This summer we were lucky to take two vacations. The first one was down on the shores of Rhode Island. It was our first real beach vacation with just the three of us and we were all excited. Aside from the sweltering, “once in a decade” type of heat wave that happened to be going on while we were there, the trip did not disappoint. A couple of months later, we visited with family down in coastal South Carolina. Aside from a lot of unseasonably cool, rainy days, the trip did not disappoint. (Note to self: check the Farmers’ Almanac before planning next year’s trip!)
But more than just getaways from they daily tides of domestic life, these trips heralded the beginning of me having to let go a bit and let M become who she wants to be, even if some of it cuts against the core of who I am.
I first realized this shift when we were in Rhode Island and I learned about mermaid’s purses. Even though I have seen them dozens of times at the beach, I never knew what they were — in fact, I always assumed it was just dried bits of kelp washed up on shore. But it turns out that they are instead the egg cases for rays and skates that live in the ocean. (Click here to see one). We learned about them while visiting the Biomes Nature Center in North Kingstown, Rhode Island — a neat little place tucked away off the beaten path. They had an egg case with live embryos inside and it was positioned underwater in front of a light source so that you could see the living embryos moving around. WAY cool! It was the kind of moment that made me feel in awe of all the natural beauty in our world, and wonder why I never did anything directly related to my biology degree as I had originally planned. (As an aside, you can also touch dogfish sharks in a kid-friendly tank and see up close a puffer fish inflating and releasing water — also very, very neat! If you are down in southern Rhode Island with an hour or two to kill, you should check it out!)
But even despite the awesomeness factor of seeing something rare like that–and even with the following days of suddenly being more aware of the hundreds of mermaid’s purses in the beach dunes–M wasn’t impressed all that much. No, the only thing “mermaid” that was on her mind was The Little Mermaid DVD that she happened to find at the place we had rented. She had been familiar with Ariel before that point because many of her friends talk about her, wear shirts with her on them, etc., but M had not yet seen the movie herself. So, since it was vacation and all, she got to see her first DVD movie ever…you guessed it: The Little Mermaid. (Followed two days later by her first theater movie ever, Winnie the Pooh — see? I told you I was starting to loosen up!)
While I was a little bummed that Ariel stole the show from the mermaid’s purses, there was a part of me that was happy for M because she got to feel like part of her little preschool media subculture for a change. I was also a little bummed because after hearing M “sing” Ariel’s famous aria, I think we can officially rule out music scholarships for college.
Then, in South Carolina, after I had recovered from the swift kick of the mermaid’s tail to my ego, I found myself again having to bite my tongue and just let M explore who she is and what brings her happiness. I’m sure I have mentioned it before, but I am not enamored with the whole princess thing. I wasn’t into them as a kid myself, and I am even less so as an adult woman. So when we had told M that she had just $20 that she could use for a souvenir from our trip down south–with no strings attached–I was thinking maybe it would be some candy or a pink t-shirt or possibly a mermaid doll because she wanted one in Rhode Island and we said no since we had already picked up a small souvenir by that point.
I should be so lucky. This is what she picked instead:
Now, in my own defense, I was not present when this whole souvenir purchase went down, but because her souvenir money was essentially discretionary, I am not sure how much of a position I would have been in to re-neg on our original deal…lesson learned. Time to dust off some of my legal negotiating and contract skills for next time! Poor girl. Just wait until she has to borrow the car!
And in M’s own defense, this is a little girl who we really have never taken shopping before to buy toys for herself, so the unfettered access to purchase power probably triggered a response along the lines of “Holy cow! I better buy something that they would NEVER buy me because this opportunity may never come again–screw those Myrtle Beach t-shirts!!!! Suckas!!!”
Anyway, Princess Barbie and a tiara later (thank goodness $20 does not go far these days!), and with the sounds of M’s off-key Ariel impression playing in the background, I realized that I am at a point where I really can no longer filter everything she sees, listens to and, ultimately, wants. At least not if I want her to know people other than me and her father and see more than the four walls of our house.
Yes, I can teach her about limits and not needing to buy every version of Barbie out there. (Have you seen Veterinarian Barbie? Goodness sakes! I think the clipboard she was holding was bigger than her skirt!) That one Barbie or one tiara is plenty enough. I can read her stories that have alternate versions of princesses that are not just demure, frilly and helpless so that she can start to piece together what kind of character matters most in people. I can take her to the aquarium and the park and our backyard and show her all of the really neat and important things that live in our world, even if the only way to get her out there is if I agree to let her wear her pink tutu.
And I can see that I am already striking a good balance when she tells me that she doesn’t want any of the dolls in the American Girl catalog (she was “wishlisting”)…just maybe another outfit for her two dolls to wear because the ones they have “might be getting stinky”. Not too shabby.
So, after we got back from our final summer trip, I realized that now really is the right time for her to explore whether she wants to participate in ballet and tap classes. All summer she had alluded to wanting to sign up, but we thought it might really be because her best preschool pal was taking classes. To rule out paying for a class where M just gazed at her best friend, we enrolled M in another dance center (not to mention that it’s only a mile down the road from us!), just “to see”.
Well, she loves it. For the hour before class and lasting until a few hours later each Friday, M beams with excitement and bounces around the house about being a real ballerina. I haven’t seen her like this about anything else. Well, except maybe candy corn. Me? I lasted only one year when I took lessons when I was young. But M is turning out to be someone different than me in many more ways than I had thought she would be…and that’s fine by me.
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
This is a new little segment that I am going to call, “Really!!??”. From time to time, it will feature short posts and snippets related to things I’ve heard, read or seen in the realm of parenting and young childhood that just leave me utterly speechless and wondering what planet I am living on.
After talking to a preschool teacher friend of mine who works at a pretty well known large chain of daycare/preschools, she had mentioned to me that some of the centers within the chain were receiving complaints from parents about the playgrounds and play areas at the various centers. My initial thoughts were that perhaps the areas were rundown or unsafe.
Some parents were complaining about the NEW play areas that followed some (costly) renovations across many of the centers. The play areas now have these large, beautiful sand boxes. Sand boxes that have more square footage than most of the rooms in my house.
These parents want the sand boxes removed.
Why? Because when little Johnny or Jennie come home at night–after a long day of PLAYING (gasp!) in said sand boxes–they are tracking sand into the house and ruining their hardwood floors.
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
I’m fairly certain that when I envisioned the time that I would start talking to M about my beliefs–or, probably more accurately, non-beliefs–about how our world came to be, my source of moral codes to live by, and what happens after we die, I am pretty sure it did not involve going through the day’s mail and seeing the flyer for the Rockettes’ Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
But one cannot plan for these things I suppose. This is why so much parenting is improv.
Last year a bunch of my family (including us) went to see a performance of the Rockettes during the Christmas season. M really loved it and so did I. But one thing that took me aback during the show was the part near the end where it focuses on the birth of baby Jesus–I really didn’t like that part too much. Now, I know what you’re thinking: I didn’t like it because it involved religion and I’m an atheist. Nope, that’s not why. I didn’t like it because (in my humble yet artistically untrained opinion) it really slowed down the momentum of the show in a weird place, and, quite honestly, unexpectedly. I had no clue that that kind of religious content would be part of the show. Not that it would have persuaded me to not go see the show. I mean the whole point of Christmas–in the traditional, Christian sense–is the birth of Jesus. But I think that many of us could agree that these days, for too many people this is no longer what Christmas is about, and so I was simply expecting lots of glitter, high kicks and middle of the road holiday music.
The traditional celebration of Jesus’ birth is certainly not what Christmas is about for me personally. For me, it’s about family-based traditions in food, music and connecting with the winter season, and looking forward to that one time of year that we get together as a family for celebration, indulgence and embracing each other and all that we’ve done in the past year. Though putting it that way makes me realize that the only difference between Christmas and Thanksgiving is an evergreen tree, a smaller food hangover and some wrapped presents.
At one time Christmas did have a religious basis for me, or at least it was more religiously informed when I was a participating member of the Catholic church, but that stopped way back in 6th grade or so. So as a result, M’s Christmases have not (yet) had any religious ties. And that makes sense considering we don’t go to church as a family. I don’t go to church or temple or any other place of worship because I am a non-believer. I respect the rights of others who choose to go, but it’s not a place for me. If my husband chose to go again, I’d respect that. But presently he doesn’t go either. If you want to know why, you’d have to ask him since that is his own choice, a decision that is entirely separate from mine.
But as a result of all of this, other than a handful of baptisms and other ceremonies of friends and family that M has attended, her exposure to any kind of religion has been nonexistent. She is somewhat aware that some of her friends go to church on Sunday, but I’m pretty sure all that she thinks that is is some place where you go in a nice dress before you go out to breakfast.
Anyway, because we went to last year’s show,
we’re on the stupid mailing list the ticket sellers naturally assume we want to go again this year, so we received the glossy flyer in the mail. As M and I were thumbing through it and admiring the lovely ladies poised in their high kick pose, she got to the last page where there was a photograph of the baby Jesus scene from the show.
She asked, “Mommy, what’s that?”
I told her it was baby Jesus, hoping that she wasn’t going to probe any further because although I am not shy about my stance on gods, religion and many of the issues that flow therefrom, I was not particularly ready to talk about it at that moment in the front doorway next to a very recent patch of cat barf.
I dodged a bullet because she wanted to know what baby Jesus was sleeping in since it was a grainy photo. I told her it was a manger, kind of like an older version of a Pack-n-Play made out of straw and wood (Pack-n-Hay?). It satisfied her curiosity. Phew.
But then I realized that I need to get my elevator speech ready on this ASAP because she is at the age where she is going to have plenty questions about this. Fortunately, right now she is all too consumed by volcanoes and how mountains are made, but she’s only a few logical steps away from how the planet was made and why don’t we get dressed up on Sundays too?
Reading Parenting Beyond Belief by Dale McGowan (his blog is here) about a year ago certainly helped give me some insight about this issue, though I think I soon need to read his other book, Raising Freethinkers to round out my abilities to navigate this arena. But it’s much more than reading a book for some pointers. I have to remember that she is growing up with extended family who are practicing members of an organized religion, so there is a fine balance between imparting my understanding of the way the world is, her father’s (which is slightly different) and the rest of our families’, all while remaining respectful and non-judgmental. And considering that it’s not really a topic that is openly discussed among our extended family and friends, it already feels slightly awkward.
I have to remember that she’s attending preschool with other children who are members of organized religions that are different from the one of her extended family (Roman Catholic on all sides), and that sometimes I cannot fully predict when issues of religion might appear in my absence. Case in point: one of her classmates graciously brought in some Challah bread in celebration of Rosh Hashana last week. I think it’s wonderful that she is part of a rich fabric of cultures, religions and backgrounds among her peers—really, I do!–but it’s not like there’s an atheist day where I can send her in with a Bundt cake. These kinds of things will start to stand out more and more, and I am honestly not feeling too equipped to say the right thing given her age and attention span. At some point, if she asks, I am of course willing to expose her to whatever it is she wants to learn more about, even if it ultimately leads her to adopt viewpoints that are polar opposite from mine.
But right now I’m in that parenting sweet spot where I do have some control, or at least input, about these kinds of values. The problem though, insofar as I can see it, is that there is no doctrine or book or weekly sermon that I can point to to back me up in a way that is not academic. There are few social places (save for some Unitarian Universalist or Humanist Society groups) and no holidays where entire families gather to rally around the kinds of thoughts that I have, so sometimes it feels a bit lonely out here. So I have to riff a bit and it’s making me uncomfortable in a way that I had not anticipated. And maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I get the bulk of the deep, loaded questions instead of M’s dad. She asks me how babies are made and what will happen to the dead sparrow in our yard, and she asks her dad where her shoes are. Or at least it feels that way. And this is why she thought that all of the dirt in our entire backyard is made of dead people who are helping the new flowers grow (nothing like a four year old extrapolating one small example into one larger possible reality!)
Until this Rockettes flyer came along, I was happily drifting in the no man’s land of preschooler ignorance about big ticket items like religion. But I can see the hot seat on the very near horizon. And so I just want to give a shout out to the Rockettes for kicking me in the butt to get my spiel together so that I am ready next time.
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
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