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You can’t dress a boy in pink! My thoughts on gender and parenting…

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Before I begin….

Sex = Biological assignment of male/female/intersex – made up of characteristics such as genitals, hormones, and chromosomes

Gender = Social identity and expression with relation to masculine/feminine/other tastes or interests… in other words, how a person feels themselves to be (man/woman), and how they show that to the world

Despite how much progress has been made in society’s understanding of everything, gender formation – or the development of the intrinsic experience of how a person feels and expresses themselves in relation to boy/girl/other is still a bit of a mystery.

I very much consider myself a cis-gendered woman, but growing up, I felt like a very boyish girl. That is how I related with my gender identity. See above.

When I was pregnant with my son, there was a theory that we knew the sex of our baby. The clothing items I posted to Facebook didn’t help.

Pink cat socks? Must be a girl! A toddler soccer kit? You didn’t tell me you were having a boy? Actually, we were still placing bets the day before we met our baby – whose sex seems to be a delightful XY variety – time will tell how he relates to that with his gender.

I have never bought into the value of rigid gender stereotyping. I find it limiting that if a child presents as a female at birth, she should be press-ganged into a world of image-conscious dolls and shirts that say ‘I Hate My Thighs!’

I have an even lower opinion of make-up sets for little girls who are still losing milk teeth. I cannot help but wonder if all of this image-conscious advertising contributes to the toxic ‘mean girls’ trend that I keep seeing in my teaching career.

Likewise, I cry a little bit inside whenever I see boys steered away from performing arts in favour of plastic guns and shunning their emotions. ‘Boys will be boys’ has become tangled up with unsavoury attitudes that are not too far separated from these stereotypes and expectations.

It should be no surprise that we don’t limit ourselves to pink or blue.

We certainly get raised eyebrows when our son wears his light pink swaddle or purple tie-dyed t-shirt. More so when we show people his doll’s house (which sits beside his toy car.)

Still, I don’t buy into the idea that his gender identity is so fragile that it could be confused by a t-shirt colour or a toy. Whatever he becomes will always be okay by us and I believe it is our job to model acceptance and openness towards a range of interests.

“It’s just the way it’s always been done, that’s the way we’ll always do it.”

Back in 1995, I was not allowed a Batman cake for my fifth birthday. My mother was worried about what my party guests might think, and so I was given a princess cake. I was squeezed into an uncomfortable dress. I ripped that sucker off as soon as I’d blown out the candles.

I don’t blame my parents – it’s hard to buck traditions, lest you be labelled as ‘confusing the children’ or ‘pushing an agenda.’

It is also easy to think that one scantily-clad doll or toy gun is not going to rattle any child’s cage, but when our young are inundated with media and peer influence, there is no way out – unless a wider range of options are encouraged. Freedom to explore starts at home.

I would love for my child to do ballet lessons AND sports – or for his birthday cake to be anything he likes, superheroes or magical pink unicorns. His toybox is filled with puzzles, trucks, dress-ups, dolls, and LEGO. I don’t automatically reach for the bluest of blues in the clothing aisle, either.

In light of not having a default, people have applauded us for subscribing to ‘gender neutral parenting.’ The occasional person accuses us of ‘turning him gay’ – if that were possible, the opposite – conversion therapy – would have more credibility.

What we espouse is far from neutral – and I do not believe it is an unreasonably radical statement, either. It isn’t about raising a child free from these influences, but with the encouragement to explore in the safe love of two open-minded parents.

After all, I believe that it doesn’t really matter how much you push or police gender expectations either way – children will adopt whatever they feel as comfortable to their identity, and exposing them to a range of interests and tastes sends the message that any of it is fine by us. Conversely, discouraging a child from being their truest self can inflict harm from which they may never completely recover.

He can be whoever he wants to be – free from conditions, assumptions, and toxic limitations.

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Plus, he looks adorable in pink.

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Rumble in the trash jungle – adventures in suburban recycling

I absolutely love being a spend-thrift.

Far from the modern grind-til-you-die attitude, gotta-have-it, spend, spend, spend mentality, I believe that the easiest way to become your richest self is to live below your means – and to acquire less. After all, the greatest assets are time and opportunity, not material belongings.

On this parenthood journey, I want to provide, but also to raise a child who is resourceful, ethical, and an environmental steward.

Not an easy task, but parenthood isn’t.

In the spirit of consume-less, recycle-more, save-more-money, I want to share my experience with Containers for Change. Everyone seems to have an opinion on this newfangled scheme.

four assorted-color trash bins beside gray wall

Queensland recently launched Containers for Change to address the low recycling rate. Did you know that around 3 billion beverage containers are discarded every year and they are the second most littered item? Crazy! And kind of shit when you consider that we should theoretically know better in our age of information. 

The way it works is that you sign up online, receive a personal code, and take your empty beverage containers into a depot, preferably in a reusable bag to reduce waste. The depots are quick and effective and will put your empties into a box, count them, and deposit the money into your account.

In drop-off locations, it can take awhile to receive a refund due to differences in collection and sorting times. I find that the depots are the best and easiest. Feedback from others has revealed that some of the sites work differently and are nowhere near as effective. Hopefully, this will be addressed.

Funnily enough, I don’t drink many bottled beverages. I believe that helping the environment is best achieved by reducing one’s consumption (e.g buying better/less.) So how do I generate recycling, to earn the refunds? And what am I spending it on? 

Glad you asked. Since giving birth nearly a month ago, I have started to walk around the neighbourhood again. I start my morning by expressing milk and then setting out for my walk while Natalie and The Boy are still snoozing.

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Aw, yes. 10c! Come to Mama! Note – it did not ‘come to Mama.’ I had to get my socks and shoes wet. Whatever!

I take an enviro-bag and keep my eyes peeled for discarded empties. My route covers a walking path behind The Gap High School, and sometimes if there are empties close to the fence line, I can poke a stick through and retrieve them.

On the way, there is a creek that collects the occasional empty can. I have no issue with getting my feet wet to swipe them – the obvious benefit is that this is removing trash from a natural habitat.

On my way back, I go past the shopping centre. There are spots where employees sit for their smoko. One guy has the same iced coffee every day and leaves it on top of the bin. I swipe it (and then use hand sanitiser.) Occasionally, he’ll still be drinking it when I walk past. I lay low and resist the urge to say, ‘You done, or…’

His trash is my treasure. 10c, ka-ching! Waste not, want not.

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This is just one morning – 7.5km route, The Gap, Brisbane. You kind of wish that people would be less disgusting, but that will never happen.

Then, there is bin diving. I don’t feel comfortable digging through bins at random homes, but given that I live in an apartment block, I can often collect other people’s empties if I ask.

As for the money? We deposit the refunds into an account we started before our son was born. The magical trash collections will go towards what we already put aside to allow him to be debt-free and educated in the future.

Obviously, the scheme isn’t perfect and it is far from a catch-all solution for waste, but if it encourages people to recycle and pick up litter, then it is a step in the right direction.

And it’s putting The Boy through college. Win-win.

 

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Have yourself a critically-thinking Christmas – or, why I bat for Team Santa

As an adult, my excitement towards Christmas has been limited to one of two activities:

1. Teaching my students how to make crafts for loved ones

and

2. Pressing all of the toys at Kmart and then walking away, creating an annoying canon of Christmas carols

I also work with my loved ones (my parents and my wife) to throw together some donation baskets for various animal rescues and family charities. Other than that, I tend to leave the country, so I miss a lot of the Christmas hype. Being grown-ass adults, we also don’t bother with gifts.

Santa Claus riding snowboard

As a child, I had a few short, sweet years where I believed there was a Santa Claus. I eventually had doubts – after all, why would an altruistic flying dude with a sack fail to address world hunger if he could deliver a bunch of stuff to kids every year?

I also questioned the plausibility of the physics, but it was good fun while it lasted. One of my best memories was when my brother and I received a game to share – Key to the Kingdom. Best 1990s board game, ever. Also, when we received a Yo-Ho Diablo, also to share. I can never remember having as much fun with a toy as when we took that bad boy into primary school and showed off all our tricks.

Santa must have known how much we wanted those particular toys…. right?

Now that we are about to give birth, I am noticing that there are two distinct teams – Team Santa and Team Critical ThinkingThe former love to take their children through the Santa stories, leaving carrots out for the reindeer. They’ll claim that at least one of the presents beneath the tree has been delivered by Santa. The latter consider themselves to be critical thinkers and shun the idea of propagating any ‘lies’ with their children because they want to foster intellect in their progeny.

Excuse me while I vomit. 

While these types wish to endow their child with thinking prowess, they fail to acknowledge one vital caveat; there has been limited research to support their assertion. That is to say, their rejection of Santa Claus on the basis of it disrupting critical thought development is mostly anecdotal conjecture. To which I give a resounding…. citation required. 

You would think that the first place a critical thinking parent would go to form their views would be research, but peer-reviewed articles to support the Anti-Santa viewpoint largely do not exist – like Santa himself.

What does exist is a significant body of research on development that points to the unequivocal benefits of pretend play and imagination. Children who engage in this form of play by themselves and with others develop a greater capacity for cognitive flexibility and creativity.

Busting the Santa Myth using burgeoning critical reasoning skills actually paves the way for cognitive development that will later be beneficial for persuasion, problem-solving, and innovative activities (like robotics!)

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It is generally a short-lived myth, but while children believe, it can provide magic and positivity – from the sharing of stories, the anticipation of writing letters to Santa, and the excitement of receiving a gift. I personally draw the line at using Santa to control behaviour – be good or you won’t get anything from Santa! After all, managing behaviour is the job of parents – but there are no clauses in the handbook that say you need to use Santa in that way, and it probably won’t do any lasting harm.

Once the child begins to work through the myth themselves, that is when the real magic begins, because you can then appoint them as Santa’s Helper – a child who has figured it all out themselves, but who has a special role in protecting it for younger siblings and friends. Children who have lived Santa’s magic might relate to keeping it alive for others, but children who have always heard the Santa myth shunned will likely struggle to develop this empathy.

I have met many families who squash the Santa myth before their child is ever able to believe. Far from developing critical thought, what tends to happen is an uncomfortable sense of intellectual and moral superiority from the mouths of babes.

“Only BABIES believe in Santa Claus. You must be STUPID.” 

You can imagine how pleasant these children are.

I received the short-lived joy of Santa as a child. I am critically rigorous of any viewpoint as an adult, to the point where it annoys the people who love me because I won’t accept any poppycock at face value. That is to say – yep, I’m not fun at parties!

Yes, that is an anecdote with a sample size of 1, but I think you’ll find the rigour of figuring Santa out is more beneficial for a child than begrudging them the experience in the name of ‘critical thinking.’

Ooh-la-la.

Let them eat cake – and leave some out for the big guy, too. 

Merry Christmas, happy holidays, or whatever you relate to! May this season be a time of safety and love for you and yours.

shallow focus photo of Merry Xmas LED signage