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Thursday, May. 24, 2012 - 5:51 a.m.

Turned out to be a very fun day yesterday. Children's Museum in Phoenix is huge. I still miss certain aspects of the Bloomington one (in particular that they actually emphasize science discovery to some extent rather than just being a really cool playground), but nevertheless.

Really are a lot of resources around here for children. I'm becoming more and more attached to the notion of homeschooling, so much so that I cringe and think, "over my dead body" whenever someone casually mentions Q going to kindergarten or school. It's far from settled (I am hasty), but between standardized tests, one-size-fits-all curriculum, unnecessary busywork homework, bullies, hideous stereotypes perpetuated among fellow students, a system that rewards conformity, the huge time-wastiness of it all, bad food...weighed against evidence that homeschoolers go on to do just fine or better than their public-schooled counterparts on the tests that really matter, and then in college...well. What's the advantage of regular school, again?

Anyway.

Another thing I've been thinking about is the idea of toughness. It's come up in a couple unrelated spots in my blogosphere, and I'm giving it a second think. I kinda like toughness. My parents weren't given to crying in front of me (or each other, knowing them). Often as not, in my teenage years my mother would laugh at me if I cried when I was angry. So I've got a really firmly internalized "no crying" rule that makes me miserable when I can't seem to get control over it. J's family, all of them, let themselves cry a little when they feel like it. I think this is definitely the healthier behavior, but can't stop myself from feeling like a damn fool if I do it.

Okay. Then there's the toughness of the brush-it-off-and-get-back-in-there variety. I don't encourage Q to do that, but I am proud of her when she does, and am kind of proud that she's tough like that. (Is is tough when something just doesn't bother you? Or is it only really tough when it bothers you and you jump back in anyway?). As part of an ideal form of masculinity, this sort of toughness doesn't do us any favors, collectively speaking. I don't think people should risk injury for the sake of toughness. But resilience is important. You have to be able to take rejection and pain and then get back in there. As we know, I have a problem with this myself. Physical pain I deal with ok (I think-- I've been lucky, my limits have not been tested), but emotional pain or rejection is another matter. So I find I value physical toughness a lot, and like the idea of encouraging Q to be tough (or at least praising her within earshot when she is), but I'm not sure that it actually transfers in any meaningful way to that other type of emotional toughness and resilience that is probably the more important of the two.

Upon reflection, I'm not sure why the lessons of the one would transfer to the other, and if you see the behavior of a lot of physically tough adult men, it's pretty easy to see that they may not be emotionally resilient at all (or is that because of all the other silly trappings of toughness that come with masculinity-- no crying, no talking about emotions with friends...?)

But I heard tell of a recent study on pain management that suggested that athletes-- people who deal with some amount of routine pain and discomfort as part of their sport/athletic pastime-- are better at managing chronic, non-sport-related pain. They still feel it, but they deal with it better. So there's an argument for encouraging physical toughness.

Of course, with Q I want to encourage it simply because of gender stuff. Like last night at the park, I heard a mother say to her children [context: older girl had fallen, was totally fine. Little brother has wandered too far away and mother is trying to get him to come back]: "Come kiss Asha and make her feel better! She's a fragile little girl, not rough-and-tumble like you!"

Seriously. She may have been joking to some extent (she had just told the girl how tough she was when she didn't express pain) and trying to manipulate the kid into coming back, but these were _little_ kids. Irony is not something they get. They sure know now what is expected of them as boys and girls. (And I was reminded that Q is going to be exposed to such nonsense no matter what; I can't keep her in a bubble).

When does encouraging toughness become harmful? When is it good? Do these things happen at different points for girls vs. boys? It might be that it's worth encouraging a girl to be tough, because the rest of the cultural environment is telling her she isn't. By the same token, it may be important to not tell a boy to be tough at all, because he's already getting that message from everywhere.

Unrelatedly, mil bought Q a couple of cheap beaded bracelets at the museum gift shop yesterday. Just to give her to play with sometime during dinner when she wants to get up and run off. I feel incapable of explaining to her what my objection is. It's not just that she'll be given them (personally, I'm betting she won't give two shits about them)-- it's that she'll be given them with a "here let's put them on, don't you look pretty". She already stuck a damn barette in her hair yesterday too. I am getting sick of everyone calling her cute and pretty all the time. I want her to know she is, but I don't want her to think that's her #1 job and most important attribute.

I don't want to send anti-girl messages, but I don't want to encourage certain potentially negative messages so young, either. She's 2, she's cute enough without accessories. As always, I want the initiative to come from her. These days all she cares about appearance-wise is that her socks preferably be striped. I like that.

Read somewhere else (Peggy Orenstein's blog) about Deborah Tannen's line about women always being marked, in the linguistic sense. There are no decisions about appearance that do not convey information about who you are (as opposed to men, who can don a uniform of khaki pants, neutral button-up shirt, short but not too short hair and be done with it, you can't guess squat about them based on that). I was skeptical about this claim when I read it, but in thinking about this unspoken conflict over Q's appearance, I'm forced to conclude that she's right. Even for a 2-year-old.

Tannen-via-Orenstein also mentioned that the simple act of not wearing makeup is taken as an aggressive act by some men. I'm pleased to hear it.

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