The Gifts We Give

People love to bring things for Miss O when they visit and she relishes every opportunity to rip paper from boxes and toss tissue in the air with wild abandon. She now understands that receiving gifts is part of the standard ritual for being in her presence and now welcomes everyone into out home with a heartfelt, “Surprise for ME?!”

I am certainly not one to refuse someone purchasing something so I don’t have to and am always grateful people think of her and take the time to find something they think she’ll enjoy. Most of our friends and family are kind enough to let us know in advance when they’re bringing something or ask if there’s anything she needs or would like to have, which is amazingly considerate of them. As Miss O gets closer to being swept up in the great marketing machine, I find myself nervous to see just what marvelous something she’ll be introduced to next.

On a recent visit, Miss O was given a darling Melissa & Doug reusable sticker pad set. It’s a set of 5 scenes printed on coated paper and coordinating removable characters, furniture, etc. I had a similar set of Colorforms in the 80’s. If you didn’t experience those, take some Post-It notes and draw some stick figures. Now find a magazine, pick an ad and place Post-It people wherever your heart desires. Seriously, try it. It’s pretty entertaining.

Miss O’s set is filled with apple-cheeked princes and princesses, decked out in their pink and purple finery for almost every soirée in the land. There’s even a wedding, because, honestly, what kingdom isn’t complete without a royal gathering of future in-laws? She enjoyed piling every sticker she could find onto the ballroom scene and laughed maniacally as she put the little dog into it’s doggie house. Ok, so it was a fireplace, but I wasn’t about to correct her and it was hilarious to see a tiny Bichon Frisé roasting in an elegant pink fireplace.

As Miss O was marveling at a very Cinderella-esque carriage that she has zero frame of reference for, the gift giver remarked how she just knew Miss O would love it and how she purchased a set for Miss O’s cousin, Mr. A, that was trucks, trains and airplanes. She went on to elaborate on how Mr. A loved his set and played with it much the same way as Miss O. She then supposed, almost to herself, that she probably could have gotten the same set for Miss O, since she knows how much Miss O like trucks, but couldn’t help herself once she saw the princesses.

Um…ok.

So, I loves me a good fairy tale and I had my fair share of princess costumes for Halloween, but as I get on in years, there’s nothing I love better than a rousing debate regarding gender inequality and the myriad ways society perpetuates it’s own stereotypes. Since it’s finally en vogue to question how often and in how many ways we force these roles on our children, I can’t help but cringe every time I see a pink Lego or a “just for girls” version of another perfectly reasonable gender neutral toy. I have also been known to walk down a toy store aisle muttering “pandering” and “of course it comes in pink, too” as though I were some dodgy old broad with a fresh pair of cranky pants.

Hubs and I agreed very early on that we would work to keep as much commercialism as possible out of our house and not expose Miss O to “characters” for as long a humanly possible. (Read: 6 months. Teething will take you to a dark place where you will do ANYTHING to get your kid to stop crying and Curious George is a gift from on high.) I wasn’t even sure she knew what a princess was until we turned down the “Princess” aisle at Target and she squealed so loud I’m lucky I can still hear. She also recently discovered Disney Junior’s Sophia the First and fell instantly in love. Purple, pink and sparkly are currently her favorite colors and she clearly has this in common with Princess Sophia.

It is because of her love of Sophia that I opted to behave for once and not start a pointed discussion regarding just how much Miss O would have loved to get the truck sticker mat. She would have been absolutely elated. When we went to my sister-in-law’s house the next day, she and Mr. A enjoyed placing airplanes in extreme peril and derailing every train they could find. She also really enjoys playing with the princess set and I have come to understand that it’s basically a flat doll house for her. She puts the princesses to bed and thinks the chandeliers are trees.

Sometimes it’s hard to let your kids enjoy something for the sake of enjoying it, especially when the message it might send clouds your enjoyment of it as well. Once I let go of the idea that this was another attempt to relegate my daughter to society’s definition of a girl, I saw it as a fun toy she enjoys and allows her to create her own stories. She also has easy access to those truck stickers, so I don’t have to spring for another set in the name of balance.

I’m glad I kept my trap shut about the princesses. In the end, it’s really all about what makes Miss O happy. I know the gift-giver enjoyed watching her get excited about them, too, so I guess we all win.

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