I have to admit, one aspect of parenting that I’m really excited about is play time.
Yes, it’s kind of goofy to think about, but playing is such an important part of being a child. And really, I can only spend so much time perusing boppy pillows and baby bjorns before my attention is diverted, like a little boy’s, to the toy aisle.
There have been some amazing advancements in the world of toys, but really, I’m not looking for all the newfangled gadgets that do a million things. I’m more looking for the toys that I enjoyed as a kid, some evidence that I am not so terribly ancient that they still make the toys I played with.
I’m glad to find that Alphie robots still exist, in some form. Of course, building toys like Legos and Lincoln logs are timeless (although I had a lot more actual buildings and a lot fewer license Lego sets). Some toys look good at first glace, until you read online reviews. Some toys obviously make way too much noise (Cheri and I have an aversion to most battery operated toys.) And there is just way too much Elmo. Have any of you parents ever thought of just showing your kids old episodes of Sesame Street on Amazon, you know, those years before Elmo ruled the street with an iron fist?
Anyway, after far too much time feeling like a creep in the toy aisle, I had to take off the giant Incredible Hulk boxing gloves (Cheri said I could ask for them on my birthday list) and go home. But I knew exactly what I wanted my boy to have in his room to play with…
…An Easy Bake Oven.
Pink or Blue
As a guy, let me be honest about something:
It’s pretty clear to me that girl toys kind of suck.
The whole aisle is a blinding beacon of pink, like a dump site for glowing nuclear waste. I practically need protective goggles to shield my eyes. Everything is frilly and pink and…well, girly.
Now, I’m not one of those parents who doesn’t believe in telling their child what gender they are. But I have to wonder if all girls are born loving pink frilly crap, or do they learn this? Likewise, do boys naturally love explosions and violence, or is this an acquired taste? If you look back in history, you realize that many of our gender divisions are a little bit arbitrary. Our blue / pink thing with babies is pretty new (boys used to wear pink in the 19th century.) But now that pink is for girls, it’s going to be really hard to break out of that. Boys know they are not supposed to like pink, as if there is something inherently wrong with a color.
Put Down that Doll, and Be a Man
This brings me to the Easy Bake Oven, many an American girl’s first foray into cooking. Of course, the toy is found in the girls’ aisle, far
away from the Iron Man masks that the boys are supposed to be enjoying. In fact, there really is not a boy equivalent, at least not in my Target store.
Yes, I believe that there are differences between boys and girls, and those differences should be celebrated. But there are some “differences” that I wholly believe are concocted by us adults. Every day, boys are told, either implicitly or explicitly, that they cannot do something, that they should not enjoy doing particular activities. Boys know that cooking is for girls, because so many cooking toys look like they are for girls. From a very early age, boys are taught that “being like a girl” is bad. Being a man is opposite of being a woman. Girls pretend to take care of other people through playing “house.” Boys kill people and blow up the house.
It’s been going on for thousands of years, it’s not something we invented. Look at brothers Jacob and Esau. Esau was manly and hairy, and enjoyed manly activities, like hunting. Jacob preferred cooking and maintaining the household with his mother. Which son was Dad’s favorite?
That’s a funny thing, since so many famous chefs are men. I learned many of my cooking skills through Boy Scouts, a relatively “manly” activity, and the rest I learned from my own dad.
Boy or Girl, Two Toys I’d Buy for Any Child
I will find a nice, gender neutral (read: wood, not pink) play kitchen for my boy to play with. It will be in his room before he knows what to do with it, before he knows he isn’t supposed to play with it.
This is why: why would I want to teach my son from his earliest days of play that providing food for himself is not a “boy” thing to do? Why would I want to teach him that “real” men are helplessly dependant on a women for food? Why would I want to doom him to a life of “cooking” in which thing only thing he knows how to do is put hot sauce on everything?
I will also get him a toy workbench and tools so he can hammer stuff. And here’s the thing: I’d get those same two toys even if he was a girl.
Because why would I want to tell my daughter that fixing things is for boys? Why would I want to teach her to be helplessly dependant on a man when something breaks? Why would I not want to teach her to be independent and confident in all areas of life?
I don’t know how much my boy will play with a toy kitchen. Maybe he will just turn the plastic vegetables into weapons. But I’m going to give him the chance to decide.
Besides, his cooking skills will come in a lot handier in life than his killing skills.
What do you think? What lessons do our toy choices teach our kids? Is my plan going to be a colossal waste?