[note: pictures added for indignation factor]
i don't even know where to start. on saturday we went to a birthday party for one of the monster's classmates - it was our first, and i was completely unprepared. i had insisted that we go. the monster is still too little to really care one way or the other, and the last thing f. wanted to do was to drive to the city for a preschooler birthday party for a little girl we barely know. but, i argued, it would be a chance for us to meet some of the other parents, maybe there's an interesting one lurking in there. plus, it would be good for the monster to do some socializing outside of school. he doesn't have anyone to play with where we live.
okay, so i know that our resistance to the imposition of highly structured gender norms on 3-year-olds is wacky here in macondo, as is the absence of television in our house, our blissful ignorance about ben10 and stephanie and the like, and the monster's inexperience with cheesies and coca-cola. and i knew that this birthday encounter would be one of our first steps towards that moment when we will eventually say no, this is not what we believe in, this is not what we want for our family.
i know our time is limited as we learn and prepare for that moment, when the monster starts to become part of this place and want the toys, the tv, the food, the lack of seatbelts that his friends have. i know we'll have to find a reasonable balance - between okay, i guess there's no harm done, and no, we don't do that in this family - so that he can interact with other kids and enjoy their play, get their jokes, share in the fun.
i've already come a long way in accepting that i will have to make these compromises, somewhat encouraged by the (wavering) belief that in the long run, we will still have an important influence on the people our little monster and monkey will become. we can still expose them to diversity, to critical thinking, to solidarity, to ideas about justice and dignity and rights.
i have no doubt that as they grow, this will be our biggest challenge. i think that would be true for us in any community, anywhere in the world, but here in macondo it promises to knock the wind out of me at every turn.
so back to the birthday party. they rented out a pelotero - standard birthday party tradition here - a place with lots of balls, tunnels, ramps, slides, trampolines, like a really well-equipped mcplayland...
the only conversation we had (not because i'm a grump, but the music was too loud!):
f. to one of the monster's classmates: wow, i heard that you sleep alone in your room now!
classmate's mom: oh, you heard? yeah, she got a television and dvd player as a present, so we took advantage of the moment and set them up in her room. [us: what??? she's 3 years old!!!]
f. to little girl: ahh, so now you can watch tv in your room, eh? what do you watch?
girl: hi 5. [us: what's that?]
mom of a different classmate: ah, all the kids are crazy about that.
now i just can't figure out how i could have participated in that conversation in any kind of sincere way, beyond sharing the little girl's pride in her sleeping alone accomplishment.
a few snippets:
- very loud and bad pop music blaring from the speakers the whole time, like at a bar you decide not to go to with your friends when you want to actually talk and not just dance, because you'll have to yell all night (what about protecting our kids' hearing? what about playing some kids' music? they're 3 years old!!!)
- time to break the piñatas - first distribute plastic ben10 bags to the boys and stephanie bags to the girls. be sure not to make any mistakes!
- time to sing happy birthday. no wait, they just blare a recording of happy birthday through the sound system.
- time to cut the cake. no wait, first get out the full-size ben10 and stephanie cardboard cutouts, set off nicely with green balloons on the boys' side and pink balloons on the girls' side (i must admit that despite my interest in reporting on this important occasion, i didn't get close enough to this whole spectacle to inspect the cake, but i'm sure our imagination will suffice).
- moms were all dressed up, wearing high heels (oops, are flip flops okay too?)
- many little girls were wearing looooong pink and/or white frilly dresses down to their ankles noticeably getting in the way of climbing and running.
- ALL girls except for 3 were wearing pink and white - some were quite comfortable, but its prevalence made it seem like a uniform.
- boys were all dressed differently - some more and some less formally, but no discernible uniform.
- loot bags for boys were decorated with ben10 stickers, with candies and a ben10 toy inside. loot bags for girls had stephanie stickers, with candies and a tiara-like hair thing inside.
- there were also ben10 'colouring books' for the boys - i heard the birthday girl ask her mom for one and her mom said 'no silly, they're for boys.' full of stimulating material like drawings of ben 10's sidekick girl with her unbelievable boobs and activities like 'colour in ben10's watch' and other advertising.
i have to stop here. i'm still processing it all. it made me want to have a little girl so i could raise her differently and so my boys could see how girls don't have to be subject to that. and it made me tentatively thankful (but still wistful) that while i have the daunting task of raising feminist boys in this setting, i don't have to face sending a girl of my own into that princess jungle.