My daughter was physically precocious when she was little; she was crawling before she was six months, walking by the time she was ten months old. She also loved to climb and would scale the jungle gyms at the park meant for children much, much older than she. It also meant that I had to be on the lookout for a tiny person who didn’t understand that it wasn’t a good idea to crawl right off the edge of the highest point of the structure. She dug for bugs, rolled in mud (well, sand, as she loves the beach), and generally challenged herself to any and all physical challenges.
Imagine my surprise the day we were in the store and she lost her mind over a princess shirt.
This wasn’t a Disney Princess shirt; it was pink and sparkly and had a picture of a girl with a crown on it. I had no idea that she even knew what I princess was. She didn’t go to school, and at this point didn’t really have very many friends who could teach her about princesses. We were very careful about what she watched on TV, and while I own a lot of the Disney Princess movies, she had never shown any interest in them. But that day, something took over my daughter, and she became obsessed by all things princess. She was barely two years old.
My son, on the other hand, can’t pick up a stick without turning it into a weapon. He hunts dragons, kills bad guys, and imagines he is a super-hero. He dreams of owning a dump truck and a motorcycle.
My last post about being myself, I mentioned that it was hard for me to allow my daughter, in fact, both my children, to be themselves. As a professor (ok, instructor) in the humanities, and a feminist, it grates on my nerves that my daughter is all about pink and sparkles and princesses. I worry about my son’s “aggressive” behavior, but at the same time, try not to come down to hard on either of them. They are being themselves. It would be hypocritical of me to punish my daughter simply because she enjoys different things than I did, just like it would be to punish my son for liking (ironically) the same things I did when I was little (seriously, I dreamed of becoming a part of G.I. Joe).
Being an academic, I am supposed to know better. If it wasn’t hard enough to be a mother in academia, it’s hard to be a mother who isn’t perfectly progressive in every way. A recent post, How to Remain Sane Among Alpha Moms, really struck a cord with me because it reminded me of so many academic women, both mothers and non-mothers, who judge the parenting of their colleagues, judgements that bleed over into decisions of whether or not to hire or award tenure. I let my daughter play princess and my son play superhero. I let them watch movies and TV shows…from Disney.
But my daughter also imagines herself as a superhero and wants her own motorcycle. She still loves to climb and is much more physically adventurous than my son. My son calls all of his stuffed animals his “babies” and is always taking really good care of them because they are “sick.” I try to embrace all of the facets of their personality, the ones that are engendered and the ones that appear transgressive. I want them both to be whatever they want to be. If that’s a “pilot and a mom” (as my daughter says), then so be it.