Just let my little girl dance

It started off innoculously enough – I was in a session with a support worker, I had some music on the TV, and the little one was dancing around the room, giggling, smiling and waving her arms like a happy little lunatic. ‘You’re going to be a dancer when you grow up, aren’t you?’ I said.

‘Wow,’ said my support worker. ‘What gender stereotyping! Why can’t we teach little girls to be doctors or mechanics?’

Considering my daughter is mostly pre-verbal, it might be a little early to start her on the finer points of anatomy and physiology, but since I was only half-serious, instead of leading with this self-evident statement, I said, ‘Because she likes dancing.’

‘Of course she likes dancing, you take her to ballet classes!’ the lady replied, as though I was somehow brainwashing my daughter into enjoying a stereotypically feminine pastime.

‘Well, actually we took her to ballet because we noticed she enjoyed dancing, not the other way around. And since she loves being the centre of attention, posing for pictures and watching herself on videos, she might prefer to be a model or an actress.’

‘Actress,’ the lady spat, ignoring everything but the final word. ‘Why can’t she be an actor?’

Notwithstanding the fact that the Oscars would take issue with this (gotta aim high, yo), I realised then that I had unwittingly wandered into a minefield of semantics, gender politics and societal expectation with someone who saw me as a gender-Nazi. Which is odd, because I’ve always considered my views on sex and gender to be rather liberal and enlightened.

I mean, I’ve always believed men and women can do pretty much any job equally well, regardless of what’s between their legs – with the possible exception of the adult entertainment industry. Whether it’s doctors, dentists, pilots, bus drivers, lecturers, tattooists, waiters or the police, the only real requirement is that a person can do the job and do it well. The greatest action movie ever made (Point Break, as if you didn’t know!) was directed by a woman. The best nurse I ever met was a man. Their sex didn’t make any difference at all – they were just damn good at doing their chosen professions.

Likewise, I’ve never considered there to be male and female jobs around the home. Most of my parents’ generation still believes that the man puts up shelves, disciplines the kids, carves the turkey and fixes the car while the woman does the washing, cleaning, cooking and ironing. That’s not how it happens in my household. We pitch in equally. Equally badly, as it turns out, but equally nonetheless.

And nor do traditional gender divisions restrict my interests and behaviours. As a kid, I read Nancy Drew books in spite of the teasing I got (even though they had the same authors as the Hardy Boys, since Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon never actually existed). My favourite movie is The Jane Austen Book Club, the DVD of which is bright pink and very much sits in the ‘chick flick’ section of the supermarket. For my parents’ silver wedding anniversary I did them a cross-stitch, and my favourite exhibit at the New Forest Show each year is the flower-arranging tent. I’m hardly an advocate of men behaving like men and women remembering their place.

So how the hell could she think I was an advocate for traditional gender roles, or that I want to restrict my daughter to a submissive position in society? And what’s so bad about being a dancer anyway?

More to the point, how could she twist something so innocent and beautiful as an infant enjoying the simple pleasure of dancing into some judgment of my supposedly totalitarian parenting techniques?

Apparently, it is because our daughter wears dresses, and has a toy kitchen, and plays with dolls. Good gosh, I am an awful father. Clearly, instead of obediently reinforcing the patriarchy, I should make her play with engines and models of the human skeleton until she damn well likes it!

In all seriousness, I see the role of father as a cross between teacher and facilitator. It is my job to teach my daughter about the world, and it is my job to encourage her natural interests and abilities and guide her into being a healthy, happy adult. And you know what? At play group, she liked playing with the kitchen, so we got her a kitchen. And at her friend’s house, she really enjoyed playing with a doll, so we got her a doll. And every morning when we open the wardrobe, she picks out her own outfit. We’re not forcing her to play with dolls or kitchens – she also has jigsaw puzzles, teddy bears, toy cars, a box of musical instruments – she chooses to play with them. And that is the crux of the issue.

There are extremists on both sides of this debate. Those who try to force their daughters to conform to the traditional female tropes of motherhood, housework and dancing  are clearly in the wrong; but so too are those who think we should force our daughters to be doctors or mechanics simply to fulfil an agenda. My daughter is an intelligent, strong-willed, independent young lady, and she will be whatever she wants to be. If, when she grows up, she does in fact wish to be a doctor, then I will support her and nobody has the right to tell her she should be a dancer instead; but equally, if she wants to be a dancer, then I’ll support her in that too, and woe betide anybody who says she ought to be a doctor.

True equality between the sexes is about freedom – the freedom for little girls and boys to choose what they enjoy doing, and what they’d like to do when they’re older, without it being dictated to them by traditionalists on the one hand and progressives on the other. In short, when I’m encouraging my daughter to dance, keep your big mouth shut.

 

Aspie Family Update, Pt 1

It has been over a month since my last post. I’d like to say it was a deliberate attempt to track incremental change over a longer timescale, but that would be a misrepresentation of reality. The truth is I could neither find the energy to write nor think of anything to say. It has, however, led to a benefit, in that, all bullshit aside, I have been able to track incremental change over a longer timescale. Which is good for all concerned.

You see, in the first thirteen or so months, Izzie changed dramatically and so did our lives, giving fertile ground for blogging. But by the time you’re over a year into parenthood, the changes become rather less profound. For one thing, by this point you’re used to the whole parenting lark, so dramatic, soul-searching incidents occur with less frequency than at first; for another, the changes in your toddler become developments in extent rather than in kind. What I mean by this is that first steps, first word, first use of a spoon, are milestones that require an entire post, but more steps, more words, and further use of the spoon don’t really warrant much comment. It’s like a person confined to a wheelchair after a horrible mountaineering accident – the first time they get up and walk they’re in all the papers and magazines, but as they continue to walk and gradually get better at it, nobody gives a crap because it’s just a person walking. We have to wait for them to climb Everest before we hear about them again.

All of this is a longwinded way of saying the time away has been a good thing, as I’ve been able to notice and reflect upon things that, had I been writing every couple of days, would surely have slipped by unnoticed.

Here, then, are the developments that have occurred in the past two months to my almost-nineteen-month-old daughter.

Communication

Izzie still can’t talk, but that’s okay, because she communicates just fine. By which I mean she points at things she wants and then grunts, nods emphatically if we pick it up, or shakes her head and screams if we fail to understand.

Which reveals a mistake that we, as first time parents, have made with our daughter – responding to her non-verbal communication. Don’t do this. It is bad.

When she first started her snippets of words and what have you, she seemed to be coming on quite well; then we started understanding her, and she suddenly stopped advancing, because who needs to talk when you can just point and grunt? So now when she asks for things we have to feign ignorance, which makes her incredibly stroppy because we hitherto understood her, but it must be endured if we want a human daughter who communicates in full sentences, and not a pet monkey.

Speaking of which, her monkey impression is great: oo-oo ah-ah. And she’s got a whole other bunch too: baa (sheep), oof oof (dog), guck guck (chicken), gack gack (duck), choo choo (train), oooo (Frankie Howerd or possibly a cow), sssss (snake, though I have no idea where she learnt that from), and ‘Ummm,’ which is her impression of a teenager and the sound she makes every time you ask her a question. At least, I hope it’s an impression and it’s not that she really is that indecisive!

To be fair, though, while she doesn’t have a broad vocabulary, she understands freaking everything. She knows all the who’s, what’s, where’s and why’s of everything you say. Over there, the other one, not on your head, where’s your bellybutton, no that’s my bellybutton, sit down, stand up, if you splash me again there’ll be trouble, get out the way of the telly, shut up and go to sleep, put the knife down, let go of my leg, stop feeding your breakfast to the dog, what happened to my youth, oh God I’m old, and the like.

In fact, what I’ve noticed is that while she understands most things, she doesn’t seem to understand negatives. For example, she understands ‘eat it’ but doesn’t understand ‘don’t eat it,’ and while she seems to grasp ‘sit on the floor’ she doesn’t understands ‘don’t sit on the floor.’ So instead of saying ‘don’t touch the plug socket’, which invariably results in her touching the plug socket, you have to distract her instead by saying something like ‘go get your crayons, we’ll do a drawing’.

And nor does she understand it if you say ‘no’: she just shakes her head and laughs and does it anyway.

At least, I hope these last few examples are because she doesn’t understand it, and not because we’re raising a right little bastard…

 

Mobility

I’ve been taking Izzie to soft play. I was brought up to believe in hell. I have found it.

Over the past two months her mobility has come on leaps and bounds, pun entirely intended. All day she runs and jumps and falls and bounces off every surface imaginable. She has inherited her mother’s total indifference to danger, and it seems that the higher the object, the more determined she is to throw herself off it.

Her favourite pastime at the moment is crawling under the dining table, dragging herself up onto a dining chair, then clambering onto the back of the sofa. Perching there a moment, she checks to make sure you’re watching, then does a forward roll/somersault onto the seat cushions and bounces onto the floor with a thud, whereupon she pulls herself to her feet, gives herself a round of applause, and then repeats the whole terrifying stunt.

The self-congratulation appears to be an important part of the whole process. I think it comes from swimming – she’s been taught to stand on the side of the pool and then, ‘One, two, three, go!’ and jump in, after which we praise her. If I’m helping her down the stairs, every so often she stands, says ‘Doo, doo, doo, oi!’ and then leaps into space. She does the same from the coffee table. She even does it standing on books, all of 5mm from the carpet: ‘doo, doo, doo, oi,’ jump, clap, repeat. Half the time, it’s really cute and entertaining; half the time it scares the bejesus out of me!

A slightly safer pastime is her newfound love of dancing. She always enjoyed gyrating to music, but now she’s turned it into an art form. We discovered this in December while watching a film scarier than any horror. I don’t normally mind kiddie movies, but this one is painful. In TV, the moment a show exceeds the point of ridiculousness, it is called ‘jumping the shark’, after a diabolical scene in Happy Days. Having now seen the abomination that is Nativity 2: Danger in the Manger! I would like to suggest a new term: ‘lowering the donkey’ – the point in a movie at which you realise it truly is an irredeemable piece of crap and you are wasting your life watching it.

Needless to say, Izzie loves it.

For the duration of the songs, she laughs and skips and dances and claps, and points at you to join in, and shouts at you if you don’t. Then, when it’s over, she wants you to rewind it so she can dance all over again. If you dare to turn it off, ouch, you’re in for a tantrum.

Don’t put it on, I hear you cry. Well, every day she points at the TV, points at you, points at the TV, starts to dance, points at you again, and then goes up and starts tapping the TV screen – come on, where the hell is my movie? I have nightmares I’m going to be watching this awful tripe until October, when it’ll be on again.

So we’re channelling all this talent and energy into ballet. One lesson and she’s learnt ‘tippee-toes’, so prances around the lounge all day waving her arms with better balance than I have.

And when bedtime approaches, the craziness increases. You can always tell when five pm arrives because Izzie starts to rotate on the spot, giggling and wobbling, until she cascades into the furniture or face plants into the floor. After twenty minutes of spinning she then charges the sofas, throwing herself face first into one, shaking her head to clear it, then charging at the other, like a turbo-charged, pint-sized pinball. I sometimes wonder if there’s not a little insanity mixed in there somewhere.

Which might explain the intensity of her tantrums…

(Cont’d…)