Monkey’s pinkeye was noncontagious (and totally cured, for that matter) just in time to attend a classmate’s birthday party on Saturday. On Friday afternoon it occurred to me that I should procure a present.
Me: What should we give A____ for her birthday, Monkey?
Him: Ummm. Something with princesses.
Me: Oh, is she into princesses?
Him: Or something pink. Because she’s a girl. And girls like … girly things.
I think it’s possible he just formed that adjective off his own bat, because I try not to refer to particular things as girly (or boyly, which is of course the alternative). But he managed to insert exactly the expected amount of scorn for all things pink and princessy into it that you would expect from an almost-five-year-old boy.
So off I went to Target the next morning with a special dispensation to shop alone so long as I didn’t take too long about it, to trawl the aisles for something suitable and pick up milk and bananas and maybe a couple of other things (tra la laa… I tripped and fell into this dressing room and I just happened to find a t-shirt in my hand) on the way. But seriously, it took a lot of thought just to get the darned present.
Because the choice of a birthday present for someone else’s child is rife with potential hazards. Especially when you’re shopping in Target instead of some adorable independent toystore full of overpriced German wooden toys and also plenty of cute stuff you’d actually like your children to receive (coughFranklinscough). You don’t want to be That Parent who started the child on a year(s)-long obsession with something unsuitable – ever, or just at this early age – like, say, Bratz dolls, or Barbies, or even Disney princesses, unless you know that they already like and own some of it already (and you have the parent’s blessing).
I stomped around the store getting all het up about how, as soon as you’ve passed the baby and toddler toys, everything is strictly segregated by gender: two aisles of unmitigated pink pink pink, followed by three aisles of cars, guns, and lego. Even outside the toy department, I was assailed by licenced characters on most of the kids’ items: you’d be hard pressed to buy so much as a pair of underpants (not that I think Monkey should go round giving the girls in his class new underpants for their birthdays) or an insulated water bottle without encountering the damn princesses or some other my-little-pony-esqe design.
In the end, I was pleased to find an oversized pearl necklace and matching crown for dressing up, with no branding beyond that of the basic Target toys. Admittedly, it was pink and girly, but I’m pretty sure A___ enjoys dressing up (if my stints in the classroom are anything to go by), and I thought it would pass muster with her mum too. (And I managed to remember to get a gift receipt for once, despite the rookie employee on the register who had no idea what I was asking for, let alone how to make one come out of the machine.)
Anyway, the whole experience made me realise that for some reason, I have much more scorn for the princesses, and a great desire to keep Mabel away from them and all things Barbie for as long as possible, than I do for the boyly (see?) obsessions like Spider-Man and Batman that we have running rampant in the house already. But is this just because I’ve been worn down by two years of superheroes, or is there something innately worse about the girly stuff? For instance, I was very close to buying Mabel a pink Batman t-shirt the other day (but they didn’t have her size), but I would never ever spontaneously buy her a princess t-shirt – at least not until that point in the future when I’m worn down by nagging and whining and I see a cute one.
Thinking back, this is how Spider-Man started with us. It crept in insidiously, a found action figure here, a pack of bribery underpants there, a comic-strip t-shirt on the sale rail. In each instance, I weighed the attractiveness of the item in question (I’m mostly talking about clothes here) against the delight I knew would follow its reception. (The underpants were unmitigatedly hideous, but they were hidden. And in a good cause. I just bought him Lego Batman ones to replace them with the other day. Also ugly, but I don’t care so much any more. See? Beaten down.)
At a yard sale a few months ago, I paused for a moment at a box of old Barbies, and then decided that there’s no rush: she loves her dolls for now, and at some point someone will give her a Barbie (or a Sindy: I had two Sindys and loved them hard for many years) and that will be okay. I’m not going to be all “nothing but anatomically correct dolls made of biodegradable materials dyed in earth tones and fashioned by authentic Nepalese peasants for my precious snowflake” about it, and I don’t have moral and feminist objections to the princesses (as some people, perhaps very sensibly, do). Since we already own The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, I’d be a bit late on this front, though Mabel hasn’t seen either of them yet. (The reason we have them is a long story. Let me just say that where other people’s husbands see their children as the perfect excuse to pick up on (or, let’s be honest, continue with) their Star Wars obessions, my husband is not only a comic-book geek but is also rather fond of some Disney soundtracks. So certain movies get added to the “kids'” collection much as my father bought “me” a fishing rod for my tenth birthday. Anyhoo. Moving on. Not bitter at all.)
I think it’s kind of cool that Mabel likes Batman and plays with the action figures just as much as she does with her dolls. (Wolverine and Aquaman can be babies too, you know.) We have one Tinkerbell book (at Monkey’s request, actually, a year or two ago), but that’s as much Disney fairy dust as has been sprinkled on our household so far, and I’m not eager to add more before I have to.
Today it was raining and Mabel pulled out Monkey’s old, broken Scooby-Doo umbrella. They both fought over it all the way to school, and I ended up promising Mabel that we’d go and buy her an umbrella of her own soon. She was delighted to hear it. And then she asked, “Can it be pink?”
You can take the girl out of the pretty, but you can’t take the pretty out of the girl, it seems.