“Boy or girl?”

When I was pregnant, the most common question I was asked was “how long to go?”, which was usually followed up with “Really?! That long?! You look like you’re about to pop?!” and an incredulous expression. But after the shock at my huge belly was out of the way, it was always “is it a boy or a girl?” I always answered honestly “I don’t know” and sometimes added “it doesn’t really matter to us.”‘

We didn’t find out the sex at our scans, because I didn’t want to have to lie when people asked me, and also because I wanted to extend the time before she was “encouraged” into gender norms and expectations for as long as possible. I wanted to let her just be a baby. I didn’t want to force her into a box of expectations based on her sex, and I definitely definitely didn’t want everyone else to do it for me.

And for a while, it was easy enough. We were at home or with good friends a lot, with relatively few outside influences. It was easy to get “gender-neutral” clothes in her size. She had short hair, and most people couldn’t tell if she was a boy or a girl. This meant that many of our interactions were missing that layer.

But it didn’t entirely stop the expectations. We still heard that we were lucky to have a girl, because they were “calm and easy” (despite the fact that in her first year of life she could easily have been voted “kid most likely to try to get into stuff” in most settings). We were still told we should put a headband on so that people could tell she was a girl. We still had people say that she loved her Papa because she was a girl (a “daddy’s girl” at that).

Things have shifted and changed, as things tend to do. Her hair has grown. There are fewer “gender-neutral” clothes in her size, and she rather enjoys the colour pink. We don’t hear “boy or girl?” so often when she’s there with us, because most people can guess based on appearance that she’s a girl.

But even if we don’t hear the question out loud so often anymore, we’re still hearing “boy or girl?” all the time, in so many ways. The message it sends is only getting louder. And The Campground Kid is hearing it too.

The Campground Kid


A couple of days ago, someone in one of my Facebook groups posted a fairly innocuous question to McDonald’s about why they ask “is it for a boy or a girl?” when they sell happy meals, rather than just offering a choice of toys: “do you want a ninja turtle or a beanie baby?”

I found out about the post, and made a quick supportive comment, expecting that there would be a few supportive comments, a couple of misinformed negative comments, and a cheerful but meaningless response from McDonald’s that they were “working on it”.

And in two out of three cases, I was correct. There were a few supportive comments and a fairly standard corporate response from McDonald’s. But there were not just a couple of misinformed negative comments. There were thousands. Literally thousands of people who thought she was a) making a big deal of something that was a non-issue, b) an overly precious lefty liberal caught up in the PC brigade, c) pathetic for being concerned about this when people are being killed in wars/can’t afford food/have real problems to worry about, d) a terrible mother who should be worrying more about feeding her toddler McDonald’s or maybe not raising kids at all, or e) all of the above.  Some of the comments were seriously nasty, she received private messages abusing her and her parenting, and they just kept coming and coming and coming.

I don’t necessarily want to give this one post more attention than it needs. McDonald’s have already taken the feedback on board, there’s been an article published on news websites, and I’m pretty sure the poster wasn’t expecting this level of attention. But posting and reading on the discussions has been eye-opening for me.

The Campground Kid

I am not surprised when I’m asked the question at McDonald’s;  I’m used to the casual but insidious gendering of our kids, which is perhaps why I’ve never thought to complain to them. But I was shocked at the level of disagreement on the post. I never realised just how much hate for progressive thinking was there beneath the surface, and how much people were clinging to gender roles as a bastion of “the good ol’ days”‘. (I know, I know, there were SO MANY clues, but this little issue just seemed like a no-brainer to me!)

The Campground Kid has the occasional Happy Meal from “‘Miss Donald’s” (her words). I ask what toys are available and let her choose, or choose the one that I think she would like the best (or the one that I think would be the least annoying, if I’m honest), and we get on with our days. The impact of this specific issue is minimal.

And, just so we’re crystal clear on that point, OF COURSE this isn’t the biggest worry in my life. I have plenty of other things to worry about, and I spend plenty of time worrying about them. But, we can worry about more than one thing at once. Trust me, I’m well versed in worrying.

And OF COURSE if I had the choice between “no children killed in wars” and “no gendering of the toys in McDonald’s” I would choose the former.

And OF COURSE I’m not going to win over many people in the comments section of a Facebook post.

But those things don’t mean it’s not a real issue. Because it’s not just about the Happy Meal. It’s easy to ask for a “boys toy” for my kid, if that’s what they want, but I think it’s important to question why we as a society even consider a truck or a ninja turtle or a superhero to be a “boys toy”, and how we influence our kids’ choices and “natural preferences” every day with the messages we give them.

The “boy or girl?” question is asked, both explicitly and covertly all. the. time.  And all the little instances build up.

They build up to a world where men are encouraged to be violent rather than showing any vulnerability and where women are considered “less than” if they don’t conform to arbitrary standards of beauty. They build up to a world where children drop their favourite hobbies because they’re “too girly” or “for boys only”.  They build up to a world where Donald Trump is the President of the United States. They build up to a world where a woman is shamed and ridiculed on the internet because she dares to question our entrenched ideas of gender.

That’s not the world I want for my child, and if that makes me an “overreacting special snowflake” in some people’s minds, then so be it.


I have more thoughts on this (SO MANY MORE). But my post is too long already, and there are people who’ve said it better, so I’m going to finish off with two recommendations.

First is Let Toys Be Toys, a volunteer organisation in the UK who advocate for removing gender-stereotyped advertising. They explain why it matters and have successfully lobbied several retailers. In the last few days, I’ve realised more and more how important their efforts are.

The second is this article about how we can very simply reduce our children’s tendency to stereotype, by speaking in specifics rather than generalisations.

And the third is a book, Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine.  I’m only part way through, but it is FASCINATING and important and engaging and everyone should read it.

Uniform

The weather is quickly turning cold here. We had two frosts last week, and certainly made it into the negatives, temperature-wise. (And yes, I know that in a global scale of winter, this is not a big deal, but for two parents who haven’t had a winter since 2012, and one kid who hasn’t had a winter EVER, this is coooold.)

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Frosty family

This means it’s time to get our winter uniforms at work. I haven’t actually seen them yet, and although I’m more than ready for something a bit warmer, I somehow doubt they’re going to be as popular with our guests as the summer ones.

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Me and The Campground Kid in our summer uniforms

Seriously, you would not believe how often we get compliments on these shirts. Or maybe you would, I don’t know, but it has surprised me. I would say that on most days there is at least one person who comments, and 99% of the comments are positive.

But the reason I’m writing today is not about the specific uniforms, or about their relative popularity with our guests. It’s more just about the concept of wearing a uniform.

This job is the first time in over ten years that I’ve worn a uniform. If you’d asked me a few years back what I thought about wearing a uniform, it would have been a great big NOPE. I loved having a large wardrobe and creating fun outfits. I wouldn’t wear an outfit again if I’d worn it in the last few weeks. I had a serious amount of clothes, and I had fun with them.

But now that we’re here… I kinda love it.

I think there are a few things that have changed to change my mind on a uniform. 1) I became a mum. I have another person to dress in the morning. I have less mental energy, and I don’t really want to spend the energy I do have on choosing clothes. 2) I’m on my feet a lot. It’s way more important to me that my clothes, and particularly my shoes, are comfortable, so it’s just easier to have one casual outfit every day. And 3) I got fat. It’s not as easy to buy fun clothes, especially not cheaply. Clothes are less comfortable, and finding something that fits and looks good is just hard (I could say more, but availability of larger sizes and clothes made to fit fat bodies is a whole other post!)

Over summer, I even took to having a casual “uniform” that I wore most days: jogger pants (which I also wore to work), a comfortable t-shirt, and jandals or Birkenstocks. It was pretty much the same as what I wore to work, but with more jandals (flip flops) and less tie dye. It was easy, comfortable, and looked good enough.

But for winter, It’s proving more difficult. I don’t have good layering clothes. I don’t have any pants that go with tighter tops. I don’t have the right shoes/boots. I don’t have enough woolly socks. I don’t have the right jacket. Winter clothes are more expensive, and there aren’t any shops nearby. And don’t even get me started on what I can wear if I actually want to exercise! The whole thing is just annoying me.

So, I’ll be really glad to have that work uniform soon. Provided it works with skinny jeans and sneakers, I’ll be pretty much sorted for five days a week. And maybe the other two days, I’ll just hibernate and live in pyjamas. That’s what I did yesterday, and it was pretty great. Totally solid plan… right?

 

Anxiety/Complexity/Warmth/Sensitivity

This morning I was flicking through Facebook, tidying up my Timeline (making it slightly more difficult for people to stalk me), and I came across a personality test. You know, those clickbaity, mostly pointless tests that I’m a total sucker for. I know they’re a bit silly, so if I’m forced to post something to see my results, I always post to ‘Only Me’, and then usually delete them as soon as I’ve seen the results.

But one of them must have slipped through the deleting stage, and today it caught my eye. The test I forgot to delete was one of those spider-web types, with different personality traits rated on each ‘arm’, making a weird wonky shape of your personality. It caught my eye because it was shared with the highest rated personality trait and its percentage rating. And mine read…

Anxiety 92%

While somewhat accurate, it was also somewhat jarring to see it pop up on my Facebook feed (which, while honest, is generally more focused on what I see as positive). I think it was also jarring, because even though I know full well that I’m a person who holds a lot of anxiety, that personality trait doesn’t exist in isolation. I’m anxious, but I’m not ONLY anxious.

So I looked at the other traits that stuck out on that little webby chart that was claiming to sum me up and the top four were Anxiety, Complexity, Warmth, and Sensitivity. 

(I feel the need at this point to mention that I have training in psychometric testing, and I know that it’s hard and complicated and the best tests are rigorously tested, and even then have biases and issues. And I also know that this link on Facebook was definitely not rigorously tested,and that it’s fairly meaningless as a result.)

But even with aaaaaallllll the disclaimers, I quite liked this (totally simplistic) little description of me.

I like it because the individual components aren’t necessarily entirely positive, but as a whole it seems kinda balanced. I like it because it’s accurate without being overly complicated. I like it because it just kinda fits.

This isn’t life-changing, or a revelation to me (quite the opposite, really), and I don’t entirely know why I felt compelled to share it, which makes this post a bit difficult to finish off.  But recently I’ve been working on unlearning perfectionism (which is where a lot of that anxiety comes from), and as part of that, I want to share more of those elements of me that do not feel entirely positive. And I also want to write more, even if I can’t find the perfectly wise or funny or clever ending to a post.

So here, I am, ending a weird post about a silly thing I found on Facebook with an entirely unrelated picture, and calling it a day.

Picture of The Campground Kid running in the frost, just because I love it.

 

 

The grey-middle

I am both an At Home Parent and a Working Parent. This sounds impossible, right? And if our tendency towards black and white labelling of people and situations was to be trusted, it would be. But from my vantage point in the grey-middle, it’s easy to see that things are not nearly as simple as we’d like to believe.

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I work 50+ hours a week, as does Campground Papa. The Campground Kid is awake for maybe 85 hours a week, and she is at daycare for about 21 of those hours. She comes to work with us for about 25 hours a week (our work is at our house, so the line is a bit fuzzy on this one. Our work also has a playground, so it’s not as boring for her as it first sounds).  We are all at home and off work for 2 days a week, and Campground Papa and I have about 2 hours to ourselves between finishing work for the week and picking her up from daycare.

Within each day, we flex around. We alternate pick ups and drop offs at daycare; we swap around bedtimes and sleep-ins; we take turns cooking. The Campground Kid “helps” Campground Papa on his work tasks; I take her for walks; we both take breaks to play tea-set or marble-run; I watch Dinosaur Train with her; Campground Papa sets her up with magnatiles and then does chores; we both try to keep her entertained in the office and laundry; we both frequently fail. When it’s quiet at work, the juggle is relatively easy; when work is busy, it’s not easy at all; when The Campground Kid is out of sorts or overtired, it sometimes feels impossible. But we muddle through it together.

I don’t entirely know what the point of posting this is, but I do know that when I was an At Home Parent, I used to think the life of a Working Parent was hugely different to my own. I didn’t necessarily see it as harder, or as less hard, but I did think it was an almost fundamentally different experience.

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Now, I don’t see it that way. I see a lot of different experiences. I see different levels of juggling and different levels of time away from kids. I see different levels of monotony and different levels of satisfaction. I see different levels of calm and different levels of stress. But none of these levels correspond neatly to “At Home Parents” or “Working Parents”; they vary with hundreds of individual circumstances and personalities and experiences. I see those black and white extremes blurring into the grey-middle, and I think that grey-middle contains most of the interesting stuff.

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And I think this is true of many other labels that we place on parents too. Sure, some people exclusively breastfeed or exclusively formula feed. But many (most?) people do a bit of both, and I think how much they do of each is never the most important thing about their relationship with their baby. Some people sleep train and some people co-sleep, but some people do both (that would be us!) or neither or just whatever works in the moment to get everyone some sleep. Some people are natural birth advocates and had c-sections; some people want all the drugs and arrive at the hospital too late for any pain-medication at all. I am infertile AND a mother. (etc. etc.)

It’s not that I think the black and white labels are useless. They have their place. It’s just that I think the individual stories in the grey-middle are a whole lot more interesting, if we take the time to listen and share.

 

Holiday thoughts

We took a holiday.

It was wonderful.

We (mostly) had great Autumn weather. Cool crisp mornings, followed by sunny days. My very favourite kind of weather.

Campground Papa and The Campground Kid and Lake Taupo

We saw lovely people in lovely places.

In our ten days, we stayed in five wonderful spots. We spent time with all of The Campground Kid’s grandparents, plus two of her second cousins, two of her first cousins once removed, and one of her second cousins once removed.

Our family and our favourite country were the killer combination that brought us home, and this holiday was all about them.

Family time on the Napier Waterfront

It was lovely.

But it was also hard.

It was hard to say goodbye again to people and places after such short visits. The goodbyes and the things we missed out on made it hard to keep the doubts from creeping in. Would we be happier somewhere different? Could we be doing something different? Should we be different?

It was logistically difficult too. Lots of driving, different food, different beds, different routines. They’re hard on us, and they’re even harder on The Campground Kid.

She coped remarkably. And seeing her outside her routine highlighted just how much she has grown and changed since we arrived in New Zealand seven months ago.  I’m pretty sure I’m biased, but I’m also pretty sure that she’s an amazing kid.

Windy walks on the Wellington Waterfront

It was a special time.

But it’s also quite a relief to be back.  Back home, back to work, back to our routines.

This morning, our first day back, we were a bit tired (thanks to a wild bedtime last night and a cold for Campground Papa), but we were actually happy to get back to work. And The Campground Kid was very happy to get back to her daycare.

We were even happier when work was quiet enough that we could have plenty of coffee breaks and fit in some unpacking and some laundry.

And, despite the doubts, I can’t help but think that a life we’re happy to be back to is a pretty good life.