Sunday, January 27, 2013
The other day one of the other moms at daycare who has a little boy and is now expecting a little girl asked me, "Does Ella always dress like a princess?" I looked over and saw that as usual she was wearing the Cinderella costume she puts on every day as soon as she gets to school and wears the entire day until I pry it off her unwilling body. I nodded and smiled, and the mom said, "I just don't know what I'm going to do. I'm just not a girly person." It was funny because I realized that she sees my daughter differently than I do. She sees the little girl in polka dots and pink who is always wearing a princess dress or a tutu and twirling around like a ballerina and thinks to herself, "There's Ella, the girliest girl there is." This is so funny to me because I don't see her that way at all, and I don't think Ella sees herself that way, either. Now, I'm not saying she's a tomboy. Does she love girly things? Of course. She loves makeup and nail polish and clothes and all the other "girly" things appropriate to her gender, but her likes and dislikes do not end there. She loves superheroes and transformers and Thomas the tank engine. She loves turning over rocks and looking for worms. The only thing she asked for on Christmas was Spiderman slippers. Today we went to a knight themed birthday party, and I bought her a Sleeping Beauty dress to wear there, but as soon as she saw the dragon costume sitting out in Emmett's living room, she pulled off her dress to put it on. She spent most of the party using pretend power tools to fix Emmett's playhouse. A lot of her interests come from the kids she hangs out with at school. Her class is made up of mostly boys, so when they want to play Captain America and "Save the Day!" she gets sucked into the excitement. Perhaps if her classroom was full of girls, she would never know about Power Rangers or Batman and wouldn't be interested in "boy" things, but her environment is what it is, and she doesn't seem to notice these discrepancies.
It's like that scene in Friends when Rachel makes a dessert and accidentally mixes two recipes together, one for a fruit trifle and one for Shepard's pie. Joey continues to eat it, and explains himself by saying, "What's not to like? Custard, good. Jam, good. Meat, good." I think that's how Ella feels about her interests, as in, "Magic wands, good. Sparkles, good. Worms and dirt, good." She can't see any reason why all these items can't compliment each other in the trifle dish of her life.
The truth is that beyond all the "stuff" I see much more "boy" tendencies in her than "girl" ones. Her friend Kate is like I was as a kid, content to sit and color or play Play-doh for hours, carefully choosing the right crayon and meticulously adding a speck of glitter here or there. Ella would much rather be finding the highest thing to jump off of, or asking us to chase her or watch her run "really, really fast" or jump "really, really high!" She loves speed and danger and excitement. She loves being physical and rolling around with Mike, and I think that because she is a girl, he subconsciously doesn't play as rough with her as he would a boy, even though she would love it.
I think we spend so much time worrying about gender stereotypes that we end up putting our kids into these categories without realizing it. If she likes princesses, then she must be girly. If she likes baseball, then she's a tomboy, but none of this matters to Ella. She has no idea what boys are supposed to like, or what girls are supposed to like. She just likes what she likes, and that's the way it should be.
I think this really hit home for me the other day when she and I were at the grocery store and I let her pick out a balloon. At the time, she was wearing a sundress (yes, in January), sparkly tights, and pink boots. She looked at all the balloons- pink, purple, sparkly, heart-shaped- and out of all of them, she chose the Transformers balloon. On the way home, she held her balloon in the backseat and said, "Mom, when I get big, I'm gonna be a Transformers Ballerina."
And I said, "Ya know what, buddy? That sounds just perfect for you."