By Samantha Beerhouse
I find myself prefacing any conversation around parenthood with a disclaimer. I have an easy kid. She was an easy baby—sweet natured and not prone to explosions, physical or verbal. She continues to be surprisingly straightforward in explaining her needs and wants These are mostly non-verbal. There’s lots of grandiose arm waving and strange hooting, all clearly communication. On the cusp of toddlerhood is when children are supposed to take a turn for the recalcitrant, obstinate, and all-around assholish. I will continue to take it one day at a time and hope we continue to be so lucky. I figure it’s nearly impossible to look upon her generally excellent behavior as anything other than grateful recognition when some of the most committed childfree friends are even fans of her! You will endear yourself to me in new ways if you drunkenly confess to hating all kids but mine. Clearly my bias only goes so far, and I find it helpful to have people in your life who are objective with you and your kid’s behavior. Doting grandparents often have rose-colored glasses, but I appreciate some commiseration when a baby is just being an unreasonable shithead, and it’s not a massive moral failing on your part.
Another way in which I have an advantage when raising a kid is that I am able to stay at home with her, and it’s notcausing a financial blow to the family. As the divide widens and deepens between the haves and have-nots in our country, a lot of people don’t have that choice. Let’s be honest, it’s a privilege for me to be able to stay at home. Childcare costs in Southern California are fucking absurd. Given my lack of highly-paid job skills, our family would actually be losing money if we were to put the kid in childcare, and send me off to work. We are really lucky in that regard. Our days aren’t dominated by worries of skating the edge of financial solvency.
All the general gratitude for a healthy and happy kid aside, ‘easy’ is not the correct word for being a parent, especially one trying to raise a kid mindful of the larger world around them. For me, exposure to the punk world started in high school. Punk gave me an outlet for my standard teenage existential rage, and it also provided new avenues to thinking. It gave me exposure to the worlds, words, and lives of people who lived very differently than I did, but still maintained a value set heavily steeped in acknowledging and fighting systemic prejudices. Things like racism, sexism, and classism. Basically, a life where it isn’t enough to live with your head stuck in the sand.
My kid is lucky. She’s growing up in Los Angeles, a phenomenally diverse city. Her exposure to people who don’t look, talk, and act identically to herself is not limited to books and movies. That lack of homogeneity of culture is such an advantage. I think it will do a fair amount of heavy lifting for us as she grows and begins to question the world around her in an ordinary manner. This is one of the reasons kids can be more awesome than adults: their default is not “don’t question.” Sometimes this can be to an annoying degree.
I’ve already started trying to introduce her to cultural elements I think are worthwhile, like pop punk records, and Miyazaki movies. Partially it’s completely selfish: I pretty much loathe all “children’s music” (a fatal exposure to Yanni when my siblings were young?). I’m that parent who’s trying to delay TV as a babysitter as long as my patience and brain will hold out. I also want her to actually have things in common with me when she’s grown, and I think to some extent a kid’s interests can be cultivated and encouraged from a surprisingly young age. I don’t want her interests to default to what the constant barrage of child-aimed advertising insists she must like, along absurd gendered lines.
It seems to me there’s a growing movement among parents in general, and not just those who choose to be informed of current political trends, against obnoxious gendered toys (and to some extent, goods for adults. There have been many fine backlashes online against needlessly gendered ball point pens, in recent memory). Parents now are trying to gently guide older generations into buying toys and clothes that are green and grey. Their thinking on this is that no nine-month-old really cares if the puzzle set they are going to chew on fits into a “princess” motif. It is still painfully ingrained for many people and I don’t think they stop to consider the absurdity of it.
Recently I was at an indoor playground with my kid and a young mom was encouraging her son to take small steps. He wasn’t close to walking on his own so she was gently dragging him along the carpet, which was admittedly pretty cute. He got distracted by a toy, removed a chubby fist from his mom’s hand and grabbed a princess doll. His mom immediatelysnatched it out of his reach and tossed it aside with the comment, “No, that doll is for girls.” I’m lucky I didn’t roll my eyeballs clean out of my face. I’m thinking your kid is young enough he probably still pees on his face during a diaper change. A toy is a toy. Why are you bothering to restrict him to only fifty-percent of the toy population? Let’s not even get into the implications that one set of toys are somehow beneath a gender.
So I’m the parent who makes sure the toy kitchen comes with a small tool set. Hand-me-downs from boy cousins absolutely have a home in our house. I’m cheap.She wears the free clothes with minimal interference from me. No baby cares whether or not their tiny pants have ruffles on the butt. Butt ruffles are a minor nuisance in the grand scheme of things. Less of a nuisance are clothing items that perpetuate gender stereotypes, like the horror show of a onesie I saw in a maternity shop a few years back. An all-white onesie, with rhinestones spelling out “Future Bride.” Or the creepy headbands you can buy for infant girls that have fake hair attached. God forbid your infant doesn’t look feminine enough. Infant boy clothes have a terrible trend of breast/breast-feeding puns. “I’m a boob guy.” Dude, what? All that implies is that you are into your mom’s breasts, but sexually. I feel those onesies are purchased by the likes of people who shop at Spencer’s gifts for shirts like “FBI: Female Body Inspector”. I find clothes like that to be at best, stupid and asinine. At worst they’re a dim portent for how you are going to treat your child, based on your gender expectations.
My strong feelings about gendered clothing aren’t great topics when it comes to meeting new parent friends. I have friendships that pre-date them/us having children, and we continue to get along well since our values and interests matched up prior to children. But friends with kids are in the minority of my adult friendships and I don’t want to turn into a total creep who only hangs out with their own offspring during the day. I’ve tried using the Internet for various mom groups, and while I have met some perfectly nice mothers, nothing has really clicked. If the common denominator in your relationship is kids the same age, the outlook for a long-term friendship seems grim to me. Maybe I should start a mom’s group, where we hang out, listen to the White Wires, laugh at our weirdo children and drink beer.
Samantha Beerhouse lives in Los Angeles and spends her days cooking, listening to records, and repeatedly reading the same board books over and over, with elaborate dance moves sprinkled in. She can be reached at [email protected]