Tuesday, January 29, 2013

More Princesses and Punching

Three weeks ago, I wrote about how I had the whole "princess" thing under control at our house, and how my new hobby of Mixed Martial Arts was really no big deal--just a new approach to fitness.  Well, there have been developments since then.

A few days after I posted the aforementioned claims, I wrote a piece for The Atlantic chronicling my struggle to keep Disney Princesses from taking over my kids' lives.  I wrote it under the influence of some frustration and quite a bit of self-inflicted pressure to make a strong argument; and then, after submitting it, I actually tried to get the editor to kill the piece.  She talked me down, though, and we changed it a lot, getting rid of some of the more contentious aspects.  What was left was kind of my standard rant on princess culture, and I didn't think anyone would pay attention to it, since that stuff has been hashed out a million times before.

Not surprisingly to me, since I have accepted that I will never figure out the internet, the princess story got more attention than anything I've ever published before [see also: the spoof video I spent all of 20 minutes shooting and editing], getting hundreds of (often irate) comments, and thousands of shares on social media.  A writer from the snarky feminist website Jezebel even wrote a response to my article, and so did a bunch of other bloggers.  Most of them told me to chill.  I was interviewed for Canadian public radio.  I appeared on HuffPost Live with a bunch of smart people.  Who would have known?

The only meaningful upshot of becoming known as the Dad Who Hates Princesses is that I have grown much more conscientious about providing my girls with alternative fuel for their imaginations, instead of buckling under the weight of my own laziness and accepting the default "girl" toys, books, videos, etc.  While they still wear their princess costumes often, and play with their princess dolls daily (rarely adhering to the prescribed Disney narratives, I'm happy to say), I don't think we've read a princess book or watched Cinderella more than a couple times in the last three weeks.  That is a dramatic lifestyle change for us.

I received plenty of positive feedback about the princess article, of course, but the rebuttals were much more passionate.  As they tend to be.  Of the myriad criticisms, two of the most common were: "You are a mean hypocrite to not allow your kids to follow their own interests in the name of protecting them from societal and commercial coercion," and "You're the parent--don't act like you have no control over what they're exposed to."  Those are both valid points, I guess, although I think a careful reading of the article would not leave the impression that I was trying to implement a total princess ban: I just want to stop the princesses from taking over completely, so that there's room for other ideas in the girls' heads.  As for the "parent up" advice--fair enough.  Ultimately, I've got no one to blame but myself for letting the princesses run roughshod (glass-shod?) over us.  But if this episode has done nothing else, it's strengthened my resolve to expose my daughters to as many different areas of interest as I can.

My wife and I have been doing a pretty good job of redirecting their princess obsession lately. I'm especially excited that they love their new books about the planets and dinosaurs, and that today we sat on the couch and read straight through the 80+ pages of my favorite childhood book, Fantastic Mr. Fox.  [Which, I realized upon reading for the first time in years, is pretty grim and casually sexist.]

While I admit that people who said I overstated both my powerlessness against the ubiquity of the princess culture and the danger of its gender-normalization have a point, I have talked to a number of parents (many online, and one I just happened to meet at a shopping mall, of all places) whose experiences suggest that my concern isn't totally misplaced.  The mom I met at the mall had a story similar to several I've heard before: Her preschool-aged daughter has no interest in princesses or anything pink or frilly, and is socially isolated because of it.  Other little girls say that she's not really a girl because she wears the wrong kinds of clothes and plays with the wrong kinds of toys, and they won't let her hang out with them.  This little "tomboy" is happy to play with boys, but her mom--an engineer who is all about raising kids who don't hew to traditional gender norms--has been encouraging her to wear more pink just so she won't be ostracized by the girls.  I have absolutely no fear of my girls being shunned by their peers for not being girly enough.  They play almost exclusively with girls at preschool, and have even started making generalizations about boys ("there are bad boys at school"..."we don't like boys").  They are fitting in well in that respect, which is comforting to some extent, but doesn't make me feel any better about the kids who don't conform to gender expectations.  As much as I resist believing in the "mean girl" trope, which posits that even the youngest girls are genetically programmed to be catty, I can't deny that, even in our enlightened, bully-conscious times, children who don't perform gender "correctly" pay a price.


To read about my dubious progress as a mixed martial artist, check out this post on DadCentric.        



Wednesday, January 16, 2013

This Is The Future of Sports-Themed Food Architecture

My kids love to help in the kitchen.  And by "help," I mean "get in the way, come perilously close to causing catastrophic injuries to themselves and everyone near them, and create a whole other dimension of cleanup opportunities for Dad."  So when Pillsbury approached me to build a "snackadium" for a sponsored post, my first reaction was, "That sounds like a perfect father/daughters project!"  Well; my first reaction after "What the hell is a snackadium?" and "I sure would like to get paid to make something out of food" anyway.

Some internet research indicated to me that a snackadium is actually a thing.  Apparently people make architectural models of sports stadiums out of food so they can eat them while watching telecasts of sporting competitions that take place in stadiums.  Coincidentally, it would seem that the championship of American Football, the "Super-Bowl" is scheduled to occur sometime soon.  It all started coming together.

The first step of the project was to collect the ingredients.  I figured I would take the girls out to the store and buy the Pillsbury crescent roll dough, Pillsbury pizza dough, and other groceries I needed for the snackadium, come home and feed them lunch, and then we would spend the afternoon making a crusty colosseum together.

It was a brisk, sunny day, and I asked the girls if they were up to walking to the store.  They both agreed, so we spent the next half-hour walking four blocks, stopping to look at every weed in the neighbors' yards, pick up every rock with a sparkly fleck in it, and futz with every zipper, strap and lace on their shoes and jackets.

We finally made it to the market and grabbed a basket.  The girls fought over who would carry it, eventually agreeing to each hold one handle, so they could lurch up and down the aisles, yelling accusations about who was smashing who's shins.  A well-meaning employee said to me, "Just get two baskets, Dad."  It probably had not occurred to her that, had I done so, I would have then been obliged to buy twice as many items as I needed, so that they could have the exact same things in their respective baskets.  I smiled at the nice lady, hoping she would read my mind, which was telling her to stock the damn shelves and lay off on the parenting advice already.

We had not covered two aisles before Cobra, who had insisted on wearing shoes that were a size too big, started complaining about her feet hurting.  Sure enough, there were little raw spots on each foot.  So we trudged to the first-aid aisle and settled on some Strawberry Shortcake band-aids.  Naturally, Butterbean wanted medical attention as well, so she announced that her ankle was hurt and required band-aids too. Soon, the aisle was littered with shoes, groceries, and band-aid refuse.   

After everyone's wounds were dressed, we were finally able to collect the ingredients for our edible arena.  There was some drama in the cheese section, when Cobra became attached to a three-pound bag of shredded cheddar that cost like twelve bucks.  I let her carry it up to the register and put it on the conveyer belt, but, when the kids were distracted by gossip magazines, asked the cashier to discreetly remove it while she rang up the other items.

On the way home, Cobra wanted to hold her shredded cheese, but I told her that it was too heavy and it would make her tired.  Once we finally got to the house, she wanted to eat it with lunch, but I told her we had to eat the cheese from the fridge instead, before it got moldy.  This happened two days ago, and, although she hasn't mentioned the cheese today, I fully expect her to have a spontaneous meltdown about it during a meal within the week, or wake up in the middle of the night, sobbing hysterically about it, as she has done over some lemonade that I threw away before she was finished, and a cookie that she claimed my wife ate.

After lunch, my plan was to clean up the kitchen, and then get to work on the snackadium with the kids.

I goofed around with the kids for a while, and then turned my attention to the aftermath of the last two meals and some remaining mess from a houseful of visiting relatives over the weekend.  The girls went upstairs to do god-knows-what in our bedroom.  It sounded like they were playing bathe-the-princess-dolls in the shower.   

As I finished up the dishes, I heard a horrifying sound.  It was like a wave crashing into the cliffs at high tide, followed by children's screams.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Thousands of Kicks

The kids are in school for the first time since winter break, and I have no idea what to do with myself.  I mean, there are a million things I'm supposed to be doing, but I just don't know where to start.  So I figured updating the neglected blog would be a good idea.  But I must be quick.  My Muay Thai class starts in an hour.

Yeah, I'm working out at a boxing/MMA gym now.  My wife gave me a membership for Christmas.  Naturally, I parlayed it into a big existential issue and wrote about it on The Atlantic.  The gist of the piece is that I've never been a fighter AT ALL, and I wanted to see if I had it in me, even in the controlled environment of a gym.

I've learned, especially after writing a piece about guns, that although The Atlantic is a pretty high-brow outfit, there is no shortage of commenters with very strong opinions.  The gun essay garnered over 130 comments, most of them telling me what an idiot I am, or what an idiot the other commenters are.  The piece I wrote about fighting also incited some passionate comments.  There were a number of people who said, "Go for it!  You'll have fun and gain confidence!"  But more of them said, "You're going to get a concussion and a broken fist!"  And one guy said he'd like to fight me, but because he lives in Florida, the "stand your ground" laws there would obligate him to shoot me with his "357." 

The people who warned me not to get involved in fight sports, many of them experienced fighters themselves (by their own account), must have envisioned an underground "fight club" scenario.  I don't take usually take crazy internet comments personally, but I have to say that, even though my impression of the gym before ever having stepped inside was that it was legit, if a bit douchey, these doomsayers had me a little rattled.

I showed up for my first class feeling wary.  As I have with almost every new thing I've tried, I started psyching myself out:  this vibe is weird...these guys look like douchebags...big, tattooed douchebags that can hit things really hard...this isn't for me...I wonder if I can get a refund...it smells like the inside of a ski glove in here...

After making the class jump rope for 10 minutes to warm up (can I still jump rope?...when was the last time I did this?...Hey!  I'm doing it!...Oh my god, I'm jiggling all over--this can't be intimidating to my opponents), the instructor partnered us up to practice kicks, punches, and blocks.  Oh shit...don't make me do this with the guy with the map of Samoa tattooed on his neck.  

There was only one other student who was there for the first time, so we were thrown together.  We strapped on our gloves and Thai pads, and started mixing it up.

Nydia was only 5'2" at most, but she was solid.  She had joined the class because she was there anyway while her 12-year-old son learned to box.   We kicked and punched each other (I had to hold the pads at abdomen level) for the next hour, then fistbumped one another and drove off in our respective minivans.

Since that first class, I've done a couple more Muay Thai sessions and a boxing class.  My partner at the last two Muay Thai classes has been a big black dude (is it racist to acknowledge that, of two fit, 220-pound guys, one white and one black, the black guy is 30%-40% more intimidating?) who has been boxing all his life and is just now starting with the Muay Thai.  He seems like a nice guy, and is very encouraging, going so far as to  not roll his eyes every time I land one of my sad little punches on his pads.


And what about the children?  Do you still think about them at all?

Is anybody interested in a Christmas day recap at this point?  No?  Well, you can just skim.  It was fun, we feasted, they got lots of toys.  This year, for some reason, it seems like the toys they got were especially "girly," and often princess themed.  People just can't help themselves, I guess.  The upshot is that I'm going to be more vigilant about the amount of stuff they're surrounded by that promotes gender essentialism.  I don't want to eradicate princesses and pink floof from their lives, because the girls love it, and there's probably no long-term harm in it as long as they eventually outgrow this phase.  Girls and boys are different, and there's not much point in denying that.  But we don't need to surround them almost exclusively with clothes, toys, books, and movies that constantly reinforce that message.

They love their princess swag, these girls.  But when I can drag them away from it, they also like to run and play and get dirty, and lately, ride.

Our new thing is to cruise to the park, me on my skateboard (which I dusted off for the first time in 10 years), and them on their scooters.

After scootering, they like to do some interpretive dance.


Crap.  Better put on my shiny shorts with dragons on the crotch and get to the gym!



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