drivel. I wouldn’t dare suggest that ITV are having any hand in perpetuating the myth that being a stay-at-home parent is a hobby and not a bloody hard job.
Hold on though. I say stay-at-home ‘parent’ but a stay-at-home dad would obviously be watching ITV4 “which aims to attract a predominantly male audience with its ‘cult’ classics and sports coverage”. ITV4’s Twitter profile describes it as “the channel for real fans”. Men can cope with that little bit more substance. There may be a fine line (certainly in my eyes) between a football pundit and an oranged-up cheeky chappy from TOWIE but men’s brains are clearly capable of better focus (at least for 90 minutes). Leave the shallow and the wishy-washy for the shriveled brains of us poor women.
And then there’s the name of the channel: ITVBe. It wisely implies that women should just be themselves. Really, you don’t have to pretend to enjoy Mastermind anymore. Just relax and stop aiming above your station by trying to absorb any meaningful information – stick with TOWIE. After all, you’re not capable of handling anything deeper than a layer of Shellac. When you can accept that, you will achieve peace with yourself and just BE.
Photo credit: Yellow Moon
According to government minister Jenny Willott in a debate today, pink toys are damaging the economy. Damaging it? Going by the number of pink toys in shops I’d say they’re supporting it. But Ms Willott was referring to something much more sinister and long-term. She argues that pink toys are steering girls away from careers in engineering and the sciences and therefore businesses are missing out on “vital talent”. Toys – and the associated stereotypes – are to blame for the gender gap.
This puts me in a quandary. I’m not happy with the way toys are marketed at boys and girls. Lego Friends leaves a bad taste in my mouth. However, I resent the suggestion that my 5-year-old daughter’s future success will be mapped out for her by the toys she plays. If I listen to what was said in today’s debate then she’s doomed! I might as well start my search for a rich husband for her now. Like many first-time parents, I started off adamant that pink plastic and sparkles were not going to become part of our household. Yet 5 years on, my daughter last night set up a mini hair salon in her bedroom and I happily let her brush my hair and smudge lipstick across my face. The pink flood inevitably sweeps into your home, regardless of how much parental sand-bagging you do.
Am I worried that she’s going to think she can’t achieve a professorship in astrophysics? No. Am I going to thrust Meccano at her and make her play with it goddammit? No, I’m not. Of course I’d rather she got a buzz from building a 6-foot replica of the Forth Bridge in Lego. Of course I find bottles of Princess Aurora perfume and hair braiding sets intensely annoying in the way they reinforce gender stereotypes -but my daughter likes them. She has a little brother so there are plenty of ‘boys’ toys and ‘girls’ toys in our house – she can play with whatever she likes. Giving children free rein to choose what they play with is positively advocated. If my daughter that day chooses her Lego Friends café over a Lego digger then who am I to stop her?
When I look at the toys she plays with that are supposedly ‘girlie’ I see much more than a future vision of her propping up a nail bar. Take Hama beads for example: fairly girlish, arty, pretty, plenty of pink beads for budding princesses. But there is so much more to them. As my daughter focuses intently for half an hour on making a flower I can see her learning concentration, patience, design, symmetry, maths (she counts the beads when copying examples) and science (the heat applied to the materials causes them to melt and fuse – well, you didn’t think I told her it was magic, did you?).
Sure, there are lots of pink plastic toys for girls that are useless and serve no purpose. That’s what the children of yesteryear used to call ‘fun’ before we forgot how to have it. My little girl learns through playing with things that make her happy. By being happy she feels comfortable with herself. Without that comfort she will never have the confidence to open her mind and imagine what she is capable of. If her first step on the road to becoming an astronaut is sticking stars on a Barbie picture then so be it.
I have a friend who I find exhausting. This isn’t because she’s exasperating – she’s exhausts me because she’s inspiring. I have no idea how she manages to do all that she does. Tatia is a mum-of-two, an EFL teacher and publisher and a general all-round bundle of energy who last year moved from England to the Dutch city of Breda. Not content to drink coffee and munch Appelkoek on the expat circuit, Tatia is this month launching an exciting non-profit project: The Little English Library.
The Little English Library is an English language library for expat children aged 0-12 years and for Dutch children learning English. Based in the Montessori School in Breda, it is the first space of its kind in the Netherlands devoted to the free provision of English language children’s books. As well as books, the library – manned entirely by volunteers – will be offering parent and baby rhyme time and storytelling sessions. Not bad going for a project initiated by one busy mum relying entirely on donations and support from book-loving individuals and organisations!
The Library is due to open later this month and has just launched its ‘My Book has Wings’ campaign to bolster its stock of books and to involve children and schools in growing the library. If you are able to donate any books or can help in any other way, please do contact Tatia – firstname.lastname@example.org. The Little English Library is an amazing project to support and I am immensely proud of what Tatia has achieved. She is certainly an inspiration to me and she’s sure to help inspire a love of books through The Little English Library.