In my ever-crunchy attempt to create a present and aware child who lives in the moment as opposed to say, a tiny, tireless consumer constantly clamoring for my phone to endlessly loop the Chipmunks cover of ‘What Does The Fox Say?’ on Youtube- let’s just say I’ve made a few tactical errors.
I thought I was smart ( and knew I was being lazy) by handing her the phone so I could make dinner as fast and interruption-free as possible. Also, she was sick, so I just wanted her to take a flipping break from running around in a snot-nosed sweat. So, yeah, I handed her my phone and pulled up Youtube and introduced her to the euro-punk classic, ‘What Does The Fox Say?’
And, if I strongly insist that the Chipmunks’ cover of ‘What Does The Fox Say?’ is far superior to the Ninja Turtles’ cover of ‘What Does The Fox Say?’, then you know I’m not exaggerating just how many times these videos were viewed and how big my mom-mistake was.
Hindsight being 20/20, I can now file handing an overtired threenager a smart phone with a Youtube app under the heading of “Mistakes Mom Makes Short Term That Mom Pays Long Term”. Not a catchy title, but it’s my Scarlet Letter A, as in app. As in, don’t let an app steal your child’s brain and let her run up your data usage to Trump-like proportions.
Ironically, my new desire to redirect her away from screen time has forced my nearly barren wells of creativity and imagination to work overtime. Tired of hearing myself say “NO MORE YOUTUBE”, I panic-invented two new games in the car while she screamed for Youtube, called What Do You See? and What Do You Hear?
What Do You See? is stupid simple. We take turns pointing out new things on our drive to school. New graffiti, a cat running across the street, a bus, garbage truck, a guy walking his dogs, a motorcycle, etc. Then we run down the list, trying to remember what each of us saw. That helps build This Old Mom’s eroding memory, and she loves to correct me, so it’s a win-win all around.
What Do You Hear? is similarly stupid simple, but with ears: I tell her to be quiet, close her eyes and listen to the sounds of our city- bird, sirens cars, buses, garbage trucks, passing car radios, bike bells, people talking- it’s a cool exercise and a great way to get her to STOP TALKING a mile a minute and hear the world around her.
This morning we played What Do You See? As we passed a bus stop, Grace pointed out the Inside Out movie poster. This Inside Out poster was of a creature in a bright green dress with bright blue short hair, cartoon-anthropomorphizing unmitigated joy.
GRACE: Why is the boy wearing a dress?
ME: That’s not a boy. That’s a girl. Why do you think that’s a boy?
GRACE: He has short hair.
ME: You have short hair, I have short hair, we aren’t boys. So why do you think he’s a boy?
GRACE: Because he’s a boy. Why is he in a dress?
We both made assumptions. She assumed that Joy is a boy on account of his short hair. I assumed Joy is a girl on account of the dress. So, as the parental figure of authority, I corrected her assumption, deciding, as I am wont, that my assumptions are right and everyone else’s assumptions are wrong. Please don’t try to correct this assumption. Thanks.
Ironic moment #1: My daughter is frequently mistaken for a boy on account of her short hair and her three-year old hatred of dresses, flower prints or glitter and the color pink. Her proclivity for Lightning McQueen clothing compounds this issue yet her occasional fondness for stick on earrings and nail polish just seems to baffle everyone, even in Echo Park. She knows she’s a girl, and girls wear dresses, so why would she think Joy is a boy?
Ironic moment #2: I’m an aging tomboy who eschews dresses and skirts mostly because that requires bending and shaving my lower legs. Who has the time/flexibility for that noise? I’ve already gathered that if I were a girly girl, my kid would probably follow my lead. But since I’ve also sought out gender-neutral toys, clothes and shoes for my daughter, on account of my dread of ‘princess culture’ and wanting her to choose for herself who she is, it’s all my fault.
Ironic moment #3: I have baby fine useless hair that my mother kept super short when I was a kid. Until I was 14, I was frequently mistaken for a boy, which I hated. And here I am with a tomboy daughter with short hair and gender neutral clothing. While I don’t mind people calling my kid a boy, I worry that she will mind soon. Since she’s a yeller (also my fault, see Old Yeller) someday someone is gonna call her a cute boy and she’s gonna holler, “I’M A GIRL, DAMMIT!” Yes, she has been known to toss a dammit at the end of a sentence, which is…. all my fault.
Then we read a book with this illustration. Grace readily identified all the boys. I asked her how she knew they were boys. Her answer: Because the other two are girls. How does she know that? And why? Does it matter at her age what gender anyone is, including herself?
Nowadays, assumptions about gender are trickier than ever before. Caitlyn Jenner and the TV show Transparent are mainstreaming transgender lives and gender identity issues. I’m more curious about our compulsion to categorize others. Why do people assume Grace’s a boy, instead of simply seeing just another cute kid? Grace has taught me that our desire to label gender starts early in life. I wonder if categorizing a person by gender is learned or innate? Basically, I’m trying to determine if it’s all my fault.
Because Joy isn’t a boy or a girl. Joy is finding creative ways to keep your child in the moment as opposed to disappearing inside a smartphone. Joy is learning that despite all the well-intentioned mistakes and assumptions This Old Mom can make, I have plenty of time and energy to fix those mistakes and make even more. All I know is my Joy is all girl. Even if I’m the only one who knows it.