Archive | Gender

Learning the Language

Thumbnail image for bakugan.jpgI haven’t posted in a while, mostly because of the holidays, but also because I’ve been trying to learn a new language. Liam has found a new obsession, one that has (temporarily?) supplanted Pokemon and even Star Wars: Bakugan. Bakugan apparently started on the Cartoon Network and is aimed (like so much of television and the movies – Adam Sandler, anyone?) at ten year old boys, which to Liam is the age of ultimate sophistication. 

The Bakugan TV show exists, as near as I can tell, as a platform to sell toys, video games, trading cards, and web applications. The genius of the story rests in its complexity, the endless lists of minutiae that governs each and every character. Here is what I learned the other morning when I walked Liam to school: there is a Bakugan who has 700Gs, which is the most Gs but you can get more Gs if you use a Masquerade card and then you get 800Gs but then in a battle with Mantris you can actually increase to 1000Gs and that’s the most you can ever get so you can win.

Actually, what Liam said was way more complicated than that, but as is the case when a middleish-aged person starts to learn a new language, I only caught about every other word.

Here are some tips from the Bakugan Strategy Corner that may help you see what a steep learning curve I’ve got ahead of me:

  • There’s no point in using Blaze, which only gives bonuses to Pyros, Aquos, and Ventos Bakugan if all your Bakugan are Haos!
  • The card Earth, Wind, and Fire combos nicely with Forest Fire. You let your opponent win that first battle, then on this battle, you’ll get a bonus from the Gate Card along with an extra 100 G-Power as your opponent will have more Gate Cards, and ANOTHER extra 50-G because of Forest Fire!

Now, I know that Earth, Wind, and Fire can make a person’s bootie shake like a house a-fire, but I don’t think that’s what’s being described here. What is being described? Um…It’s got something to do with rolling these little plastic balls onto cards that are magnetized and then the balls spring open into little figures while the players shout “bakugan brawl!” After the brawl, there is usually much shouting about rules and what is or is not fair. Then this process is repeated. And repeated.

All this rule-bound minutiae is obviously just training for what is to come: sports trivia (number of RBIs in a season, pitches thrown by left-handers in a playoff game, bases stolen by right-hand Dominican players with ponytails, etc). Or maybe sports trivia is simply compensation for lost youth: no grown man wants to be seen carrying around Bakugan balls or a Pokeman deck. But clearly the rules and details of these childhood games set up a template that will exclude the female equivalent: the minutiae of relationships: “I told you, they split up and now he’s dating her ex-roommate and she hooked up with an old friend but didn’t know that he’d also dated the ex-roommate and now she’s furious at the roommate but the roommate doesn’t think she’s done anything wrong…”

It will come as no suprise at this point if I tell you that I’m not a fan of the games that Liam loves, just as I’m not a fan of sports trivia. I think it’s all…dull. There. I said it. Boring, maybe even bordering on pointless. I don’t get it. And I don’t particularly want to get it. Yes, I cheer for the Mets (a pre-condition for marriage) and we go to the occasional baseball game, and I even usually learn the starting line-up (by the end of the summer). But that’s about it.

As parents, of course, we all spend time doing things we don’t want to do, and pretending we’re interested when we’re not (ever made a grocery list or compose an email while reading a bedtime story for the eight gazillionth time?). No one ever warns you about the boredom that accompanies so much of being a parent. It’s not in any of the parenting books.

But Liam’s love affair with Bakugan seems different, somehow, because now he’s eight and seems more and more like … like a boy, and not a child. His silly game gets wound up in my questions and fears about being the mother of a boy: how will I find common ground with him, as he grows up?

A few years ago, I saw a mother on the beach with her two sons, who looked to be in early adolescence. The three of them were playing lacrosse together – the boys clearly better than their mother – and they seemed to be having a good time. But watching them, I wondered if that mother would really rather be taking a long walk, or sitting in her lounge chair reading trashy novels, instead of dashing around on the sand shouting “good pass!”

Each time I found out that I was pregnant with a boy, I was amazed. It is a strange thing, if you think about it: I mean, tomatoes don’t suddenly sprout, you know, beans or onions or some other non-tomato vegetable. But women give birth to…men. For clarity’s sake, men should give birth to boys and women to girls; it’s really the only logical system. Instead, I’ve given birth to this creature who shared everything with me for the first years of his life and now he walks by a table and flips the magazines on the floor, and when I ask him why, he just stares at me and shrugs.

The mother of boys. Sometimes I think I should start a support group for women without daughters – we can all call each other and chat, when we’re in our late sixties, and ask one another all the questions that sons never do. My mother, by way of consolation, insists that boys treat their mothers like queens and while that may be true, that’s not the type of relationship I’m looking for (unless the rest of the world would like to chime in and agree to crown me empress of the planet, in which case maybe we can work something out). 

Liam is, actually, not a very typical eight-year-old-boy – he cheerfully spent an hour tonight after dinner making a beaded necklace for himself, carefully selecting various shapes of pink beads. (And, yes, I realize that “normal” is a loaded word, but still, you know what I mean). But even so, he has that need to hurl self and others through space, and the inability to sit at the dinner table without tapping, chirping, drumming, whistling, gurgling…and, of course, the insatiable desire for tiny factoids that he can fit together into intricate schema that will become the winning strategy for The Game.

And his love for The Game makes me wonder: do I have to learn the language of Bakugan to stay close to my son?

Continue Reading · on December 28, 2008 in Gender, Kids

The Doll’s House, Then and Now

fisherpricedollhouse.jpgA little while back, I gave away the boys’ Fisher-Price dollhouse to my niece, who will be two in March. Liam had seen this dollhouse at a friend’s house when he was about two, fallen in love with it, and so miraculously, Santa brought it to him.

There were a few other things that I passed along to my niece that made me sad – parting with the little wooden stove and all the dishes, for instance (that stove and Liam’s three-year obsession with pots, pans, and cooking is a story for another day) – but giving away the dollhouse didn’t bother me.

The ads for this dollhouse claim it as “a girl’s first dollhouse…” If you put batteries in this house, you get noises: “with the phone ringing, the kitchen timer dinging and much more, this friendly Fisher-Price home is full of activity.” Given that level of dinging and ringing, sounds like there should have been a “girl’s first martini” in the box, too.

What I found particularly galling about this house – into which we never put batteries, duh – were the figures that came with it. Not the Fisher-Price wooden dowels with bowling-ball shaped heads and plastic hair of my youth. I guess too many kids swallowed those.  No, instead the house came with “realistic” molded plastic figures, squat and pink, too big to fit in all but the greediest of mouths. 

The inhabitants of this pink-roofed, faux-Victorian dream house are probably molded in the same pressurized chamber (they are essentially the same shape) but they are finished with a clear eye towards who does what: Daddy, with brown hair and a sweater vest, holds a cellphone, and resembles either a television evangelist or a dude who made millions and is quasi-retired. Mommy, also brown-haired, wears a cardigan and holds … a baby-bottle. Note the separation of fiefdoms in this picture from the FP website: Dad upstairs on the computer, Mom downstairs … in the kitchen. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose, eh? 

Perhaps I shouldn’t have let my niece have the doll-house; maybe instead I should’ve roamed on ebay for that paragon of alternative doll families, The Sunshine Family.  When I was a little girl, I loved the Sunshines: the mom wore a long calico dress and sandals; the baby was blonde and indeterminately sexed; dad had tan pants, workboots, and a red turtleneck – a sure sign of a counterculture lifestyle (they probably smoked a little weed when the baby was sleeping). I’m sure they lived in the woods outside Boulder or maybe Berkeley.

sunshines.jpgYou could also get the Happy Family, who were the Sunshines’ black neighbors, and even, eventually, Sunshine grandparents. I find myself deeply curious about the marketing meeting that produced that: “the Sunshines are a big seller….let’s make old people!”  But hey, it was the mid-seventies, with its peculiar brand of “Free to be … You and Me” idealism.

I’m not saying that Mrs. Fisher-Price is a plastic version of Ibsen’s Nora, or that my niece will be brainwashed by a two-inch man holding a cell phone; I guess I’m asking if it’s possible to escape their faux-Victorian conventionality.

Maybe we all should go live in the woods with the Sunshines. 

Continue Reading · on October 31, 2008 in Gender, Parenting

Clarice Plays for the Rangers

clariceandrudolph.jpgClarice here is not Clarice Starling with her good bag and cheap shoes (or was it good shoes and cheap bag, that hissed insult from Hannibal Lecter), but the original Clarice — the literally doe-eyed friend of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.

I remembered Clarice after we saw Circus Amok last weekend because in our house, Clarice-the-deer is not the hyper-feminized bashful herbivore she is in the world of Rankin & Bass. Liam made her something else…

Last fall, for Liam’s birthday, we went to midtown with three of his friends, who have developed a tradition of going to Build-A-Bear Workshop for their birthdays. Why it’s become such a fixture with them, none of us can understand, but it’s easy and relatively painless as an outing, if you can resist the endless rows of bear-friendly accessories (wildly over-priced, just like accessories in the real world).

Liam spent long minutes perusing all his choices and then chose Clarice.

But then … what should Clarice wear?

The decision? Apparently, Clarice plays for the New York Rangers: blue plush pants, Rangers jersey, little blue pillbox “helmet” that sits awkwardly on top of Clarice’s permanently affixed red-and-white polka-dot bow.

The checkout clerk held up Liam’s creation to the other clerks and said “I’ve never seen this before.”


Given the almost endless permutation of ensembles available at BBW, it seems rather remarkable that Liam is the first to put together this combination. At Build-A-Bear, you can find every sports team, rock-n-roll, hip-hop, construction workers … You can even buy full combat uniforms for all branches of the military – with one significant omission, as one of Liam’s friends discovered: “WHERE ARE THE GUNS?” he bellowed. 

And it’s not a bad question, really. I mean, if you’re going to sell Army bears, Marine bears, SEAL bears, Air Force bears … why not be completely honest about what you’re selling? Why is it okay to sell fatigues and uniforms from all branches of the armed services and yet sidestep the one thing that all these uniforms have in common?

If we all have the right to bear arms, why isn’t it all right to arm bears?

Clarice, by the way, had a wonderful season with the Rangers and will be starting at forward this year.

I think Jennifer Miller would approve.

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Continue Reading · on October 1, 2008 in Gender, Politics

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