Saturday, January 2, 2010

How many words are in a word?

I almost said something... but I kept my thoughts to myself. In the parking lot of a bookstore yesterday (Honey got LOTS of gift cards to his favorite place!) a dad was talking to his kid - maybe 8 years old. "How many words are in Daddy?" The kid answered "one", and the dad impatiently asked why the kid couldn't get this - why he always got this one wrong. "There are no words in a word", he says. "How many words in run?" The kid cowers a bit and says "none?" Now dad is happy - his kid got that right. "How many letters in run?" "Three" with some confidence.

OK, so one, I HATE when people quiz their kids. It's a button of mine. But I really hate it when people are stupid and make their kids feel like idiots. There are lots of words in words! Either by pulling smaller words out (dad from daddy for example) or by rearranging the letters (day, ad, add...). Way to thwart your kids creative thinking dad! And come to think of it - who cares how many words are in a word? What the heck kind of question is that anyway?

I've been thinking a lot about how we shape our kids thoughts lately - how the expectations we have become self fulfilling prophesies, and how our attitudes create preferences and things to strive for in our kids. Of course, gender is a big one - the gifts we give girls vs. boys even before the child's game and toy preferences are recognized. Girls get ironing and kitchen stuff and boys get tool benches and baseball gloves. Peanut was given a baby doll at about a week old. No one has ever thought to give one to Pumpkin.

The way we talk about our surroundings is big too - Oh I'm so cold, this is scary, eww that mud is gross, oh it won't hurt you, it's just a little drizzle, be careful! Kids read our emotions and take them on as their own. When a child falls, if we react too intensely or quickly, their reaction is usually bigger than it might have been. Last summer at the park, Peanut fell and was about to get up and dust herself off. I was 9 months pregnant, so I moved slower than usual as I kept a close eye to see if she was OK. Another mom rushed to her aide, scooped her up and started asking if she was OK. She immediately screamed and cried, not because she was hurt, but because this woman made her feel as though there was something she should be crying about. So I got over there and calmed her down and then had to tell the mom that we don't work that way, and next time leave it to me.

I've discovered recently that kids are told they dislike vegetables. This is incredible to me - the think so many parents complain about - "my child won't eat vegetables!" and we are doing it to ourselves. I've seen commercials, books, children's shows, older kids and other adults say and do things that imply (or just state it outright) vegetables are nasty. In one of our books, it says "when I grow up, no vegetables for me! I'll eat my lunch from a lollipop tree" or some such nonsense. Are you serious? My child, who likes vegetables, is confused by this page in the book. There is a commercial for Chef Boyardee where the mom is panicked at the thought of telling her daughter that there is a full serving (whoo hoo! a whole serving!) of v-e-g-e-t-a-b-l-e-s in her ravioli. Come on, please.

The scariest mind games I think are the prince and princess ones. The prince will sweep the princess off her feet, and they live happily ever after. The prince is always some dashing, worldly guy and the princess is sitting around waiting for him, or better yet, fighting with other girls over him. The amount of sexism in children's books is astonishing. Little Red Riding Hood is saved by the ax man who just happens to be standing by, because she can only scream and not kick the wolf's ass herself. We have an older book where the prince can't find a suitable wife because "something was always wrong with the princesses". How about something being wrong with him? What are we teaching our girls about their role in society?

We do an awful lot of editing when we read here. Most of the ballet books (our latest stash from the library) talk about "doing things perfectly" and making sure you pull your tummy in. For whatever reason, all of the big sister books end in the whole family having ice cream. Lots of books really overemphasize commercial aspects of events like having a baby, the holidays, and going on a trip. Some books just have weird things thrown in that we leave out. Peanut knows her letters, but doesn't yet recognize words. We'll need to get rid of some of the books when she realizes how much I am skipping. Maybe we will just start making up our own books, with infinite possibilities for boys AND girls, and positive portrayals of fruits and vegetables!

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