Archive for May, 2013

Imagination Games

Joshua has always been very big on imagination play. This may be pretty standard for little ones, but he’s always gotten pretty into it. This is likely a combination of several factors: we read to him a LOT, he only gets to see about 3-4 hours of TV a week total, we engage with his play sessions and, most importantly, he’s just that kind of kid.

Previously, I’m not sure I would have had much to say on the subject. It’s something I think is fun and should be encouraged, but it’s not really something you can force on a kid. If they want to pretend, they’ll pretend. If they don’t… well, maybe they just prefer to stack blocks or push trains around. I’m pretty sure I spent a lot of time making very boring, very tall Lego towers.

But lately Joshua has gotten way into pirates. His Aunt and Uncle got him a Captain Hook gear playset related to Disney JR’s Jake and the Neverland Pirates show (pirate sword, hook, spyglass, treasure map) and he went for it big-time. Now it’s non-stop Peter Pan and pirates around the house. We read the story at least once a day and almost all our playtime has to with Peter Pan and pirates.

What’s interesting to me is who and how Joshua chooses to play.

Previously, play-time scenarios were pretty basic and pretty binary. I was the sleigh, Joshua was Santa Claus. I was a doggy and Joshua was Joshua. We were both trains, and he was the one leading the way. He’s shifted things around a bit more with Peter Pan, though. Everyone’s in on the game now.

When we play, Janelle and I are interchangeably Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Matthew is Nana. Stuffed animals are his brother and sister (his floppy stuffed dog is John and his polar bear is Michael, who he thinks is a girl [presumably because of his pink pajamas] and is therefore his “sister”). Careful readers will notice that if John and Michael are the siblings that this means Joshua is Wendy.

He’s not Wendy some of the time. So far, he’s Wendy every time we play.

As I mentioned in my last post, this isn’t something I am going to call him on. I think many parents would, even without ulterior motives, but we went along with it. I thought about why he would always pick Wendy, because it’s not as if he was pretending to be Wendy as she is in the Disney version. Wendy doesn’t have a real active role in the story, but Joshua plays her as a swashbuckler. But Wendy is the character most like Joshua, as he interprets things.

Peter Pan and Captain Hook are the “adults” of the story. They drive all action and conflict. So, Mommy and Daddy are Pan and Hook. Doesn’t matter who is who, because adults are adults are adults. It mostly matters if Captain Hook is a bad guy or not. If he is, we are Pan. If he is not, we are Hook and we want to avoid the crocodile who lives in the water (the floor).

Matthew is Nana (the dog if you haven’t seen the movie in awhile). In the Disney story book version we have, Nana is only seen on a single page at the end and never named. And before he had seen the movie, he didn’t know she was even a character. Incidentally, before the movie, Matthew was never given a role. Now he’s seen the movie once and is aware of Nana, a character who cannot talk and doesn’t get to go along on adventures even if she wants to. Hence: baby brother.

Stuffed animals are Michael and John Darling. They actually do about as much as Wendy in the story, but are not framed with the same degree of importance. They’re not major enough characters and they are primarily shown as characters that get to come along because Wendy brings them along, just like Joshua’s stuffed animals. They come with because he brings them and they do whatever he wants them to.

Tinker Bell is a character he likes, but she is clearly a special case because she is so tiny and magic. It probably doesn’t help that she spends the story betraying everyone. [Joshua also says that Tinker Bell is his favorite character (in part because she turns bright red when she’s angry and uses scissors to escape being trapped in a drawer, which he just thinks is hilarious), and I find it interesting that in spite of this he never pretends to be Tinker Bell, either.]

Other than the pirates, who, excepting Smee, are a sort of massed entity and not really identifiable individually, Wendy is all that’s left. She fits pretty well, too. She’s along for whatever ride Hook and Pan subject her to, as Joshua is with Mommy and Daddy. She’s not the oldest or the youngest, but she does get to be in charge of a few people smaller than she is. She’s also treated with importance in the story. Her role isn’t so minor that she can be skipped over like with Michael and John. So that’s who Joshua picks to be. She’s the character closest to his situation. As I mentioned, though, he doesn’t play her as she is portrayed. He’s Wendy, but he’s not getting picked on by mermaids and fairies and singing songs about how he misses his mother. He’s sword fighting with Hook and leaping off the side of boats to rescue his brother and sister from the crocodile.

Now this is of course speculation from someone with no formal education in anything other than fiction, but Janelle and I are about as far inside Joshua’s head as it is possible to be right now and I think these are fair assumptions to be making.

If nothing else, it’s something to think about as I step off the couch and onto the pillow because I’ve been ordered to walk the plank for the twelfth time in a row.

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Boys and Toys

We let Joshua play with whatever he likes, by and large. I draw the line at things like fire and knives and electricity, pretty much. Beyond that, we’re not particular. When I am in Target with him, I don’t steer him away from the aisles clearly being marketed as containing “girl toys” over to the aisles clearly being marketed as “boy toys”. Joshua could give two shits about Transformers, but he likes horses and shopping carts and babies and he’s a fan of Cinderella because he went to a party once and she was painting faces and it’s clear he’s aware that someone he saw in person up close is totally on a lot of toys.

This is in no way a statement on the toys, or Joshua. It is a statement that he has no life experience with giant robots. He has, however, ridden a pony, enjoys pushing shopping carts, has a baby brother and, as I mentioned, knows Cinderella.

At home we have Joshua’s little Craftsman toy work bench shoulder-to-shoulder with his toy kitchen. He’s got the same pink baby stroller his friend has because he wanted a stroller to pretend like he was pushing a baby around and pink is the only color they make (I know I’m making it sound like I have something against pink — which I don’t because to paraphrase a tweet from Nathan Fillion “Would a real man be afraid of a color?” — but it’s more to illustrate the degree of pigeonholing in kid toys). He picked a Hello Kitty Happy Meal over a Transformers one because his cousins love Hello Kitty and he knows who she is and when I ordered it I stated very plainly that he wanted, as they phrase it, the girl Happy Meal.

I have no intention to steer Joshua towards typically male toys. In many cases I’d rather do the opposite. He has a Captain Hook pirate sword which is very cool, but that also means playing with it involves sword fighting which is dodgy even when you have great hand-eye coordination. He has an Iron Man glove that pews out little projectiles (also pretty cool), but we try hard not to have him thinking that shooting things is okay to do. But in general I would prefer he choose his favorite toys based on what engages him, not some notion I may have of how he should play.

We are already having to battle this notion, though. He’s not even three and is already coming home with ideas that certain things are for boys and certain things are for girls, which is not a lesson he’s picking up at home. It follows then that he’s learning this sort of gender breakdown from other children ages 5 and under. We try to point out that really the only things that are boys-only and girls-only are public bathrooms. I imagine we’ll lose ground fairly steadily on this issue, but we point out whenever it comes up that it’s not really the case that things need to be different for boys and girls when it comes to what they are interested in and how they play.

It’s clear that this is not a standard outlook. It’s very common that if I am out somewhere and a father sees his boy pick up a “girly” toy that he has to loudly announce “Oh, you gotta pick up the pink one, huh?” and then laugh so everyone around knows that he’s not TRYING to turn his kid into a little nancy but kids just do dumb shit sometimes.

When Joshua was walking around with a friend’s little baby carriage toy I had a Dad tease me that “Uh oh. He picked the baby carriage” like that’s some signal I need to look out for.

What signal would that be, exactly? That he has a baby brother? That he has friends with baby siblings? That he has a father actively involved in raising two children? That he enjoys trying to nurture and love something? Oh noes! But it’s not those things. It’s the signal that he’s doing something effeminate. That he’s doing something gay.

This irks me on all sorts of levels. For starters, the only reason this choice is seen as suspect is the notion that caring for a child is a woman’s work and that doing that same work is somehow capable of making a man less of a man – and if you’ve read this blog for any length of time you know my thoughts on that [Hint: angry thoughts]. And, doubling down, it implies that engaging in “feminine work” is somehow also a leading indicator of homosexuality because science. It also implies that something as basic as the particular toy that a child has chosen to play with one afternoon for 15 minutes is indicative of what their life will become forever after.

The pièce de résistance is that it implies that a gay son is something you don’t want to have.

I’m a firm believer that homosexuality is not, generally speaking, a choice. Sure there are those who may end up actively choosing one over the other, but I think the vast majority of gay men and women simply are gay men and women. (If you believe otherwise, ponder this: When did you first decide to be straight? or did that just kind of happen?) So that means that if Joshua is going to be gay—even if it will be ages before he knows it himself—that’s written into his little internal code right now.

I give approximately no shits about this.

I don’t worry that he may be gay, I worry that if he is maybe I’ll be less good at giving advice about boyfriends than girlfriends, never having had a boyfriend myself. That’s about the extent of it.

I don’t have two girls, so I can’t really speak to the experience on the other side of the table, but I get the impression it’s not the same (and some quick polling of friends with two girls supports this). Oh sure, you maybe have that crushing patriarchal construction that little girls should aspire to be mommies and caregivers and have toys that focus on being pretty and shopping, but I don’t think anyone is giving Mom and Dad a sideways glance if little Elizabeth is playing with a truck.

I find it more than a little depressing that it seems to me that boys especially seem to get pushed to play with certain toys and focus on certain interests simply because parents are worried about who their child may grow up one day to love. How many boys grow up thinking that wanting to hold a baby or bake something is somehow wrong for them to do? How many little doors get closed that way?

Joshua will almost certainly fall into the pattern that just about all boys do. He’ll like to wrestle. He’ll be into superheroes. He’ll love Star Wars and trucks and Legos and blowing things up. I’m not so intense about this issue that I feel the need to force the issue upon him to the extent that things would start getting pretty ironic (“Don’t play with what society tells you to, play with what I tell you to, dammit”). So, boys gonna boy. But what I am going to make damn sure he understands is that other choices are not wrong in any way so long as they don’t hurt others. Girls have access to all the same toys boys do and vice versa. Boys hold babies. Boys cook meals. Boys clean the house. Girls build towers. Girls sword fight. Girls like to blow shit up. He’ll know that these choices are available to everyone and that making those choices will never have to define him, or anyone around him.


The Changes

Raising two children is tricky. It’s as if, instead of having just one child, you had two. I don’t know if you guys knew this.

Matthew is not more difficult than Joshua was (per the last post). He seems much easier to manage, except for all the spitting up. Joshua is more difficult than he once was, but is a known quantity and can do many things for himself. However, together… Wonder Twin Powers Activate! Form of… Hassle!

We are essentially on a 14 hour non-stop parenting cycle each day. I wake at just after 5am and shower and get ready for the day. This is basically my only personal time now. Joshua wakes up between 5:45 and 6:30 most days. Ideally, Joshua is at daycare just after 7 and then I am off to work. Janelle wakes basically when Matthew wakes, which tends to be closer to 6:30. When I’m home from work, I snag Joshua and play with him until dinner, or I tag-team on and off with Janelle for watching Matthew. Dinner is around 6. Bedtime for Joshua begins around 7 and completes around 8:30. Bedtime for Matthew is basically anywhere from 8-10:30pm. If he sleeps closer to the later end, Janelle and I just go to bed immediately. To the earlier end, maybe we take about 30 minutes to hang out before we sleep. That’s about it. There’s not a lot of room for much else, and you’ll note I didn’t mention any personal time for Janelle. That’s pretty variable. If Matthew is napping well she’ll get a few hours in the day. If he’s not she’s just on duty all the time.

I’ll take a brief pause here to salute single parents because it is basically inconceivable to me how they manage to keep it together with small children. I feel like if I met a single parent of two children under the age of 5 I’d probably offer to be their live-in manservant. [NB: Hyberbole]

With children at these ages, it is very difficult to be a parent to both children in equal measures. Of course I don’t mean this in the emotional sense, though even that is likely true at times. Matthew is tethered to Janelle as long as he is breastfeeding. Yes, soon she will begin to pump and there will be times when I can feed him, but remember that it’s not as if just because someone else is bottle-feeding the baby a breastfeeding Mom is free to roam about. She still needs to pump on the safe regular schedule the baby normally feeds so she can continue her milk production. So, sure, Janelle can head out shopping while I feed the baby, but she still needs to sequester somewhere to pump and that’s much trickier to do on the road than breastfeeding itself is. So, logistically it makes sense for Matthew to essentially be an accessory for Janelle. That means that I’m on Joshua duty. Weekends are now two 16-hour days where Janelle and I see each other if we’re lucky enough to get Joshua to nap in his bed in the house and after he goes to bed. Otherwise I’m at swim, the park, soccer, a friend’s house, the park, on a walk, at the store, getting lunch or doing whatever else needs to be done to fill time for Joshua. If the timing works out, Janelle joins us.

We each end up trying to steal little snippets of time to be with the other child but it’s tricky and often doesn’t go how we want. Janelle’s stint with Joshua at bedtime can very easily turn into tantrum time and my intended face-to-face playtime with Matthew could easily end up as needing to walk him around facing outwards so he won’t end up just crying constantly.

My hope is that as Matthew ages and becomes more capable and portable and interactive we’ll be able to increase the whole-family outings and interactions because at this point both Janelle and I are missing out in some way. Ultimately I think Janelle and I are going to have to learn to start compartmentalizing. We’ve gone essentially our entire relationship attached at the hip, which is how we both prefer to operate, but we’re going to need to adapt that because while as our two boys get older they’ll become more capable and easier to manage but they’ll also begin to pick up divergent friends and activities and hobbies and plenty of things that will necessitate us to plain old not do things together.

Another change is that a third kid is looking like a longshot now. I had been of the mind previously that a second son would mean I would be more likely to want a third child to see if we can roll the dice once more and get a girl. Three sons would of course be fine, but I’ve always liked the idea of having a daughter. But now we’re not so sure. As much fun and as cute as kids can be, another pregnancy and infancy means a lot of inconveniences. Janelle would almost certainly be on an extremely strict diet and likely on insulin to control her blood glucose since Matthew was pretty close to a size that may have mandated a C-section. It’s not likely that we can expect her to be any more comfortable for the length of the pregnancy than she was with Matthew. And, frankly, the entire process essentially downgrades Janelle and I to roommates for about 12-18 months.

All told though, as it was with Joshua, what seems like a lot of hassle on paper has very quickly become a routine. It helps that Matthew is already sleeping through the night, but adjusting for two kids instead of one is more a tweak to our routine than a brand new routine. It’s already hard to recall what life was like with just Joshua. Very quickly my brain is telling me Matthew has always been around and Joshua has always been a chatty toddler and in a couple years I’ll be at a computer looking at video of Matthew and thinking that it seems impossible there was a time he couldn’t talk. So it goes.

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