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Special K loves Barbie and recycling

I had a dirty little secret in my garage closet -- a Barbie doll that a 4 year old girl gave me years ago as a housewarming gift. The 4 year loved Barbies and thought it was the perfect gift. "Barbie!" Special K exclaimed when she saw the box or rather the Barbie logo. She couldn't see what was in it. She identified it solely by the Barbie logo. "It's for me?" she asked joyfully. Well, who else was I keeping it for? She immediately wanted to play with Barbie. "I love Barbie!" she declared. How the hell had she learned to love Barbie? Then she asked "Is Barbie married?" I said "No, but Barbie has a boyfriend named Ken." She frowned. "Barbie is married. She has children." And sure enough the package insert displayed a picture of Barbie dressed as a bride and another of Barbie holding a baby doll.

Me: I don't like Barbie.
SK: I like Barbie. You like Barbie.
Me: No, I don't like Barbie. She has funny feet to wear high heels.
SK: I like high heels.

She looked over the package insert carefully.
SK: What are these Barbies called?
Me: They don't have names. They just have numbers.
SK: Ohhhh, these are all the other Barbies. I'm taking Barbie on a picnic.

Was that another idea from Mattel? I tried not to think about that one too much. She went to our backyard with Barbie and some yogurt. My job was to sweep the spiderwebs off her playhouse and chairs. Then I figured out that she could sweep them off herself. She swept off the remaining cobwebs then sat outside eating her yogurt with Barbie. After a few minutes, she walked back inside, saying "Barbie and me had a great time."

Just as I was being to think she might be doomed to a life as a pawn of the patriarchal corporation, she asked me "Can I recycle this?" she asked pointing to her yogurt container. "Yes if you wash it." I replied. She carefully washed it in the sink, then asked me to help her put in the recycle bin. Funny how she can scare and stun me, sometimes at the same time.


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Jan. 7th, 2006 01:51 am (UTC)
Originally posted 6/10/2005 11:22:43 AM
The best explanation I've heard for this is that kids are socialized (including language acquisition) by their slightly-older peers and not by their parents. This is why our daughter's friend speaks mostly like her friends and not so much like her Argentine parents, and why Special K can know all about Barbie even without exposure at home.

The other piece of the picture is basic biology, which provides the predispositions for dolls and guns (to paint a broad picture). I've heard a tale of a boy who was practically quarantined for fear of picking up violent tendencies immediately engaging in a bit of pretend-gunplay with a stick in the presence of a peer. Much of this has to be instinctive. The particular manifestation as a gun is cultural, but the notion of causing something to fly by pointing is surely wired in. My guess is that the very act of pointing at something triggers a notional path from finger to object, and imagining an object flying on that path is a small and natural step. Both boys and girls will do this, but boys do it more and my strong bet is this is biology as well.

Back at the larger point, there is an almost universal (and therefore, probably instinctive) tendency among parents to try to shield their children from unwholesome influences (we've certainly done it in our family). This attempt almost always fails, as described above. What can I say? Parenting is one continuous exercise in humility. We often try to prod our kids into a little reflection about what they're doing, and our daughter long ago absorbed the idea that something appears on a commercial because they're trying to sell it to you, not because it's something you necessarily want. But mostly, we just try to contain the damage.
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