Thursday, January 24, 2008

Terrific Parenting, Volume 1

Benjamin's got two Park District classes now—one exercise and one acting. The acting class is on Saturday mornings (but at a respectable time, or there's no way in hell I would have signed up for it—and by the way, the "terrific parenting" in the post title is not mine), and the first two weeks have focused on improv.

The kids chose costumes from a heap of choices (literally a heap, spread out on the floor), decided what their character was, and came up with some action and lines. Of course, the plot is utterly nonsensical. There are princesses, some Cinderella-style sweeping, a cop with a creepy rubber face, and a military policeman (Ben) with a dagger. The teacher is terrific with the kids—she treats them with far more respect than 7- and 8-year-old kids generally get, remains unflappable in the face of theatrical chaos, and manages to teach the kids about theater. I should tell her how impressed I am—she probably doesn't hear it nearly enough. Ten points to the drama coach for coolness.

One girl, a brunette with a short bob, opted to be the director in week one. She tends to wear camouflage pants or t-shirts, and last week she got a mite peckish and grabbed her baggie of Goldfish crackers from the table near me. "Camouflage Ziploc bags? Cool!" I exclaimed. "I got those for Christmas," she explained nonchalantly, as if camouflage-print sandwich bags are an utterly ordinary thing for a kid to get for a gift. Ten points to her parents for not quashing her camouflage habit. How many parents would refuse to buy camouflage t-shirts for their daughter, or would only get her the girly pink version?

The second week, it was extremely cold out, and between the mutual assured procrastination and the need to bundle up with extra layers, Ben and I were 10 minutes late to acting class. You can imagine my relief when a dad showed up a few minutes after me (and then another dad soon after) with two boys. His older son found a costume in the aforementioned heap and joined the group, but the younger boy, about 4 years old, was too young for the class. The adorable preschooler amused himself by trying on various costumes, and he kept going back to the blonde yarn braided pigtails. African-American boy, blonde pigtails? Sure, why not? He tried on some other "girly" stuff, along with a superhero muscle suit and some plastic armor. And his dad? Reacted no differently to the pigtails than to the muscle suit. He helped his son get decked out when asked, and let the kid do his own thing when he wasn't asking for dad's assistance. Ten points to this dad for letting his son play dress-up with girly things and never once saying, "That's for girls. Why don't you try that costume instead?"

It makes me sad any time I hear an adult (or another kid, for that matter) telling a child to hew to gender norms, and these kids seem to have lucked out with parents who encourage them to be fully themselves.

Moving right along—In the category of "Regular Parenting, Observational Division," I can report what happened when Ben walked into class that first week. He saw his classmate, Linh, and exclaimed, "Oh, god! Linh! What is she doing here?!?" Linh replied, "Benjamin! What are you doing here?" (This is, of course, the universal exchange carried on between two kids who run into one another somewhere unexpected, not their usual meeting place.) They proclaimed their mutual antipathy and proceeded to chase one another around the room and administer pokes and shoves. Ben is incensed by any suggestion that there may be some second-grade crush action here. In fact, when he told me the other day which three girls he hated, they were exclusively girls who'd been talked about in the "I hear they like each other" context. (Starts early, doesn't it?) By all appearances, Linh has two dads. That is neither her nor there, but at some point if it becomes clear to Ben that his classmate has two dads, i'm glad he'll have had the exposure to that normality.


Jay said...

I'm so glad I don't have the only second-grader who says "Oh, God". Which I may have said to you before. Doesn't bother me, but when she says it I get odd looks from the other parents, like she just said "fuck", or something. Maybe I should teach her to say "fuck", just so when she says "Oh, God" they look relieved.

I'm sorry, was this your tangent I took?

Mo said...

I never have any problem when the Girl Child wears or does "boy" things, but I must admit that it's tougher for me when the Boy Child wants to wear pink. It's that old double standard. Pink does match his coloring much better than green camo, however.

Anonymous said...

I love the preschooler trying on the braids, etc. story. Good for his dad.

O. is really into pretty stuff, and always has been, even though he's a definitely boyish boy. The other day he saw these sparkly 3-D butterfly stickers and had to have them, and he insisted on putting two on his shirt right away, then asked me to take a picture. The picture is esp. dear b/c he happens to be wearing his NY Giants jersey, with the big shiny butterflies nestled right above Michael Strahan's number. Could he have given me better fodder for my next Gender Studies class?