Let Toys Be Toys
We were playing in the park, when all of a sudden a little girl around his same age with whom he’d been playing, walked away leaving behind a beautiful little doll. Immediately I noticed Santiago studying it from afar. I waited to see what he would do. At first I thought he would do nothing, or maybe grab it by its hair or even throw it - as he usually does with his toys. But what I saw him do next was one of the most adorable things I have ever seen.
First, he got really close to the doll and leaned over, aligning his eyes with those of the doll. He was studying it even more closely from barely an inch of distance. Then, all of a sudden, in the most gentle and endearing of ways he kissed the doll (as babies do, with open lips and a lot of slobber) on the lips. I immediately acknowledged him for being tender and kind to the doll. I grabbed the doll and explained to him that it was like a baby, like him. Then, I cradled the doll in my arms in the same way that I hold him while he watched my every move. I placed the doll back on the floor, and without a moments hesitation, he proceeded to do the exact same thing. He grabbed the doll and placed it in his arms gently, holding it close to his chest. I thought my heart would burst. But at that moment I realized two things.
Although cognitively I have always known this, this experience showed me, proved to me, just how much children observe us all the time. They absorb everything they see and truly learn to mimic all of our words and actions. By the same token, this made me conscious of the fact that this is probably my greatest fear as a mother. Because this is precisely the most challenging and most important thing about motherhood (and parenting in general). Not the middle of the night wakings, or whether your child eats organic or not. But rather this. That we, as parents, are responsible for helping our children become functional, decent, empathic, caring, kind human beings. And that it is not in the things that we necessarily say, but rather the things that are left unsaid. The things that they see and hear on a daily basis and what we imply through those words and actions. And that beyond learning how to see and hear ourselves from our children’s perspectives and constantly and repeatedly asking ourselves “what is my child learning from me when I say/do this?”, is the fact that we must make conscious, daily efforts to embody and exemplify the loving human beings that we want them to become. We must show them how to love - children, ourselves, our spouse, our community, our animals, our world.
My second realization was that my son will one day grow up to be a husband and a father. And when boys play with dolls, they are practicing parenthood, just like girls are. And although many might feel that allowing a boy to play with a doll is “scary” or that it could lead to “negative outcomes”, I choose to side with other progressive parents on this in that by allowing boys to experiment with such toys, we are giving them a chance to explore nurturing and connecting with others. We build their empathy and care, as well as their imagination and creativity. Thus, we foster important life skills. Because in today’s world we expect modern fathers to nurture and tend their children. And building on skills like these early on helps boys eventually become men who are able to care and provide for their families. Men who know how to be kind and be gentle with their partners. Men that don’t mind letting their daughters dress them up in plastic jewelry and floppy hats. Men that can be gentle enough to perfect the art of shushing a real baby to sleep. And that is why perhaps Santa will be bringing my son both a truck and a doll for Christmas. Because there’s no good reason he shouldn’t have both and lots of healthy reasons why he should.
Ultimately, personally, this was a beautiful experience. For me, to get to witness my energetic, dynamic, little boy, who loves to play rough house, and race cars and trucks, be so sweet and delicate with a baby-like doll, is a true testament to his developing empathy and an increasing ability to look outside of himself. My heart is full.