In modern animation, girl characters have evolved into richly thinking personifications who can stop schoolyard fights with declarations or solve a town’s mysteries with acumen. In cartoon families, the daughter is often concretized as cunning, charming, and/or brilliant. This reflects the desire for more positive depictions of young girls and young women on television, and not just so for female children, either. Boys need to know that girls are more than just objects of affection (or disgust), just as much as girls need to know that it’s okay to be so.
This rocks, by the way.
For example, Lisa Simpson‘s saxophone artistry suggests to girls that talent can be mastered with practice. Spongebob Squarepants’ squirrel friend, Sandy Cheeks, shows girls that intelligentsia, especially in the sciences, can be helpful to humanity, even underwater. Meg Griffin, though often ignored or, frankly, abused, has a resourceful trait and a curious dedication to her family. The Powerpuff Girls can physically defend themselves against disturbances out to hurt them or those they love. At this point, I won’t touch the perceived scrolled list of merits of Disney princesses.
So it should come as no surprise that my baby girl has started to absorb the awesomeness of current girldom, even if she has yet to actually watch animated shows. Jai is beginning to sink into a distinctive personality of independence and seriousness that I don’t believe I’m ready for.
One of her main traits right now is a tickling stubbornness: if she wants to pull mommy’s hair, she fits her lips into a thin line and continues to climb me until she achieves the goal. This determination also applies when pulling my earrings, sticking her fingers into mouths, testing out eyeglasses, and attempting to smudge beauty marks. When I remove the temptation, she resumes the work as soon as back into position.
The Girl Force is already strong in this one.
When I decided to plan my toddler son’s first sleepover some weeks ago, I didn’t think at all how Jai would react. I didn’t believe I needed her particular permission, honestly. Of course, it was about Jrue and his experience with a buddy overnight, and the attention of me and the hubs was focused on surviving at least 16 hours with two toddler boys in the house—two boys who scream roughly and eat roughly and play roughly. This good practice of sleepovers would prep us for Jrue and the basketball/lacrosse/chess teams in our home overnight someday.
The boys were good, as it became easy to allow them some freedom to move toys about the house and talk about them over a pizza and fill their bodies with snacks during a movie. I didn’t mind a bit of horseplay, a bit of petty fighting, some shallow tears, some laughter at bedtime. I have been a “boy mommy” for a little while and have learned the simplicity and peace of constant motion and engaging activities. I handled the night and subsequent morning well in this regard. I knew boys.
I don’t know girls.
I thought I knew boys. Jai said I didn’t.
This girl thought this a perfect time to teach mommy about boys.
Learning to deal with the opposite sex requires some tactics that have really changed since my ’90s coming-of-age.
Jai’s Gender Relations Lesson 1: Project self-confidence.
Once Jrue’s buddy was at our house and settled in comfortably, Jai screeched for hours about anything to maintain the special preference of those in charge of milk fetching and butt cleansing. While I initially believed that this need for attention stemmed from insecurity, I soon learned that she knew—that exactly what she was doing, yelling out incoherent demands, was a scheme much ahead of her eight months. She realized she could take us away from the boys.
Her confidence grew with the extra milk bottles we made to keep her sated and the additional playtime she received with daddy since putting her in the crib yielded another loud pool of mock sorrow. She feigned little empathy for Jrue’s concern or the attempted comforting from his buddy. If anything, she inwardly cackled at them.
The takeaway: Tears make things happen.
Jai’s Gender Relations Lesson 2: Go direct approach.
When she was not producing tears for love, she stood around, cruising the sofa, touching everyone’s hair, then babbling profusely about why someone or something was in her way. We were amused in her studying Jrue’s buddy every chance received. I’m hoping her choice was in making sure that the family was protected, but I’m guessing she wanted an angle on him. He is such a great kid with a baby sister of his own, so I’m sure he was used to a level of peremptory yelling from a short-tempered ninja baby.
At one point, he crawled to her level and Jai snatched on his shoulder, eliciting his shriek of joyful laughter. I don’t think she liked that too much. She then vomited a 4-ounce formula bottle out of the blue right beside our young guest. Like, as if to…warn him? He screeched, “Eww! Stinky!” She sat looking quite satisfied in her candid message. I put my head in my hands.
The takeaway: “Blunt” is usually better.
Jai’s Gender Relations Lesson 3: Maintain eye contact.
My daughter has a stare so cold, it makes grown-ups nearly uncomfortable. I have had family members ask if she has a mean or difficult temperament. Her eyes are deeply set into her face and are so ideally round that they seem to follow movement like a person in a painting. She uses this creepy element to her advantage, almost as if she knows that her eyes plus her noncommittal resting face equals intimidation. Often, when we attempt to raise a smile from her, she gives me that expression of nonchalance, commonly taken as loathsome.
It’s certainly something to become ambivalent about. Her body language can read, “I don’t trust easily. Proceed with caution.” Her eyes can say, “Get out of my house now before I challenge you to a duel.”
During his stay, Jrue’s buddy lived under her unwavering eye scrutiny. It was comical until she wouldn’t crawl away about her business at our insistences…and it became a bit sinister when she kept staring at the boy during breakfast the next morning.
The takeaway: Smiling is so overrated.
If my baby girl were a cartoon, she’d be something of an observational, foul-mouthed introvert who says what’s on her mind and cries on demand. And what do I do with that?