The other day I was surprised to see my 2 ½-year-old granddaughter wield a hammer and screwdriver like a pro. I shouldn’t have been, but it goes to show that I’m not as progressive as I take credit for.
"Oh, she loves that stuff," my son told me. "The toolbox is one of her favorite toys."
And she looked so cute using it, too, with a big purple bow sliding down her wispy hair and frilly socks matching her girlie-girl dress.
Every year toys — what to get the kids and what’s appropriate — turns into a recurring theme during the holiday season. Santa Claus wants to spend money wisely and he also happens to be a believer in exposing children to non-traditional experiences. I, his local elf helper, couldn’t agree more. I like the idea of trucks for girls and dolls for boys.
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If only it were so simple to break gender stereotypes!
As a mother of four sons my house used to be filled with all things testosterone. Balls and bats and gloves, trucks, soldiers and guns, sometimes to my friends’ dismay. Their sister, poor girl, had to conform to rough play if she wanted to be included in the fun. Not that I didn’t attempt to broaden their tastes. Boy dolls were bought — and forgotten — and the kitchen toys I encouraged turned into interesting weaponry. It’s an uphill battle to buck the influence of society, believe me.
Now I have grandgirls who love princesses, bling and anything pink. They especially like pink princesses wearing lots of bling. Yet there are moments, such as the one I witnessed with the youngest, that do my feminist heart good. I also try to do my part, however small it might seem. Two years ago, for instance, I encouraged Santa to deliver remote controlled trucks. They were a huge hit — but this was before American Girl dolls entered the family lexicon.
Choosing toys isn’t as simple as you might think, not now when we expect so much from our children, not when we want our boys to be nurturing, our girls to lean in and for both sexes to master the brave new world of robots and coding. Developmental psychologists have long said that toys — what and how our kids play with them — are important because it’s how children learn about the world.
So when we shower our children with a certain kind, of plaything we may unwittingly pass on more than we intended. Surely I’m guilty as charged: Baby dolls are my fallback gifts for girls, whether for birthdays or Christmas. Even when I make a conscious choice not to be led by habit, I’ve been so indoctrinated that I end up choosing a pink dump truck for a niece or a Handy Manny plush figure for a nephew, which in a way misses the point or at the very least sends a mixed message.
I won’t pretend that I can single-handedly upend centuries-old playing practices. Everyone, from parents to grandparents to toy companies, have to work together. It’s going to take discipline and persistence, and even then I’m not sure of the outcome.
A few months back I gave my granddaughters a big box of G.I. Joes that had once belonged to their fathers. They were ecstatic with the "new" toys and set up shop without guidance. Minutes later, when I checked up on them, the G.I. Joes were sitting around the remnants of a fort, having tea in their camouflage uniforms.