Square Zero

Boys and Girls at Play

Posted by Eric (March 28, 2007 at 8:29 pm)

BlocksHere is a photo of a block tower I made with my son Nate. Nate is 14 and, some might say, too old to play with blocks. But I am 40 and not too old to play with blocks—or perhaps I am too old not to play with blocks. In any case, getting to play with blocks at 40 is one of the benefits of being a father, and getting to play with blocks at 14 is one of the benefits of having a father who loves to play with blocks.

I share this photo because I want to talk about boys and girls and how they play, but I have to get there by way of a visit to the obstetrician’s office yesterday afternoon.

My wife April and I are expecting our eighth baby in May, and for the first time we are going though a more or less “typical” prenatal care routine. Our previous seven babies were either born at home with a doctor or midwife, or were delivered in the hospital because of complications that disrupted our homebirth plans.

Our midwife (for Nate, Sam and Liza) was, needless to say, rather countercultural, as was, in a different way, our devout Catholic homebirth doctor. This is our first time visiting a typical doctors office for prenatal visits—a situation demanded by April’s two C-sections and our desire for a natural birth, which at this point needs to happen in a hospital.

Two things are starkly different about this new experience: the ubiquitousness of contraception propaganda materials (little IUD models in the exam rooms; a “Woman’s Health Chart” printed by Ortho Tri-Cyclen, etc.) and the glossy parenting and women’s magazines in the waiting room. (Our Catholic doctor had Highlights and CCL‘s Family Foundations and a whole mess of tattered Golden Books in his waiting room.)

At yesterday’s visit, I was treated to an article in Jane magazine about one woman’s quest to get the Catholic Church to ordain women as priests—which in its irreverence and vulgarity made the case against such a move, were it even ontologically possible.

I also found a strange piece in a parenting magazine for working mothers (I forget the title) about kids who suddenly declare their intention to marry the opposite-sex parent. Though we’ve never encountered this phenomenon, it is apparently quite common (interestingly no mention was made of any toddler proposing marriage to the same-sex parent—hmm . . .). Working mom’s were assured by the article that their child’s sudden extreme attachment has nothing to do with the fact that they’re working.

In a sidebar to the article several suggestions were offered about how to break gender stereotypes with your kids. Moms can bake a cake with their sons; dads can play house with their daughters. Or something like that.

These silliness of these suggestions reminded me of a scene this past weekend when we visited some friends with four grown daughters living at home. Their youngest is a boy, near in age to our boys, so they were well occupied throwing things in the lake, setting fires and what-not.

My girls, however, had to entertain themselves, and after a while they began to run out of steam. Then one of the grown daughters of our host brought out a box of dolls and doll things. My four younger daughters were immediately enraptured, and they were joined by their older sister when she came through the room later. They were busy with the dolls for hours.

I marveled that girls could be so fascinated with dolls. I just don’t get it. It’s plain as day that they love to play with dolls, but for the life of me I just don’t see the appeal. However, if someone had come in and dumped a box of Legos on the floor I would have been tempted to join in the play. At the very least I would have grabbed a handful of bricks to tinker around with while talking with the grown ups.

Every parent—every parent, anyway, who is not bent on indoctrinating the gender neutral ideology (“madness” might be a better word) subtly promoted by that parenting magazine in the doctor’s office—knows that boys and girls are different and like to play in different ways.

Girls will always love to play with dolls, and even if you give them a pile of Legos, they’ll quickly shape them into little people and begin to play house with them. Set boys loose with a box of dolls and soon the helpless homunculi will become the victims of target practice with sling-shots, or worse.

Try to prevent a boy from playing with guns by depriving him of toy ones, and he will learn to pretend that every baseball bat, crayon or gnarled twig is a firearm—or he will make them out of Legos.

I have never heard of anyone trying to prevent a girl from playing with dolls by prohibiting them, but girls have an wondrous capacity for making dolls out of the unlikeliest material. The dust of the earth ain’t in it. One of my sisters used to cuddle Baby Can—a large aluminum can shorn of its label which, thanks to the cruelty of one of her brothers, was revealed to contain yams. This same sister also used to sing lullabies to Baby Tractor, lain down on a pillow and gently covered with a baby blanket.

DollsHere at the right is a photo of the dolls belonging to three of my daughers, as I found them one night when I went in to check on them. There they were, lined up against the wall nestled into three little beds. I fetched my camera to capture this cuteness.

For while I don’t begin to understand little girls’ fascination with dolls, I am all the same fascinated by that fascination, and the opportunity afforded to me as the father of five daughters to bask in that fascination is indeed one of the great gifts of my life.

That, it seems to me, is the way a father ought to relate to his daughters play—not to attempt to re-engineer it (by the way, a distinctly masculine notion to begin with), but simply to appreciate and enjoy it for what it naturally is.

And that is, come to think of it, the proper orientation to everything.

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11 Responses to “Boys and Girls at Play”

  1. John says:

    Little homunculi. That’s my kind of redundant Latin I like to see repeated. And tell me, please, who says superfluousness is unnecessary anyway I’d like to know.

    Comment posted March 29th, 2007 at 12:08 am
  2. Eric says:

    I regret, oh my scholarly pal, that I did not submit my little essay on boys and girls at play to you for inspection prior to publication. However, I rejoice that this one small phrase alone demanded public correction.

    You are right: “little homunculi” is redundant (rather like “little baby”), but the word “homunculi” seemed to require some kind of modifier, being so unfamiliar a word to readers of less accomplishment than yourself.

    And so I have transformed the “little homunculi”—poor things—into the more alliterative “helpless homunculi,” which I hope will meet with your approval, or at least with an absence of scorn.

    Comment posted March 29th, 2007 at 9:08 am
  3. Annie says:

    While reading Les Miserables, I came across a quote which stuck me. I am happy you blogged on this, Eric, because I wanted to share this quote somewhere and you have allowed me the opportunity.

    “The doll is one the most charming instincts of female childhood. To care for, to clothe, to adorn, to dress, to undress, to dress over again, to teach, to scold a little, to rock, to cuddle, to put to sleep, to imagine that something is somebody – all the future of woman is there. Even while musing and prattling, while making little wardrobes and little baby-clothes, while sewing little dresses, little bodices, and little jackets, the child becomes a little girl, and the little girl becomes a great girl, and the great girl becomes a woman. The first baby takes the place of the first doll.”

    I’m the sister who turned everything into a baby. And my little girl does the same thing. She even cradled a pickle spear! Little girls do love their dolls (but we call then babies)!

    Comment posted March 30th, 2007 at 1:15 pm
  4. John says:

    Well sheesh, Eric. Now that you’ve made the comparison to “little baby” I retract my comment and apologize.

    Babies evidently come in little and big and it thus plain to me that neither is one homunculus exactly the size of another.

    As such, it seems now entirely reasonable of you to have classified the larger body of variously-sized homunculi into “big homunculi” and “little homunculi”, if only in the interests of clarity and brevity.

    My comment was hasty and ill-considered. Had I then the broad understanding of homunculi that I have now, I would not have left it. Please forgive me and accept my best wishes for a blessed lent.

    Comment posted March 30th, 2007 at 10:52 pm
  5. james says:

    Hi eric – happy Easter. Just tagged you on my blog. Take a look… Blessings, James.

    Comment posted April 11th, 2007 at 11:17 am
  6. Karen says:

    Hi Eric! I’m finally able to access your site again. Still don’t know what happened, but apparently the problem is fixed…

    A blessed Pascha to you. Christ is risen!

    Comment posted April 11th, 2007 at 10:48 pm
  7. Karen says:

    By the way, congratulations on Number Eight!

    Comment posted April 11th, 2007 at 10:49 pm
  8. JACK says:

    Interesting post. I asked for a few dolls when I was a young boy. My parents had no problem with it at all and gave them to me. Did I dress them up? Nope. They conducted military campaigns with the vehicles I built out of Legos (and had military code names to boot). And when they weren’t conducting military campaigns, they were master businessmen. My cabbage patch kid was named Reuben and I, of course, bragged to my brother about how Reuben was a billionaire, having invented the sandwich of the same name.

    Comment posted April 11th, 2007 at 11:03 pm
  9. Mary Ann says:

    While conducting a search for articles pertaining to dolls, I came upon yours–compliment first: lovely and entertaining insight.

    When I tracked it back, and found your sir name, I was thrilled to find it as my maiden name. My father was a native of Millhousen, IN. Small world — make that, wonderful small world.

    Comment posted May 3rd, 2007 at 10:22 am
  10. Eric says:

    Mary Ann—We must be cousins of some kind. My grandfather, Matthias Herman Scheidler, was born in Millhousen, IN. His father was named John Baptist, and his father was Johann Scheidler from Bavaria, who married Kunegunda Steger (they met in Cincinnati)—my great-great grandparents. I’ve seen their graves in Millhousen.

    Comment posted May 3rd, 2007 at 11:54 am
  11. cest.la.vie says:

    I’m glad all your children fit into neat little gender-stereotyped boxes. That must be nice for you.

    Out here, however, there are children with a variety of interests. My husband played with dolls, and not in a militaristic fashion. I always craved legos and made the most out of tinker toys. However, he also played with legos, and I also played with dolls. Shockingly, our interests covered a large, multi-faceted spectrum.

    Most children I know are capable of enjoying different toys, but when their parents indicate that they “should” be playing a certain way, their pre-conditioned peers indicate they “should” be playing with certain items, and societal messages indicate that they “should” behave according to fabricated standards, children (who tend to be rather impressionable) are typically eager to comply.

    If you would spend a little time in a non-religious pre-school classroom, I think you would recognize the fallacy in your “all girls play with dolls, all boys want guns” generalization.

    Comment posted October 12th, 2007 at 4:23 pm