MAMA DALSTON

Letter to O (Now That She’s 4)

My dear O,

You’ve just turned 4. Yesterday, actually. You had a joint birthday party with 3 other friends a couple of days ago, and although you never asked for a birthday present (even after I enquired about it a few times) you got many of them. So many we could fill a chest with them, but so far you’ve only opened one or two. One of them was a “Make Your Own Tiara Kit”, and during breakfast you asked me to help you make a few so you could give them to your nursery friends. That’s what I’ve come to realise about you, as I watch you grow into your own person: you’re generous, and kind, and more patient than I give you credit for. I myself wouldn’t be able to willingly ignore my presents, let alone share or give them away to my friends. But you do.

And you’re still not particularly attached to “your things,” which is almost odd in this age of materialistic childhoods. You rarely ask me to buy things for you, and whenever I say no, you’re mostly okay with it. Even when sweets are concerned. Remember how many you got for Halloween, and Easter, and for your birthday? A whole piñata full of them. I took most of them away from you, and you didn’t even ask for them back the following days. In fact, I’m totally sorry to say that Daddy and I ate them all afterwards during the weeks (okay, days) that followed each event, but hey, we sorely regret doing that. I’m still paying the price in dance classes and dentist appointments, so be happy you’re not in my position.

You see, there will be many things in life you’ll want, but they’re not entirely good for you. And there will be times when things you like will be taken away from you, and you won’t be okay with it because it won’t be fair (not the sweets, though. They’re bad for you, you will understand one day). But I’m sure now that you will be able to tell the difference, and challenge unfairness when it comes to it. You do that now. Last week I saw you worried about a little boy getting beat up at the park, and you went over to the bigger boy and told him to stop. I’ve seen that happen many times, and sometimes there was nothing you could do because you were too small or too far away, so you just asked me why someone was being “naughty” to someone else. I don’t have the explanation all the time, and sometimes, from the top of my adult pedestal, there’s nothing I can do either. But I’m happy that you feel it’s your duty, OUR duty, to help someone in need.

You still also like to tease your friends endlessly, a personality trait you might have got from your Daddy (he’s got a very peculiar sense of humour). But sometimes things get out of control and you make them cry. I know you don’t mean harm, but there are times when people don’t know that, so I’m hoping your awareness of people’s limits will grow with you. It’s important to understand that, because you’ll soon find out another important lesson: someone, somewhere, will always take offence. The reasons are as diverse as there are jokes in the world, but I’m absolutely sure you will learn them, one way or another. And when you don’t know, don’t be afraid to ask why, like you always do. It’s important to be silly and have fun, but it’s also important to be respectful.

But don’t ever let that stop you from being yourself. There will be many, many times in you life where people will try and prevent you from doing the things you want to do while also being exactly who you are. You should always strive to stand up for yourself, as much as you like to do for other people. I know you’re absolutely capable of it, even when they’re bigger and louder than you. Like yesterday, when three little boys screamed at you to get out and not touch their toys. You came to me in tears, but I told you to go back and tell them not to be rude – after all, you asked nicely. You went back, and they still screamed, and you stood there, firmly, until their mums took the toys away.

That’s one of the things I’m proud of you most: you’re naturally fearless, even when sometimes you forget that your are and I have to remind you. You’re not afraid of the new, the different (a quality we share) and you’re definitely not afraid to be put on the spot, to have all eyes on you (something we definitely don’t share). I’m terribly self-conscious, scared to death of speaking in public and approaching new people, but I’m so utterly relieved and grateful you’re not. Because there will be also lots of moments in your life where you will need to be fearless, specially when I’m not there with you. Don’t worry, though. Until then, I will be there, every day, reminding you of your strength. The same way you do to me, unknowingly. By being yourself, your little generous, kind, funny, fearless self, you remind me everyday that I should also strive to be all those things. That’s how, together, we’ll hopefully make this world a better place.

I love you, forever.

Mum.

“Books Are Boring”

Olivia last night said she didn’t want a story before bed. “Why?” I asked, with a mix of relief for having the extra time to myself, and apprehension, because I actually love story time. I’m a bit of a bibliophile, and reading together is one of my most treasures moments. I do it every single night since she was a baby, no matter how busy I am or where we are in the world. I probably verge on the point of paranoia, so imagine my affliction when she replied with the following.

“Books are boring,” she said, without hesitation. My heart broke in a million pieces.

“Why?!” I asked, trying not to sound too crazy. She was teasing me, of course she was. She’s got that kind of personality, the kind that pesters her friends endlessly just to get a reaction – and most of the time, there’ll be tears.

But she wasn’t teasing me. She just said “well, because they are.”

To be fair, I was holding a copy of Peter Pan, which is a long story for a 4-year-old. Specially if it’s not animated and it doesn’t come with an embedded Disney musical. I know because that’s sort of what she said, shutting the book in my hands.

“I don’t like Peter Pan, it’s too long and boring.”

“But it’s a POP-UP edition, and it’s got all these beautiful illustrations!”, I defended myself, helplessly. It didn’t work, obviously.

“I don’t like it. I want to go to bed.”

I gave her the benefit of the doubt – after all, it’s ok not to like a book. There are others. But she wasn’t having any of it.

“Why don’t you go and pick a different book? Anything you want.”

“No, thank you. I don’t want a story tonight.”

“BUT WHY.” I know I was sounding crazy already. But you know, when you’re faced with one of your biggest nightmares – own child not liking books –  you tend to react a bit crazy. (“one of your biggest nightmares? PFFF, #firstworldproblems” i hear you say. Yeah, alright, now go away.)

“Because books ARE boring,” she says again, a dead look in her eyes. She looks strangely grown-up saying that.

“YOU DON’T MEAN THAT.”

“I do!” She pulls her blanket over her face, trying to end this conversation. But I refused to be defeated.

“You’re making me sad.”

Blank face.

“Seriously. You are.”

“Ok.”

Closes her eyes. Falls asleep.

I go online and google “what have I done wrong my kid thinks books are boring.”

Everyone says “read to her. Let her choose her books. Make sure she has a shelf and a reading nook. Take her to the library and bookshops.”

I’ve ticked all the boxes already. I’ve ticked those boxes from the moment she was conceived! I was born to tick those boxes!!!

Then there’s one more: “don’t be pushy.”

*Sigh*

Well, when it comes to books, I’m not sure I can make that compromise. I’ll let her wear PJs to school, and eat cereal for dinner, and stay up past 9pm, but I won’t give up on story time. NEVER. So I order some new books, and make peace with the fact that that box will have to remain un-ticked.

Brasil (And The Outdoors)

Hey all. I missed blogging, so I’m back. Enough said about the absence.

I’m looking into stuff I started writing in the past few years, but never finished. Like the one below, about travelling to Brazil and wanting to spend more time outdoors. It’s more than a year old, but thought it was worth saving, if only for memory sake. There will be comments in italics throughout, where I might have changed my mind. Have fun.

If you know me, or have been reading this blog or following me around social networks, you will know I’m Brazilian (born and bred). My partner, O’s dad, is also Brazilian born and bred like me, which makes O Brazilian herself, even though she had never set foot in the country till earlier last year. We hadn’t gone back in 3 years when we decided to go last January and ended up staying almost 4 months. It was quite an intense journey, for all of us. We hadn’t planned much other than the first two weeks in Rio (which was absolute bliss), then pretty much let the wind take us wherever direction it was blowing. We travelled every week or so to a different city, a different town, across states to different places. We’re lucky to have family spread out in 5 different states, so sometimes we stayed with them, but we also took advantage of our lovely friends and their nice homes everywhere  (some had to endure us more than once, poor things, sorry for that!), and we airbnb’d a few times when we felt like we needed a bit of privacy. We learned a lot, specially about travelling with toddlers: in our case, it completely demystified the enormity of such a monumental task. It isn’t that monumental. Kids, as experienced parents will wholeheartedly know, adapt.  And if they don’t, you do. Travelling makes you let go of several things, material and metaphoric ones, and changes your perspective of several others ones. For example, the notion of home. To us now, it’s an elastic concept. It used to mean our parents places, but neither J. nor I ever felt too attached to them as, in my case, my parents divorced and recreated new lives for themselves, and J. just had to flee his nest and find himself. We lived everywhere for years, decades even, till we created our own home in London, which, strangely, only acquired such “status” after we left for Brazil. Until then, London had a sort of impermanent calibre to it, as if we were meant to just pass by (even though we’ve been here 11 years). But while in Brazil, after a while, we missed it. A lot. We felt homesick like we hadn’t felt in years. And at the same time, strangely, we discovered that we could, if we wanted, move anywhere else. If we can create a home here in London, where rents and house prices and now good schools drive you to relocate at an exhausting rate, then we could recreate it somewhere else in the world. We would only need to take our books, our music, our influences, a thirst for exploring, and a good dose of patience, creativity and mindfulness, and we’d be home. (Side note after re-reading this: wow, how detached from material stuff am I on this paragraph? I should confess that these days I would also miss my clothes and furniture, but I’m proud of myself back then.)  

It wasn’t always like this, though. For the longest time, London was a strange, grey and overcrowded metropolis, overwhelmingly unfamiliar and everything about it seemed alienating: the food, the weather, the high cost of rent ands services and low price of product, the jokes, the habits (tea with milk, sunday papers, going home at midnight on a friday night), the politeness and general distance people kept. These were all different things to me, specially in my first years, and while I hated some of them, they all turned out to be the things I loved about London. I’ve absorbed Englishness (London-ness, maybe) so much in a decade than going back to Brazil was (and still is) an inverted culture shock.

For starters, Brazilians are intrusive – in a good and bad way. I used to think of it as sign of friendliness, warmth, the in-built social quality of my own culture. They will approach you to give their opinion on a private conversation you’re having, they will make comments about anything to whoever wants to hear it in a lift, or on the street. We weren’t used to it anymore, as we’re used to Londoners keeping a polite distance, and it made for some surprisingly funny moments  (for a while, at least, till it started getting on our nerves a bit.) If you’ve got kids, they will tell you what they think you should do with them (like the waitress who told us “don’t use this chair, she’s too small”, or the stranger in the mall who said “why is she crying so much? maybe she’s hungry.”) It’s terribly annoying, but it shows how much Brazilian culture is kid-friendly, compared to the UK. People everywhere will want to kiss and cuddle and talk to your child (and believe me, they will), and kids of all ages will be running around restaurants way past 11pm, at least in the summer (I can’t imagine taking O with me to a restaurant in London past 7pm without getting reproachful looks). That’s also because in Brazil you very rarely find freelance babysitters: you either have a nanny full-time or a “folguista”, a weekend/nighttime nanny, very expensive and hard to find. Or you have family, which in our case was difficult, because they were spread out across the country and generally not based in the cities we liked to stay in (Rio, Sao Paulo, the Northeast). It meant that we stayed together, the 3 of us, 24/7 for a long time. I wasn’t used to it anymore either – O goes to nursery 4 days a week, J goes to his office and I work from home, so we have a chance to miss each other. To say we had to adapt, specially as O was full-on into her Terrible Twos, is an understatement, and she ended up spending a considerable amount of time watching films on the iPad (something I’m not proud of and have tackled since we came back. More on that later.)

All that said, it was incredibly liberating to be outdoors wearing not much other than swimwear and Havaianas every day, and it made me remember how much the weather in the UK affects us (but hello summer 2015! you’ve been good to us). So many days we have to be indoors, it’s hard to be away from screens – that said, TVs, iPads and smartphones dominate Brazilian culture too, and we had a hard time escaping them, for other reasons than the weather: safety plays a big role. Still, it made me briefly consider moving outside of London, if not Brazil, maybe somewhere with more nature and open spaces. We had our fair share of being nature-soaked over there: horse-riding and waterfall bathing in the Midwest, swimming on top of coral reefs overlooking sand dunes in the Northeast, jumping waves in Rio and Santa Catarina. But we also had our fair share of being house and car-bound in cities like Curitiba and Sao Paulo, where it’s too tiring or too scary to walk on the streets, and where there isn’t much to go other than shopping malls and restaurants (museums and galleries are expensive and not very child-friendly). It made us weary and exhausted and it was then that we got homesick. If I had to stay indoors so much, I’d rather be home where I can work, read and sleep in my own bed and let Olivia go wild with felt tips and snacks without worrying she’s ruining someone’s sofa. That was another of my lessons: travelling successfully with a two-year-old means you must make an effort to have plenty of outdoor activities, specially of the nature kind. We were happier in Rio, with its play parks on the beach at sunset, strolling around Jardim Botanico (their own Kew Gardens) and the sea, and walking around pleasant neighbourhoods like Gavea and Leblon. Or in Campo Grande, where there were farms and waterfalls outside the city where you can escape to. We figured out pretty early that whenever we could, if we had no business in the big cities, we had to escape to the country or the seaside.

It has affected us since we came back: last summer (2014! not this one) was one of the best we’ve ever had in the UK, and we escaped regularly for outdoor stuff. We even went to see the solstice at Stone Henge with the druids, then checked out the beach at Poole and cycled around New Forest (deserves another post too. I’ve got a LOT to catch up.)

I’ve been a very urban, concrete-bound sort of person since my teens – growing up in a small sea-side town made me yearn for the big city where big interesting things happened. And I still do love urban life to this day: I’m lucky to live in an area where there’s a strong community of creative people and friends, with plenty of parks and nature (well, some), and things to do. But I’m also the kind of person that likes to try new things and explore, and as cliche as it sounds, having a child has been the perfect excuse to go and do that. Nature wasn’t much of interest to my younger self, when clubs and bars and fashion had much more appeal. I’ve done that, plenty. Daytime and the outdoors are much more intriguing at the moment.

We’ve travelled a lot in 2014 (we went to California in September, then the Amazon in november – both trips also need separate posts, arrrghh) and we’ve been to the south of France this year so far, where we had a chance to stand up paddle (another post. i don’t know about you, but i’ve stopped counting). Now that O is a bit older, we’ll go on as many nature escapades as possible. Camping, climbing, surfing, it’s all in the cards.

Finito. Now, some pictures. Yay for making it this far. 

Snapshots from Rio

Campo Grande – Mato Grosso do Sul

Flexeiras – Ceará

Curitiba 

Balneário Camboriú – Santa Catarina 

São Paulo

Back

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It’s been a whole year since I last updated this blog. O turned 3 this month, and again, everything’s changed. The first 6 months of 2014 were a bit of a rollercoaster, in fact, and scrolling down through some of these posts I almost don’t recognise some of the entries. So much has changed in so little time,  and other things that seemed out of our reach before are now part of our routine. I’ve always kept records of my life –  now OUR lives – in the form of journals, diaries and blogs (as well as occasionally freelancing as a journalist), and for reasons that I can’t quite explain other than lack of concentration and general mental-blurriness, I’ve stopped writing altogether for about a year. Well, the silence is gone now, I hope. Being a mother has been teaching me along the way that it takes time, patience and a lot of mindfulness to get to where you want to be, or even stay where you are. Three of practice, in fact, and I still think there’s a long, long way to go.

So, to get things going, I’m gonna post below a little short story I found while backing up my computer. I wrote it last year and submitted to a mainstream fashion mag writing contest, before forgetting all about it (I’m guessing it didn’t win anything, as I never heard from anybody). It’s supposed to be about how fashion manifests itself in someone’s life and shapes their view of the world. I chose to write about my confusion at founding out I was having a girl (I thought I wanted a boy because I’m quite tomboy-ish and had mostly male friends till I became a mum), and how we navigated a bafflingly divided world of pink and blue.

 

Pink and Blue

It started with the little cross sign. It was a faded blue, its intentions not uncertain as its colour seemed to be. An unwelcome accident (aren’t they all?) it meant life could not go on as it was. “I’m way too young for this”, cried my jobless, 28-year-old reflection in the bathroom mirror, all ripped denim and shattered dreams.

The image on the screen of the technician was also blue, electric and fierce. “It’s a little princess”, he says, and my vision blurs. A girl? But I don’t know how to deal with them. Never had many of them around for long. What was I supposed to do with a princess?

“Now we know the sex, we should go shopping!” exclaimed my thrilled mother-in-law. Sensing my bewilderment, she takes me into the girls’ section of a department store, all pink bowls and frills. My eyes blur again. I sneak into the boys section and suddenly blue surrounds me, reassuringly. There, I find it: a tiny denim shirt, the kind I desperately wanted for myself. “I think I’ve found something”, I say. “But that’s a boy’s shirt”, she exclaims while I pay for it. “I know,” I say.

The gifts start arriving, every one of them drops in a sea of pink. I put them away and clear a rack in my overworked bookshelf. Instead of baby manuals, I fill it with feminist authors. My partner raises an eyebrow: “Getting acquainted with the business of being a woman?” he asks, and then says to himself, “better late than never.” I’m suddenly grateful for having chosen him.

Her first outfit is white, a plain cotton onesie, a blank canvas like I thought she would be herself. But she’s far from it. When she arrives, it’s not in the way I wanted her to. It’s my first lesson: “You think you’re a riot? Wait till you get to know me,” she seems to tell me, opening her big brown eyes. My heart pounds in surprise, and my eyes are full and foggy yet again. I’m head over heels with pride and love.

Then time flies out the window, and with it, everything I’ve ever learned, everything I’ve ever thought I wanted. The pink fluffy dresses go, and with them the tiny blue denim shirt. At two, she won’t comply with my rules, or anyone else’s, unless it’s tinged in bright yellow. Hair long and scruffy, Converses dirty with the remains of play dough and paint, she then runs in my direction, arms and smile wide open, and asks me to read her the story of Dorothy and the ruby slippers. “There’s my princess,” says my now exasperated mother-in-law, a glimmer of hope in her tone, aware of this sudden manifestation of girliness.

“There’s no place like home,” ends the story, and then suddenly I get it. A ball of contradictions lying next to me, she’s the embodiment of my most cherished lesson of all: to be nothing but one’s own colourful self.

 

Gone, Baby, Gone

 

My baby is gone. And I only realised this after watching this little film of O in her Tiny Trike  (which was kindly sent by the toy wizards of Galt Toys), and realising she’s slightly too big for it already.  It leads me to the rhetorical question of the day: How can she outgrow things? SHE SHOULDN’T. SHE CAN’T. I haven’t had time to have enough of her as a baby. She loves the little bike so much that when she wakes up, she jumps on it and cycles to the living room for her milk. At least that, she still has some of her baby habits: milk, dummies, nappies (yes, not potty training yet. SUE ME.) I can’t help by being nostalgic. I wonder if it’s always gonna be like this? Constantly pining for the fleeting moments that make up a childhood. There was a time in my life when I used to miss my own childhood. Now I’ll be missing hers too.

I know what you’re thinking. And NO, I’m not having another one. Not now anyway. Thanks for asking.

2 Years Old

And she’s two.

TWO.

A little girl, who speaks two languages (okay, sort of), who’s got her own friends, favourite books, films, shoes and toys.

SO WEIRD.

What happened to my baby?

You see, new mums out there: when people tell you not to worry too much about it – whatever your concern is – because soon it’ll be over, and you’ll be fighting other battles like brushing hair and teeth and picking film options because you bloody memorised all the lines from Finding Nemo, it’s true. People told me about the infamous terrible twos, and now I totally get it: it’s like having a very small teenager at home. The fights and tantrums are all about her trying to establish her independency while suffering from severe bouts of PMT – or in her case, growth HORMONES or something – and me trying to get us to do stuff on time while looking mildly presentable and healthy. No biggie. To be honest, I think it’s great that she WANTS to do stuff by herself. That I just have to put a bowl of (decent) food on the table and she’ll feed herself with considerable skill (and mess, but whatever), that I can pick a spot on the grass and just watch her sing to herself from afar, that she can navigate the kids section on Netflix and pick her favourite episodes of Barney, that she wants to wear the same beat-up pair of shoes everyday (and by that I mean CROCS. YES, I GAVE IN. SUE ME) so I don’t have to worry about what outfits to choose.

So what that her hair is all over the place most of the time and her clothes are constantly dirty from playing outside and eating cherry tomatoes with her hands? So what that I’m lazy when it comes to buying toys and I never seem to remember to take them anywhere, so she’s got no option but her own resources? So what that she’s not in bed before 8pm sometimes, if it means she’ll wake-up 8am and get everyone late?

I think on the whole we’ve been doing alright. O (they call her Mowgli at nursery when she’s in her nappies. I think that’s hilarious) is becoming an extremely happy, loving and bright little girl, with a temperament alright, but then fierceness and assertiveness are extremely valuable personality traits in today’s world. I wish I was more like that.

I’ve started writing this post exactly a month ago, and as regular visitors to this blog must have noticed, I’m not very good at updating things quickly… So at the time I started, her favourite things were the following:

– Singing. All day long. I remember going to a few baby classes when she was a couple of months old, and being embarrassed at not knowing the words to ANY nursery rhymes (I’m Brazilian, remember. Wasn’t brought up in this country.). Believe me, I know them now. Learned them all through OSMOSIS.

– EACH PEACH PEAR PLUM, the book. Memorised all the words, and can point all the hidden characters, even though she doesn’t know the background story of any of them (Tom Thumb? Bo-Peep? Mother Hubbarb? Who ARE THESE PEOPLE? I LOVE them.)

– Nemo. The one from “Finding”. Watched it 849 times, and still gets apprehensive during shark scenes. Also: BARNEY, the Dinosaur, which initially annoyed me tremendously, now I think it’s cool. Bit of an old-school, 90s vibe in the house.

-“Parkie.” The playground at the end bit of London Fields. Lately, quite good for celebrity spotting, I must say. AND next door to E5, the best Bakery in the whole of the UK. Win-win situation.

– A doll version of Jesse, a stuffed Cookie Monster and Charlie The Bear

Now, a MONTH later, which is the equivalent of 10 light-years in toddlerhood, I can safely report that her current obsessions are:

– The Wizard of Oz: which she refers to as “Dorothy” or “Tin-Man”. I’m quite glad she got into it through a book that our cleaner gave to her (bless her), and it made me finally watch the DVD that’s been sitting in our shelves for the past decade. It’s really sweet, isn’t it? I can even skip like Dorothy on the yellow brick road while walking to Dalston Junction. There’s no place like home indeed.

– Blueberries: will eat a bowlful like popcorn. Convenient, as they’re in season and don’t yet cost £4 a box.

– Trains: will say “Choo-choo” at least 25 times a day, because of Dora the Explorer, not freaking Thomas The Tank Engine, thank god.

– Crocs: Did I mention I gave in? Yes. I’m trying to claw my way back in her shoe closet by pushing the Vans and Jordans, quite unsuccessfully. She will partake of Converses once in a while though, which brings me great relief.

– Pushing Toy buggies (not hers though – other children’s, a cause for endless tantrums from everyone), Cookie Monster and Charlie the Bear (Jesse has fallen on the train tracks at Marylebone station, my fault. I had to tell her she “escaped” to go home earlier. She hasn’t questioned me about it yet.)

#WOWSERS: Top London Mummy Blogger Nominee

 

 

What a pleasant surprise, dear friends. This humble blog, which gets updated once in a full moon, has been nominated Top London Mum Blogger by the readers of West London Mum.co.uk . Thank you so much for the 5 of you who come here to read my questionable babbling about motherhood and still felt compelled enough to vote for us – I’m just terribly sorry for being so inefficient at posting on a regular basis. If it’s any consolation, this inefficiency is applied with extreme determination at all other areas of my life. Motherhood, specially.

But I’ll be back soon with more tales, specially now that we’re out of babyhood and just entering the much anticipated (cue drums, TAM TA RAN TAAAAM) Terrible Twos. OH, THE JOY. SCREAMING, TANTRUMING JOY.

 

lotta love xx

Motherhood Zine is now ONLINE

Hey, you mama: it’s your lucky day. I’ve decided to publish my printed zine Motherhood on issuu.com, so you can read it online. Unfortunately the printing costs were getting a bit high for such a small personal project, and this way you can choose to download and print it yourself, if you wish.

I’ll be working on a second one with friends this time, so keep your eyes peeled for Motherhood #2, coming soon.

If you can’t see the embedded version below, click here to read it.

 

Not Even Two, and There Must Be The Right Shoe.

O is not even 2, TWO YEARS OLD, and she already knows exactly what kind of shoes she wants to wear. And I’m not talking trainers over sandals, boots over slippers, etc, NO. She is capable of telling the difference between her very similar black Melissas, one by Vivienne Westwood and the other by the Campana Brothers. To the untrained eye, and I say this coming from a fashion background, there isn’t an immense difference between the two – they’re simply variations of the same theme, little black Mary Janes with little design features in them.

But she REFUSES, point blank, to wear the Campana Bros ones (the ones on the left in the picture), and whenever I try to sneak the shoe on her feet while she’s distracted by Curious George or something, she needs only to glimpse my furtive act to scream a furious “NO!”, kicking the shoe away as if it’s boiling hot. Then she points to the Westwood ones, and sighs in relief. If she could roll her eyes, silently reprimanding me for my lack of better judgment, I’m sure she would.

I just REFUSE to see this as a genetic disposition. But I’m looking forward to applying this distinctive eye for design to other areas. Maybe by the age of three she will be in charge of interior decoration in our family. I could make use of that.

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Raising Little Feminists : Films

So my daughter O. is about to turn 2.

I’ve been worried about her being enraptured by the pink princess culture from the moment I found out through a scan I was having a girl, and since then I’ve been adamant at not buying into this trap. For months I refused to dress her in anything containing pink, ruffles or bows, and avoided girly toys such as baby dolls and little prams like the plague, but then I realised that forbidding her to wear or play with whatever she wanted was not the point, really. If anything, instead of leading her into a path of critical-thinking and self-fulfilment, my shielding tactics could do the exact opposite, and eventually push her straight into a pink, glittery pool of extreme girliness. What she needs to understand is that there are options.

So I’ve relaxed a bit, and lately a fairy dress and a tiny buggy made their ways into our house (via two mischievous aunties who insist on ignoring my silly feminist ways), but so did little cars and trains and even a toolbox. She plays with them all, although she does give preference to the buggy lately because, I assume, it’s something on wheels. She does the same to walkers or scooters that appear on her way, so I’m guessing the she doesn’t make any elaborate considerations on the impact of a toy pushchair upon a little girl’s psychological perspective of motherhood. Not YET.

She’s also started making distinctions between her clothes, and so far, to my surprise and amusement, she always wants to wear trainers rather than the girly shoes with sparkly detailing (I have no idea how these things end up in her wardrobe), and her favourite coat is an enormous boy’s puffa jacket that honestly, must feel like wearing a cloud. There’s something about the making of some girls garment that evoke feelings of stiffness and constraint in her, and at her age (and any other age, I suppose) there’s nothing more important than being able to move freely.

So far, so good.

And now she started paying attention to films. Possibly failing only to peer pressure on the influential stakes, films worried me a lot more than any frou frou garments or gender-segregating toys. Storytelling, as we know, is a powerful vehicle of ideas, values and principles, and it goes without saying that some vacuous Disney princesses were not exactly the best embodiment of what I considered to be important: independence, self-confidence, inventiveness, and fearlessness.

Take Ariel, for example. In the Little Mermaid, she starts out wanting to explore the world outside the ocean, but before she even has a chance to do it, she falls in love with a handsome prince and is willing to chuck it all in, including her voice, her friends and family and her ideas of adventure to simply stay by his side.

Then there’s Snow White, who escapes enslavement by her stepmother to work as a cleaner for the Seven Dwarves, and then is rescued by a prince. And who else is rescued by men? Oh yes. Belle, Cinderella, Aurora, Jasmine, Rapunzel, Pocahontas, etc etc etc.

And then l I saw Brave. Merida, the film’s heroine, is a teenager princess who loves nothing more than her freedom to ride her horse and shoot arrows with masterful ability. She refuses to accept imposed marriage as her fate, and will go to extreme lengths to fight her decisive mother who just wants her to be a “proper princess”.

The news that Disney gave Merida a sexy makeover, complete with eyeliner and a shoulder-baring dress, made my heart sink a little. She’s wild and authentic and self-assured throughout the film, at one point ripping a tight dress that’s impeding her to show her archery skills. She wouldn’t fall for the sexy shtick – she barely accepts hiding her wild hair under a medieval bonnet. She, most importantly, does the rescuing rather than being rescued, sword in hand and all.

As with fighting the dumbing-down of women’s magazines, the battle against gender stereotyping and segregation in children’s culture is a hard and most likely a long one. Thank goodness for the existence of organizations such as A Might Girl, a website that promotes books, films, toys, music and clothes that involve girl empowerment. Their petition to keep Merida Brave instead of turning her into a Babe so far has garnered nearly 200,000 signatures – a sign that maybe parents and consumers are ready to move on from silly princesses.

To my surprise, O’s favourite films right now are Hotel Transylvania, about a teenage vampire who wants to explore the world but is kept confined in a hotel by her worried father, and Finding Nemo, also about a worried father going on a huge adventure across the oceans to find his kidnapped son.  No strong female leads yet, but then again, I don’t think she even knows the difference between boys and girls. Wouldn’t it be nice to keep it that way?

In the meantime, here’s a few ideas for girl-powered films that could serve as an antidote to simpering Cinderellaness to little girls. Let’s hope there will be more alternatives soon. For more ideas, check out the wonderful collection put together by A Mighty Girl.

Kiki’s Delivery Service

These days we can’t barely imagine letting children play on the street unsupervised without having Daily Mail headlines screaming inside our heads, now imagine letting your 13-year-old leave home in the middle of the night for an unsupervised, unplanned gap YEAR? That’s what Kiki, a young witch, does. In order to become a training witch, and encouraged by her own parents, she simply takes off on her own in a flying broom, taking along a moody talking cat and her endless optimism. It’s basically letting your kid go on an exchange program, except there is no program; you have no idea where it is, how she’s going to feed herself or who she’ll be talking to. The fact that she comes up with a business idea to support herself, works hard, and even rescues a boy and saves the day, makes this story truly ingenious. Talk about a fearless role model for young girls.

Matilda

I discovered Matilda way too late in life, in my late twenties, and was somehow sad that I didn’t get to know her in my childhood, when I started developing my obsession with reading. Imagine how inspirational to find a girl who could read entire libraries at the age of four and then develop super-powers to fight OPPRESSION (in the form of ignorant parents and teachers). She’s my hero to this day.

Monsters Vs Aliens

This film was a very pleasant surprise. A young bride, before living in the shadow of her jerk of a boyfriend, becomes a giant monster after being hit by a meteorite. As soon as she understands her capacity for greater things – and that includes saving the planet from a Saturday Night Fever-clothed Alien Octopus –  she realises she doesn’t need any man to take care of her. Definitely a role model.

My Neighbour Totoro

Oh, where to start? This is one of the reasons why Studio Ghibli is such a magical studio. There are always stories about little girls going on amazing adventures by themselves, being in charge of their own destiny. In Totoro, two sisters, Mei and Satsuki, move to a house in the countryside with their Professor dad, near the hospital where their mum is recovering from a long-term illness. Mei soon discovers the invisible rabbit-shapped spirits that live around the house while playing outside by herself, and they lead her to the cuddliest monster ever, Totoro. Totoro and his friends, including the coolest and fastest Cat Bus ever (because it’s probably the only one to have ever existed anyway) take the brave sisters on magical flying adventures and help them out when Mei gets in trouble. It’s the sweetest tale, one to make you all nostalgic about childhood and invisible friends.

Spirited Away

Talk about brave little girls. I don’t know about you, but if I were Chihiro, the girl who sees her parents turn into pigs and has to work in a SPA for spirits to try and save them, I would be FREAKED OUT. But not Chihiro. Maybe a little in the beginning, but not for long, specially when a boy-dragon helps her to understand what the hell is going on and how to get her shit together. And she does big time, specially when she helps a horrendous stink spirit to clean himself and tackles the disastrous hunger of a confused spirit called No Face. Not even a crazy big-headed witch with a twin sister and a giant talking baby scares Chihiro, and she does whatever she has to do to free her parents and help Haku, the boy-dragon. It’s an amazing tale, full of Japanese folklore characters, sure to inspire little girls everywhere to deal with their imaginary monsters.