Happy Fourth of July everyone! This post is about freedom for kids. Freedom from Mom and Dad and their (well-intentioned) interfering ways. As Americans we keep encroaching on childhood, we chip at it, “improve” it, “enrich” it, basically in the name on “in your best interest” we don’t let kids be kids anymore. This post wasn’t actually originally written as a 4th of July post, but it did strike me as appropriate for today. So happy Fourth & have a safe and happy holiday!
A friend of mine and I the other day were talking about Superheroes, and the lack of female superheroes. We could list maybe ten or so, I’m referring to traditional superheroes, like in comic books. Women like Wonder Woman and Storm. Then it occurred to me that the flip side of this missing character was also true, there are very few real characters (I mean developed characters with personalities past “he slayed the dragon and rescued the princess”)of male hero status in traditional Princess stories. Think about it, we could come up with 10 female superheroes, from the boy-centric Superhero world, but we could only name 1 (Prince Charming- and how the hell is that even a name?) hero from the girl-centric world of Princesses. Now, she and I both grew up exposed to regular American pop culture as little girls (perhaps her slightly less than me, but that is another story entirely), we read the stories, we played what we read and saw, just like any normal kids would. We have chatted many times as adults about our different but similar childhoods, she a home-schooled smarty (whose not at all socially awkward for the record), me the product our public school system (who is smarty enough to know I wouldn’t want to be in a battle of smarts with this lady). We also grew up in different places, different birth orders, etc. The point is, despite all these “big” differences, we played about the same. This got me thinking about kids playing, and how as adults it’s the big thing to make sure we have equality for the sexes (especially girls right now) we work at it, we get into internet fights over it. People blast Lego for pink Legos and all the Princesses for being too whatever it is that they are too of. (I think the answer is girly, but then you aren’t supposed to say that). We analyze cartoons for cripes sake. This heroine isn’t strong enough, she’s too focused on being pretty. That hero is all ridiculous muscle and chauvinism and violence. There aren’t enough fill-in-the-blank with a race/religion/culture/body type/gender/you get the idea characters for kids to relate to. My Mommy blood is getting all boily just typing about the injustice of it all. But then I Really thought about it. Yes, some of those are legitimate concerns, but why do we, as grown-ups think we know better/can do better at the one thing kids will always be better at than adults? Play. Play is the world of kids. They rock at it. After our conversation the other day, I’m definitely going to back away (not disappear, but stop interfering so much)and let my kids play.
Why? I realized that it all really does get made equal when you add a child’s imagination to whatever form the story came in. How many times in your childhood was Barbie’s wedding to GIJoe disrupted (ie made more interesting) by the horde of marauders (various action figures like Ninja Turtles of He-men in my childhood) riding in on their vicious steeds (My Little Ponies)? Or the oversized cardboard box the new fridge came in that started as the box car for the Boxcar Children, then morphed into a dungeon where a pair of evil witches held a young prince captive for years (or until Mom got that box the hell out of her living room and into the trash)? What about the bicycles that were timid plow horses from Little House on the Prairie one day, raging winged beasts from some dark world I can’t remember the name of right now the next, and then they were the tough horses of cowboys (and cowgirls) who might rob a bank one morning then rescue a dog from a burning building that afternoon? This is how my kids play too. There were three of us, my brother, my sister, and me. I was the oldest (ie the best/a bossy little bitch), my brother was the youngest (ie the baby/ poor kid who put up with a lot) and my sister in the middle (ie the classic middle/abused from both sides). We played pretend constantly. No matter the original inspiration for our play, we always made it ours. If we needed villains, we were villains. If we needed heroes, we were heroes. None of us cared what the original gender/race/stature of the character we were being was. We played boy parts and girl parts, all three of us. Sometimes we died, sometimes we made miraculous recoveries, sometimes death played no part in the game at all. But that’s kind of my point. We just played. (and fought, but mostly played) Do you have a little princess at home? Watch, if you leave her be, she’ll also play the roles of evil witch, good witch, hero rescuer, maybe even the dragon. Do you have a little superhero? If you leave him alone, he might also be the evil mastermind, the scientist who cures the plague, a sorcerer (good or bad), the injured prince rescued by the princess, or even the bear cub. If you have ever watched kids really play you will see this, there are plots, there are character developments, there is intrigue, drama and morals running through their play. They don’t need (or even really want) us to equalize it for them, they do it on their own. The two sisters who take turns playing the bride or the groom, the two brothers who take turns being the rescued or the rescuer, they do it better than we ever could. This past Christmas I bought my youngest and his cousin a giant bin that I filled with “pretend stuff”. They love it. They can be anything from postal workers to firemen to cooks, and several things in between. I did avoid the pink cookware (I found black, which looks like real cookware and stops making it girl/boy stuff), but those two put on chef’s hats and “cook” up a storm. It’s great to watch them come up with ideas.
I guess I just wanted to put my two cents in on the whole parental “fixing” of play-time. I realized, outside of safety issues, I need to get the adult out of playtime. What do you think? Where do stand? Should we just let them be kids or should we continue this battle to make everything the same? Are we doing more harm than good? Let me know what you think.