Who says fairies can’t be boys?

This is not the first and certainly not the last conversation I’ve had with my six-year-old about gender. And for what it’s worth, I can’t remember exactly everything that was said between us, so this is my rough translation of the conversation.

Yesterday, while in the car, Lily said to me, “I love the Fairy books.”

She’s referring to the series by Daisy Meadows, who isn’t actually a real person but rather a collective between four different women from England, all with backgrounds in books and children’s literature, who came together and started the series.

“You know why I love the fairy books?” she continued.

“Why?” I said.

“Because the fairies are all girls!” She responded.

“Oh okay,” I said. “So you like it because it’s all about girl fairies?”

“Yes,” she said. “But I wonder why there are no boy fairies.”

Hmm, I thought. Probably because the term “fairy” has been used in a derogatory manner before? But I didn’t say this out loud. Instead, I was like, “Yeah…why do you think that there are no boy fairies?”

She said, “Maybe it’s because Daisy Meadows only likes girls. So she wrote the books for girls.”

“Maybe,” I said. “But why can’t boys be fairies?” I posed this question in a rhetorical manner. There isn’t really an answer to this; it’s just how the world of children’s literature and the media has portrayed fairies over the years. Fairies, for example, in Sleeping Beauty, were women–older women, but still. Then there’s the fairy godmother in Cinderella, who is a woman. And let’s not forget Tinkerbell.

We continued on, our conversation kind of ended there, but it made me think–if a boy wants to be a fairy for Halloween, he should be one. But unfortunately, in this day and age (and pretty much throughout all time) fairies have always been girls, just like knights have always been boys (except for maybe Mulan? Maybe?) because of their relative permissive, punitive nature in need of a rescue because they’re so fragile or something.

But my daughter’s naivete interpretation of why the fairies in the Daisy Meadows books are girls is funny, almost endearing.

A girl can dream, right?

Yesterday, while driving to the library for storytime (one of our usual weekend activities), Lily declared from the backseat, “I’m going to be a singer when I grow up!”

“Oh, really?” I responded.

“Yeah.”

“I thought you wanted to be a teacher,” I said. She’s told me about her grown up dreams of wanting to be a teacher, then an illustrator, and now, a performer, all without me ever asking.

“Well, I do,” she said.

“You can’t be a teacher and a singer,” I told her. “How are you supposed to teach and sing?”

“I can be a teacher during the day,” she responded. “Then, after I’m done teaching, I can go to the theater and sing and dance!” She said this with the gleeful exuberance of a six-year-old daydreaming about multiple jobs as a lifestyle choice, not knowing that this concept is called a “side hustle,” something that my generation does quite a bit in order to be able to support themselves, sometimes by choice, but usually not. Of course, her dream of performing on the side, during off-school hours, are simply that–a passion.

“We’re going to be on the radio, TV, and phone!” she continued.

Images of Destiny’s Child and TLC flashed in my mind. “Oh, you mean you want to sing with a group?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “We’re going to be called The Sweet Girls!”

My daughter has the biggest imagination sometimes. She conjures up names, places, and things and puts them together in a story that makes it sound like anything is possible. I remember as a child, I had an active imagination too, but while hers involve future activities, mine was more on the present. I’d imagine the roles that I have along with the roles that the boys I was playing House with would have, and what we’d do in order to run the house smoothly.  And whenever I’d play with dolls, I’d dress them up in pretty clothes and imagine them in certain situations.

Recently, I read an article by Adam Grant, one of the greatest organizational psychologists of our time, in the New York Times called, “Stop Asking Kids What They Want to Be When They Grow Up,” in which he outlined his reasons for why we, as adults, should stay away from asking this cliche’d question. I definitely agree with what he said–about how we’re limiting our children to think only in the scope of careers whenever we ask this question. Sure, it’s cute when a child tells you that he wants to be a firefighter. What little boy doesn’t want to be a firefighter? And what little girl doesn’t want to be a princess? But as we all know, not everyone can be a firefighter, and not everyone is born as a princess.

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Future teacher, or performer, or both?

To my knowledge, I’ve never once asked Lily what she wanted to be when she grows up. (If I did, we didn’t go into detail about it). She’s always been the one telling me instead. I think it’s important to have dreams, even grandiose ones, and that’s why I’m recording it here–that as a six-year-old, my daughter wants to be a teacher and a singer–so that when she grows up and becomes a doctor, lawyer, zoologist, accountant, nurse, engineer, or anything else that is not even close to performing (or teaching) she will have a record of the dreams she once had. Part of my parenting philosophy is to record the moments, but like Adam Grant, I don’t prefer to ask my children the age old question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” because to me, it doesn’t really matter. What they end up being is of their own volition, as long as they’re truly happy.

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Lily, circa Oct. 2017. Even then she knew how to pose like a performer.

Like many parents, I want success for my kids, but I’m certainly not going to tell them that they can be anything they want to be either. I think that’s one of the worst things you can tell a little kid. I want them to be able to figure out that dreams are only a small string of what will hold you together when things go awry–when your dreams don’t become a reality, when your expectations are not met, when failure happens. Dreams will propel you far, but it won’t take you to the end. Commitment, grit (the unwillingness to give up), and connections will take you much further.

A recent conversation with my daughter

This afternoon, I took my daughter to the school yard around the corner of our apartment. As we’re walking along, she said something along the lines of, “I’m going to miss you when I’m 31, because I’m not going to live with you anymore.” She’s known to say weird things like that.

So, I responded, “Well, you’ll have your own family, so you won’t need me.”

Immediately, she said, “I don’t know who I’m going to marry!”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “You’ll meet him later.”

“I hope it’s not Long,” she giggles, like she’s just revealed a secret that she’s not supposed to reveal.

Long is a boy in her class who really likes her. And he’s pretty cute too.

“Why don’t you wanna marry Long?” I asked.

She giggled, but didn’t respond. Then she said, “Do you know who I want to marry?”

“Who?” I said.

“Miles, hehe.” She broke into a fit of giggles again. I gasped and pretended that I’d just heard the biggest secret in a long, long time.

Since I couldn’t remember who Miles is, I asked her, “What does Miles look like?”

She said, “He’s blond.”

“…And?” I prompted further. “What color is his eyes?”

“I don’t know,” she responded. “I think it’s brown, but I don’t really look at his eyes.”

“Oh, I see,” I said, making a mental note to check out Miles the next time I pick her up from school.

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I’m assuming that a lot of parents don’t have this kind of conversation with their six year old. Then again, their six year old probably doesn’t talk about marriage and husbands either. Lily is strange sometimes. She attracts the cutest little boys, so I don’t think she’s going to have a tough time with candidates for future husbands. I do hope that she’ll want to talk to me about boys with me in the future.

 

 

Sundays with Grandma, or a tale about a toddler who accepts bribes

My mother is a devout Catholic. This fact has not changed since I was born.

What has changed is the fact that I am no longer a devout Catholic. This fact, by itself, poses a threat to my mother. It’s one of the many things that we disagree about—why I don’t go to church, and why I shouldn’t “abandon” my religion, because after all, I was born into it.

Yes, my mother is one of those people who believe in lifelong loyalty to a religion. I think of it as a supercilious affection to an institution that as of recently, bores deep, dark secrets that nobody can justify other than it being horrendous and traumatic. Aside from that, some might even say that it is cult-like.

But I’m not here to talk about my views on religion, or my experience with it. I can assure you though, that it did not involve any trauma, besides the fact that I was never allowed to choose my religion. Simply put, I was born into it, and thus I must remain in it—that is what my mom believes anyway.

What I am here to say is that my mother has found another contender, a supporter of her religion—my five-year-old daughter—and together, they go to church every Sunday—without me, of course.

This alone is a source of  glee for me. I see it as a win-win, and I can’t wait for Sundays to come, for my mom would show up at 10 a.m. (religiously on time) and take my daughter Lily to church. Afterwards, they’d go to the usual sushi restaurant adjacent to the local Fubonn shopping center in town—a simple conveyor belt style kind of place—and together, they would have sushi for lunch.

But that’s not all. Usually Lily would insist that Grandma, whom she fondly calls “Ba Ngoai” (which means grandma in Vietnamese), take her inside the shopping center, where she can ride those mechanical animals—the ones where you’d put in 50 cents to ride for a few minutes. Then, before they head home, she would also insist that Ba Ngoai purchase another “treat” for her, usually a sweet one, such as these Yan Yan sticks or sweet, crunchy crackers. Sometimes, she’d come home with more than one treat.

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This, I assure you, is no accident. My daughter is the perpetrator of all of these events. You see—many months ago, when my mom suggested that she take Lily to church with her as to get used to our religion—I reluctantly agreed to let Lily go. Little did I know that it would release me of one kid (so I only have my son to watch), and that she would manage to convince my mom to buy her sushi every single time they go to church. Sushi after church is their new ritual.

It’s a fair deal, I think. My daughter is a very smart little girl who can barter better than I can. Like many children, she loves sweet treats. Unlike many children, she also loves sushi. By agreeing to go to church with Grandma, she is in theory getting what she wants while at the same time, my mother gets what she wants—which is to introduce my daughter to Catholicism, and hoping she’ll turn into a lifelong believer.

IMG_6213IMG_6214This morning, when my mom came over to pick Lily up for church, she commented on how much my daughter resembles me when I was her age. This is where I say, “Maybe,” because although Lily holds certain personality traits similar to mine (her shyness, for one), she is still her own person, and we are more different than alike, I think. This morning, she wore this ridiculous white dress with puffer sleeves and a bow tied in the back (similar to a 90s wedding gown), something I hated wearing as a child but was made to wear constantly; Lily, on the other hand, loves dresses of any kind, and she’ll wear them wholeheartedly, especially if it’s one that is gifted from a family member. (No surprise, my mother bought her that dress).

The way I see it—they’re getting quality time together, something I wish I had with my grandparents but unfortunately never did. Because of that, I want my daughter to develop a relationship with my mother. Their time is theirs to decide. I just wish I had the same treatment when I was young. But I also wished that I was smart enough to bribe my own grandmother (or mother) to buy me things that I like when I was little, in exchange for going to church. Perhaps then I might’ve stayed a true lifelong believer.