The best thing about getting a new dishwasher (or any other large kitchen appliance) is it comes in a gigantic box. As all fans of the Toy Hall of Fame know, there is not much better in life than a great big, unassigned box. It is object, space, room, canvas, frame, vehicle -- a big box can be anything, and if your home is kid-infested, too, that opportunity should not be lost.
In our house, the box met several needs. All kids love a hidey-hole to make their own, and you can't do better for that safety and convenience-wise than with a big cardboard box. The world of tike-mites is rife with stickers (almost every event and activity ends with 'em!), and we needed a convenient sticker-repository to spare the rest of our things from sticker-mania. And we needed a kid-friendly project to interest-up a couple afternoons. Then the dishwasher broke and -- Hooray! -- we got a great big box!
For us, it was a multi-day event. After much discussion of what it should be, my daughters decided they wanted a house of their own, so one day was spent transforming the box with a little peaked roof, windows and a door. Looking back, the windows could have had working shutters and I should have better re-enforced the door, but all in all the construction went well. Another day was in preparation of its decoration, and we shopped for supplies and colors. My daughters are identical twins, so of course one picked blue paint and the other picked pink. We set up outside for an afternoon of painting any way they wanted. I didn't care how it looked (it's not my house, after all, it's theirs), I just wanted them to make it their own.
Boy, did they, with a miss-mash of color and design, speckled with stickers outside, a whole nebula of stickers inside, spiraling out and layers deep. It has been a space ship, a cave, a submarine, a castle, a "kitty cave," a workplace, a school, the store, the library... I'd wager it's one of the the hardest working boxes in America.
But something happened in the painting process. When you're little (and when you're big), there are never enough chances to do things any way you want, and sure enough a couple of our young neighbors upon spotting our free-for-all wanted to join in. We made do with the brushes and paints so everyone got thoroughly coated. My girls were excited to share and to show their neighbors what they'd done to make the house ready, including the paints they picked themselves. Then the oldest girl commented:
"Blue? That's a boy color."
I couldn't believe the statement. I mean, yes, I could believe it. I'm in preparation for a friend's baby shower, she's having a boy, and I'm shopping around for "boy-colored" things. And now that my girls are in preschool, I understand better how hyper-aware little kids are to classification and distinction. They take great pride (and seem to feel great relief) when they can correctly group or identify a dominant characteristic. Currently, my daughters are very focused on finding socially acceptable occasions to express the phrase "p.u., stinky!" For example, if you smell a strong smell, like garbage, it is perfectly reasonable to mark the observation with a "p.u., stinky!" as long as you make the remark about the thing and not, say, the person carting it to the dumpster. And you can see their confidence soar when they correctly identify a smell and occasion that justifies saying without reprisal, "that's so stinky!"
My blue-loving daughter looked like the older girl had struck her in the face, and for a moment I resisted the impulse to return the favor (I am frequently alarmed by these semi-violent mommy impulses I get from time to time. They're totally irrational, I've never acted on them, but if fantasy prepares you for real-world situations, I can say with confidence I'm so prepared to war for these tots of mine, it scares me.). But seeing my daughters' startled shock, and even more out of a sense of duty to little girls everywhere, I could not let that comment stand. It's one thing to theme a baby shower, it's quite another to restrict half the human race from a major chunk of the color spectrum.
And maybe I'm particularly sensitive to this issue. Okay, yes, I am. I grew up with a wide range of interests that included everything my older brother did, often to his annoyance, and while my many interests were encouraged, they couldn't all be financed. My brother got the toolbox, but I borrowed it until he relented years later and gave it to me. I still have it. I made dolls, I climbed trees, I built forts, I sewed dresses, and none of that made me more or less girl. My boy-pals didn't invite me to their all-boy birthday parties, my girl-pals made fun of me if I wore bows or ribbons, and I got real familiar with the term tom-boy, which to this day I believe reveals a significantly retarded imagination in the speaker. And I hate that "girlie" and "like a girl" remain commonly-used if mild insults, while "oh, boy!" connotes excitement and "man-up" courage. Boys have plenty of junk heaped on them, too, but I wasn't gonna let some first-grader crush my toddlers first forays into self and independence. Besides that, both my daughters' eyes are blue. And they know it. Something drastic had to be done.
"There's no such thing as boy colors or girl colors," I said. "There are only colors."
I know there are tons of examples, I guess beginning with baby showers on up, when specific colors are not only easy identifiers but appropriate go-to shorthands for sex distinction. But in a wider context, color is just color. In another, it's the absent frequency of reflected light, so the color we see is really the color we're not seeing, and after our brain does some simple math, we say, "well hello, yellow."
That's as un-sexed as I can describe it.
I think I succeeded in sounding firm yet encouraging. At least no-one cried. And the painting fun continued. Irrational protective-mommy impulses aside, I don't ever want to tear any kid down to prop mine up. It's destructive, doesn't really work, and this world needs as many whip-smart kids to grow up with psyches and feelings intact as possible. Funny enough, to help make my point, I steered their conversation to "girl things" they knew that are blue (certain items, characters, princesses, etc.), applying one kind of gross stereotype to try to combat another--sounds stupid, and it was, but feelings--and my daughter's self-confidence--were preserved.
Whether they decide to be Sith or Jedi, so far my girls' light-sabers are pink and blue.