TMF: Apparel propaganda

Here we go again with another Tired Marketing Fail!

Exhibit A: “Daddy’s Cup Cake” pajamas sold in the girl’s section at Osh Kosh B’Gosh. Message: Girls need only be sweet and pretty!


Exhibit B: From the same store. These toddler t-shirts were marketed to boys. While I think the little chick is cute, I wonder why toddlers would care about being chick magnets, as the obvious double-meaning is that chicks are girls. Toddlers, regardless of gender, have almost no sex hormones in their little bodies. That doesn’t kick in until puberty. So, this is just kind of a gross hyper-sexualization of boys, with an added layer of being sexist against girls (as the objects, aka “chicks”).


We can do better!

Have you seen a TMF? Send ’em to me and maybe I’ll post yours in a future installment!

TMF: A Mighty Girl

Image used with permission from A Mighty Girl.

Every now and then I am pleased to find a winner (rather than a loser) for the Tired Marketing FAIL! (TMF) series. So, today I give you A Mighty Girl, an online, curated clearinghouse dedicated to “raising smart, confident, and courageous girls.” The site even comes PinkStinks approved.

The Washington, DC-based A Mighty Girl bills itself as the world’s largest collection of books and movies for smart girls. There are sections on civil rights, being an “independent princess,” gardening, and many different kinds of adventures where girls are the heroes of their own stories. This is the theme of the site, which states:

Girls do not have to be relegated to the role of sidekick or damsel in distress; they can be the leaders, the heroes, the champions that save the day, find the cure, and go on the adventure. It is our hope that these high-quality children’s products will help a new generation of girls to grow and pursue whatever dreams they choose — to truly be Mighty Girls!

Hell yeah!

The site is also well-organized. You can find books by age or topic. And there is a huge range of topics from the expected kids categories to more evolved categories including science, creative arts, women’s history… even abuse and violence. Glancing at the cover art of the books reveals a nice diversity, too.

There is a lot of bad stuff out in the world. So it’s nice to highlight a winner every now and then!

Have you seen a candidate for Tired Marketing FAIL? Send it to me and maybe it will be featured in the next post!

Bullying the playground

imageBullies: They’re not just for kids anymore.

We’ve all seen the sitcom episodes or even heard tales of parents bullying each other on the playground. It’s a tough and tight space, and not just for the kids. After all, that’s my kid that just got pushed on the ground by your kid. Then there’s the intrinsic competition that inevitably creeps in… my kid can climb those stairs better than his. And let’s not even get into the special circle of hell reserved for debates about high-fructose corn syrup and gluten. Parents can’t even agree on whether or not spanking is okay. The sandbox can be a tricky place for the adults as well as the kids.

And since becoming a stay-at-home/work-at-home feminist, I’ve had many encounters with the playground crowd. Early on I tried joining different “mommy groups” and ventured on to Meetup to try and find other progressive, feminist parents to hang with by the monkey bars. But it was a non-starter. Half a dozen playdates and group-meets later, I have found that there aren’t that many moms at the playground like me. I guess I’m just an eclectic mix of pragmatic (yoga pants and running shoes) and feminist (no, gender does not matter at the toddler age). I know there are other feminist parents out there, but maybe they work or don’t live on my side of town or whatever. And that’s okay… until there’s a problem with another, less liberal, parent on the playground.

Let’s take what happened today: My daughter and I went down the park for a pre-nap run-around.

At 20 months, my daughter is in full-on toddler mode and she loves the park. And since she takes after her father, she is also very tall, sometimes a head and shoulders taller than other kids her age or even ones a little older. Because of her height, she’s a lot more comfortable with her body and can attempt some things that other kids her age can’t (because, for instance, their legs aren’t long enough or they can’t reach high enough). This is a mixed blessing, of course. I don’t have to hunch over when I walk hand-in-hand with my toddler. But I also have to keep her from taking risks that are a bit out of her developmental range without the benefit of a few more months of language skills that many kids have by the time they are her height. (How I envied the mom at the park today who could say to her 2.5-year-old, “Let’s try something else.” and the response was, “Okay, mama.”) My daughter’s language skills are coming, but they are all but eclipsed by her physical skills.

My guiding philosophy with playtime is that it is a time for kids to develop skills and learn about risk, which is a lasting benefit from my years as a nanny. This is not necessarily fun or easy as the parent, as we want to protect our kids from falling down or having disappointments. But it’s how they grow. I do my best not to hover but to be a heartbeat away if necessary.

Unfortunately, I have found — sometimes the hard way, like today — that my brand of parenting at the playground is pretty unpopular. It’s almost routine for me to hear a gasp here or there as I let my daughter climb higher than other kids or don’t immediately rush over the moment she trips (often she gets right back up as if nothing has happened, and that’s a good thing). Now, I’m not talking about letting her do things that I know would be dangerous or to not help her if she has hurt herself. I’m talking about normal bumps and measured risk. Let’s be real: Everything on the playground could be dangerous. You can’t remove all risk or all danger, especially when you add in multiple kids and other variables. But that’s part of what the playground is for — an opportunity for kids to learn how to use their bodies and to grow skills and brainpower. But, inevitably, someone disapproves — “Oh my!”… “Is that your kid?”… “Are you gonna…” — of how far I let my daughter run without me right on top of her or how much I’m willing to let her try using her body on the jungle gym.

Today was by far the worst example of this. We went to a park in my neighborhood and there were a few other kids — conveniently, all right around my daughter’s age — playing. At this park there is one main jungle gym that has a few different slides, a climbing tunnel and something that I refer to as a metal high-beam/metal rope-bridge. At about 3.5 feet off the ground, it’s a metal beam that goes between two slides. (I have a good sense of how high it is because my daughter just clears under it.) Spaced evenly along it are level foot-steps (they are kind of like steps but don’t go up and down) and along both sides there is a series of metal bars that resemble a rope-bridge shape. So there are lots of hand-hold places at lots of heights all along the way and the steps are even and flat, so it’s not that challenging. The only challenge of it is that it is off the ground. To be fair, my husband does not like this thing and will not let our daughter play on it. But I do. She takes to it like water! She hits every step and doesn’t struggle at all, since her legs are more than long enough to reach. Plus, I stand next to her with  my hands out the whole time, because something like that does warrant a bit of helicopter parenting. (I told you, I’m not a barbarian about it.) And frankly, she’s taken headers jumping off the couch (which is not that much closer to the ground) that are probably worse considering our flooring is not nearly as padded as the playground mats.

So, when it comes to this beam thing, I decided to let her do it when I could be sure that (1) she could physically do it with minimal help; (2) she understood that this was an activity that must have an adult present (which she does because she always waits for me); (3) that letting her do it a couple of times gets it out of her mind and she goes on to less risky activities that are more fun for both of us. Plus, she enjoys it.

But today, we were seriously bullied by a couple of grandparents out with their three-year-old granddaughter. Now, this kid hit my kid. This kid pushed my kid. This kid got mad at my kid when she was in the tunnel. And on and on. But I tried to help my daughter deal with the situation, because it’s going to happen in life. I tried to steer her away from where that girl was playing. And we tried to just do our own thing. But this playground just has the one big piece of equipment and these two girls are roughly the same size, so they want to do similar things and are also trying to figure out how to play with other kids. This couple was especially full of nervous clucks for me. In fact, at first it was just the grandmother in the playground and then she went and got the grandfather to basically regulate my parenting! Don’t believe me?

So, the platform to step off onto the high beam thing is the same as the platform to enter the tunnel and a small slide. The girls were climbing the stairs up to the platform and then had a three-way choice: tunnel, slide, or high-beam. As the adult, you can’t be on all three sides but the grandfather decided to camp out right at the high-beam side. So, when his grandkid bullied my daughter away from the tunnel and she was uninterested with the slide for the umpteenth time, she turned to go on the high beam. And since there was an adult there (this grandfather), she just went right for it. I mean, to her, there’s an adult so it’s all good. Now, I move around to the high beam opening and am right there, but not fast enough before this man pushes my daughter backwards back on to the platform! Gently, yes. But pushed, yes!

“That’s not for you,” he says.

Excuse me? Did you just push my kid?

I’m trying to get in to this tight space where the high beam opening is and he is blocking me with his body. He even has his arms up to block my daughter, who’s trying to put her foot out again, and in doing this is now blocking me from reaching my daughter completely. In basketball this would be getting boxed out, which for my non-basketball loving readers means that someone has positioned their body to maximize blocking you at every possible point. I was boxed out from my daughter by a bullying grandpa! Now I’m pissed and worried because my daughter does not understand what is happening and she’s stepping out onto the high beam without anyone actually helping her! I finally had to physically push the man out of the way to get a hold of my daughter and then ask him to move out of my way so I could help her across. Fuck him and his judging attitude! But also fuck him for pushing my daughter and telling her that using her body was not for her!

And let me just say that the only time my daughter came anywhere near hurting herself today was when that man got between me and my kid but was paying more attention to scolding me (isn’t this a bit advanced for kids their age? I mean, my granddaughter isn’t coordinated enough to do it and she’s older…) than actually making sure my daughter was safe. Needless to say we left pretty quickly after that.

I enjoy taking my daughter to the park and I’m not going to stop just because of some judgmental parents/grandparents. But bullies really do take the joy out of the experience. And, let’s face it, they are also potentially taking the joy out of the experience (not to mention some safety) for the kids.

TMF: Name that sexism

Quick! Check out this t-shirt I spotted in the girl’s side of the toddler section and tell me why I just had to call it out for the first TMF: Tired Marketing FAIL! of the year. And… go!

Everything old is new again

Halloween is my favorite holiday. I love the costumes, the silliness, and so much candy. What’s not to love? Plus, there’s no real expectation. Halloween is what you make of it. You can do it small. Large. Or not at all. Anything goes!

Unfortunately, my love affair with Halloween has been in a bit of a rough patch for the past few years. Four years ago, a very dear loved one was diagnosed with terminal cancer just before October. I was already in the midst of the annual traditions, including getting out the boxes of outdoor decorations, which at that time included a silly cemetery where everyone had been murdered for candy (I don’t do “realistic” horror). Suddenly, my homemade wooden tombstones and light-up skull and bones seemed not only inappropriate but macabre. Death was no joke. Death was knocking on the door.

That whole season as I went about life in the fog of grief and despair, all the funny little pumpkins and skulls and spooky goblins just served as an eery prelude. It was as if I could not outrun the pain of reality because even my favorite escape was tainted. And those tombstones, well, they’ve not made it off the shelf in the garage since then. And in the years since, whenever I have caught a glimpse of them up on the shelf, I have gotten a little chill. Maybe I should get rid of them, I always think. At least I didn’t burn them on the spot, which had been my first anger-laced feeling at the time. But whenever I think about getting rid of them, I always think about the fun I had with my husband when we built them in the garage of our then-new home. Sawing, hammer, painting — it was a full-on domestic project centered around my favorite holiday. It was the kind of project that gives you memories for a lifetime. And now, they were ruined. Tainted.

A couple of years ago I began to wonder if I would ever break free of this Halloween funk. Could I ever see jolliness in jack-o-lanterns again? Was it just the sad end of an era? Was it a kind of final loss of innocence? But that October I got the news that I was pregnant. There was no longer room in my heart or mind to dwell on the memory of those sad times. My heart was full of ecstatic joy! And with that, a renewed enthusiasm for the traditions of the past. I created a pumpkin patch in my yard (using various plastic pumpkin buckets and LED lights). It felt like it was time for fun. It felt like it was time for hope.

And last year I spent my first Halloween with my daughter. She will not be able to remember it, but for me it was a magical day. It was all the good things I remembered from my childhood, but now experienced in a new way. Now I get to be the mom! Now I get to help create the kind of good memories I have of this fun holiday. I don’t know if my daughter will like Halloween when she’s old enough to decide things for herself. But becoming her mother has given me the gift of enjoying my favorite holiday with fresh perspective and an unburdened heart.

Happy Halloween, Everyone!

TMF: Halloween costumes (Part 2)

20111010-130443.jpgWhile Christmas gets most of the glory as best-loved holiday, for me Halloween is tops. I love fall and the crisp cool days. I love to see Halloween decorations. (Although ironically, I do not like horror movies or gory stuff. I’m all about the campy Monster Mash fun!) And I especially love Halloween costumes!

When I was a kid, my mom was super into Halloween and undertook creating and implementing costumes very seriously. The only time in my life I can ever remember my mom sewing me anything was the year she made me a white cat costume (think: pink bunny costume from A Christmas Story, only a cat), which I absolutely adored. Then there were “realistic” witches (with props) and other traditional Halloween costumes. My personal favorite was when I went as Cyndi Lauper, during the height of her She’s So Unusual success (I was a huge fan — still am!). We did the whole thing right — layers of tulle for a skirt. Ripped up t-shirt (a corset was a little weird for a kid). My mom spray painted my hair with all kinds of colors and created a huge bouffant. Plus all the jewelry, shoes, makeup… everything needed to complete an awesome Cyndi costume! (I won a costume contest, too.)

Now that I am a mother, I find I am experiencing my joy of Halloween in a whole new way. My daughter will be 17 months by Halloween, so she won’t remember this year (or last). But I think it’s great to start now. After all, these are my memories, too! And I am relishing my years of being able to dress her in anything I want, including doing family ensemble costumes. (Let’s face it, that’s not going to happen very many times!)

20111010-130515.jpgSo, it’s been more than a little irritating as this feminist mother goes out in search of Halloween costumes fit for a smart, brave, silly, happy little toddler. Since I don’t sew, I don’t have the option to make from scratch a costume for my girl. But as I search the shelves of local stores and online vendors, I am both frustrated and, sometimes, outraged by what I find.

Since it’s hard to predict the weather — October in the desert can be unseasonably warm or quite chilly — I’m trying to find a costume that can work in layers, if necessary. I found a cute little ladybug costume that seemed to fit the bill. It’s silly fun. It’s got the option to add more layers underneath if it’s cold. It doesn’t require face paint or a mask, both of which would be impossible with a toddler. And, while you could argue that a ladybug is feminine, I would argue that there must be male ladybugs or the species would not continue. The ladybug costume does present some different options for the themed, family costumes, too. I have a bee costume already so we could all go as different bugs, but thought it would be fun to dress as a ladybug, like my daughter. So, I set out to find an adult ladybug costume. How hard could it be?

Well, on the one hand, there are adult ladybug costumes. On the other hand, I would not be caught dead going trick-or-treating wearing this:

20111010-130559.jpgDon’t get me wrong. If there is someone out there who wants to dress as a sexy ladybug fairy person, go for it! (In fact, I’ve found at least four versions of the sexy ladybug, including one that has lights.) Have a good time! But I am planning trips to the pumpkin patch, trick-or-treating and other family style activities with my daughter. So, I do not want to be wearing a plunging neckline and thigh-highs. That is not what I want in the family photo of Halloween 2011. So, where’s my silly ladybug costume? And don’t tell me it doesn’t exist, because I found it online.

The real TMF here is how much the Halloween marketing machine has veered toward sexy and scary costumes and left out a still quite viable (and lucrative) segment of the market. (In fact, one of the Halloween stores I went to had a terrified little girl outside, crying to her mom to not go inside because it was too scary.) After all, what’s more Halloween than going trick-or-treating? This is a holiday that’s ALL about the kids! I’m not saying that the pendulum has to swing wildly the other way and make it only about family stuff. Keep the sexy stuff. Keep the scary stuff, if that’s your thing. Just don’t lose the family and kid stuff in the process!

And while we’re at it: Enough with the sexist costumes!

Who was your favorite teacher?

Over on Facebook, my friend D.J. Allen posted this idea:

Let’s celebrate teachers a little today, if you don’t mind. Simply post the name of a teacher that made a big impact on your life. Add school, grade, etc. Let’s see what we come up with.

I love the intention behind this! With a brand new school year just started and all the budget cuts, layoffs, wage freezes and talk of “fat cat” educators and their mission to milk the system just because they get more education (because there’s no precedent in any other industry of people with a higher level of education earning more money… oh wait), it’s refreshing to take a moment to stop and think about all that teachers do.

Sure, they teach our kids reading, writing and arithmetic. But let’s get real, educators do a hell of a lot more than that!

Take Whitney Elementary School’s principal Sherrie Gahn, who started, in essence, a school-based non-profit to help the estimated 85% homeless student population at her school. You read that right: EIGHTY-FIVE PERCENT of Whitney’s kids are homeless. As the principal told Ellen Degeneres on the season-opener of her show this week, kids were pocketing packets of ketchup to take home and make “ketchup soup” because their families were that poor. I ask you, is there anything more sad than that? I spent time as a kid on food stamps and lived below poverty level much of my childhood, but I was never that destitute. Gahn made up her mind to help those kids any way she could and she started by calling everyone she knew. Soon local businesses (and now, national businesses like Target, which donated $100,000) started taking Gahn’s calls and offering to help. Sure, Gahn doesn’t do it alone. But she is still on the front lines, helping kids get glasses when they need them. Helping families buy groceries. Finding the money to keep a family’s utilities on during the 100-degree heat of Las Vegas’ summers (and falls). Groceries, medical care, utilities… Are these the things that we pay educators to handle? Are these in the normal scope of lessons on a black board? The truth is, for many educators, these are things they have to worry about. Hungry kids can’t pay attention. Kids who are sick miss school. Kids who’s lives are too volatile, can’t pay attention to the lessons they need to end the cycle of poverty. I say, Thank God for educators like Ms. Gahn and all the people, businesses and organizations who step up to help her!

And while I’m on the subject, I’ll share a story from my own life that illustrates just how important the good teachers of the world are.

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