children

Librarian rant incoming: Coloring sheets have value, darnit!

One of the little things I take care of as a part of my job is coloring* sheets. The library keeps a selection of coloring sheets and crayons/colored pencils for children (or adults! whatever!) who want them. I make sure we maintain a good stock, replace broken crayons, and change over the picture selections every now and then. Pretty straight-forward, really, and not one of the most compelling parts of my day-to-day.

Last month I received a decree from on high (i.e. from the head of children’s services) suggesting that we start “scaling back” our offering of coloring sheets, in favour of activity sheets that call for more imagination/creativity and “complex thinking” (think ‘complete the image/story’ style prompts). To some extent, this is a fine idea, of course! And I am more than happy to include sheets like this alongside my more traditional coloring sheets.

I took umbrage, however, with the implication that coloring sheets can’t/don’t inspire creativity, and also with the unspoken implication that they don’t have value beyond the level of creativity they may or may not inspire.

There is, I think, a lot to be said for learning how to be creative within prescribed limits – it’s a stretch of an analogy perhaps, but some of the most celebrated acheivements in poetry were created within prescribed forms like sonnets. Artificial limitations sometimes beget *greater* creativity. And anyway, it’s not as if children can’t choose to add to a coloring sheet scene without being explicitly prompted to do so.

Even setting that aside though, I feel like this ‘new direction’ I’ve been pointed toward actually misses the real value of coloring sheets for young children (and I should clarify here that we are for the most part talking about pre-school age kids here). There are so many vitally important skills that are renforced and built in the simple activity of coloring things in!

Fine Motor Skills
Honestly, more than anything else, what coloring provides for very young children is an opportunity to practice moving their hands with some level of precision, to learn to have better and more precise control over their bodies. This isn’t something we are born with, and a kid who has practiced a lot of coloring in their early years will likely have an easier time with things like learning to write when they hit school age. This stuff is important! And for the very young, coloring is easier and potentially less frustrating than drawing.

Patience, Focus, Determination
Getting ‘good’ at coloring (in the sense of being able to stay in the lines) takes practice,  and it takes determination. And once you’ve honed the ability to stay in the lines, actually doing so still requires patience and focus; if you’re not paying attention or if you rush, you might mess up! These are all important skills to cultivate early!

Knowledge
Coloring is an opportunity to teach children the names of colors! This may seem minor and silly, but also, they’ve got to learn this stuff somehow, and coloring provides an actual motivation for learning these words – how else can you ask your friend to hand you the crayon you want, and be sure they know which one you mean?

Any way you slice it, coloring sheets add value to young children’s lives. I mean, heck, they add value to adult’s lives as well. Activity sheets that call for more complex thinking are great too, of course! But children need to develop basic skills first, before they can start applying them to more complex tasks. So don’t malign my coloring sheets!

 


*Yes, I spell color the American way, despite being Canadian. Yes, this is particularly strange juxtaposed with my use of “favour” in this very same post. I just… think that “colour” is ugly, while I actually think most other cases of this spelling variation are prettier with the ‘u’. So yeah, for me it’s neighbour, favour, honour, color. Deal with it :P

What to do about babies and gender

[Content note: reference to adult-child related sexual creepiness]

As a person who intends to have kids at some point, and as someone who is very aware that you can’t tell what a person’s gender is (/what their gender is going to be or whatever) when they’re born, I have to deal with the question of what I’m going to do about my future babies and gender.

I mean, hopefully it’s obvious that I have no intention of imposing any sort of gender norms or expectation on any kids I have. And I will listen to them about their own gender as soon as they are able to tell me about it. But there is still the question of what to do about pronouns etc until they’re able to do that.

In an ideal world, I would lean toward using neutral pronouns – either the perennial ‘they’, or something specific as more of a placeholder (I remember reading a long time ago about someone who referred to their fetus using the ‘ou’ pronoun, and I like the idea of using something that isn’t so clearly linked to non-binary/genderqueer identities, since that may carry a lesser version of the baggage involved in traditionally masculine or feminine pronouns.)

But living as I am in an entirely un-ideal world, I’m not sure this is what I will actually end up doing. I may very well wind up simply using the pronouns assume the baby is cisgender (unless they’re intersex, in which case, gender neutral pronouns it will be until I can hear otherwise from them), as a sort of default/educated guess (since there is a high likelihood that they will be cis), for a few reasons.

The main one is, I just don’t know that I have the energy to have all the conversations that would be involved in refusing to gender my baby. Although I am not going to adhere to gendered expectation with clothing, toys, etc with them, I know that people would push back harder against gender neutral pronouns than other things, simply because it makes them uncomfortable to use them. Which is a terrible reason, obviously, but still. I have enough work on my hands doing this for myself, and people are more upset by gender neutral pronouns when they are applied to children, and more prone to inappropriateness or downright violence (or trying to get me to lose custody of my children even, probably) than I am prepared to deal with.

Which, on some level I feel like maybe I should not have kids unless I am willing to fight for that for them. But on the other hand, I don’t think that placeholder pronouns alone are going to harm a kid who is otherwise raised as much as possible without gendered expectations. I don’t think that ‘he’ or ‘she’ is somehow inherently a more harmful placeholder than ‘they’ or ‘ou’ could be anyway.

My other fear, though, is not about me and my own energy, as much as it is about my child. A baby who is referred to by gender neutral pronouns may attract some really unsavoury behaviours from people who really really need to know the baby’s ‘real’ gender. I am quite sure that refusing to indicate a binary gender for my baby would make a whole lot of people suddenly really interested in changing that baby’s diaper, or helping them with their bath, or something. And that level of creepiness is not something I want a baby or toddler subjected to.

I am also afraid that being quite to obvious about my gender neutral approach to parenting would result in other adults trying to over-compensate for that, and my children being subjected to even more over-the-top, explicit gender policing than they otherwise would.

So, I dunno. I don’t know what the least harmful route to take, really. I’m just going to do my best and what feels right, I guess.

Moving forward, writing a new story

So, part of the story I was expecting my life to be has changed – a partner I had expected to raise kids with isn’t going to fulfill that role in my life. Which, that’s life, really. It doesn’t ever really do what you’re expecting it to.

It’s been interesting for me, the process of figuring out how to move on from this, how to reorganize my life to still have the things that I want it to have, as much as possible. And figuring out which parts of the old plan are necessary to me, and which ones can be rewritten.

I was surprised, when I started talking and writing openly about the changes in my relationship with my partner-formerly-known-as-spouse-person, as how many people asked me if I had considered/was considering going the single parent route. The truth is, I never really had. The truth is that without giving it too much though, I’ve always thought that would be too difficult, that I was not up for it. My picture of my life has always included at least one other adult in a parental role in the family I want to build.

But, it turns out, lots of people who know me (and who know me well) seem to think that I had what it takes to go it alone. To them, it is an obvious solution to the dilemma I have found myself in. To them, I am strong enough, and the challenge is not too great.

And that is an incredibly flattering thing, in a way. But also, I realized that they’re probably right. And I’ve started taking stock of my life differently, now.

The thing is, my life is really great. There are so many people rooting for me, and ready to go to bat for me in so many ways if I need them to. I am loved, and I am cared for, and I have a really, really strong support system in place.

When I think about what I would want in a co-parent, what it is that makes me think I need such a thing, I realize that I don’t want anything like what I used to. I’m not at all interested in making new romantic love connections right now – I am content and oh-so-very fulfilled with what I have, and I’m not sure I have that much capacity for another relationship of that kind.

My ideal co-parent, if I wind up with one, would just be a really good friend and someone that wanted to share the adventure of parenting. Someone I could live comfortably with, and someone I have solid communication with, but really not anything more than that. And honestly, this just seems like an all-around easier and more stable arrangement than entangling romance with child-rearing. Like, it’s a stressful enough thing without also throwing romantic and sexual needs onto each other in addition to the demands of parenting. So, even if my current romantic situation changes, I still don’t think that I would want that kind of all-in-one relationship anyway.

More importantly, though, I’ve come to terms with the idea that this is definitely not something I can force. Either I will find a relationship like that, or I won’t. Or maybe I will find something I never even imagined and it’ll work in a completely different way. For now, though, I’m choosing to focus on figuring out what I, as an individual, need to do and the things I need to get set up in my life, to feel ready to be a parent, with or without anyone else’s involvement in a parental role.

The thing is, there are plenty of people in my life who will be able to lend me plenty of kinds of support in this, without taking on a parental role. Any child of mine will unavoidably have an awesome networks of aunts and uncles and sparkles and god(less)parents who care about and for them in all kinds of ways.

And what more could I possibly hope for?

Brief Thought: Parenting

I’ve never had the intention of being a stay-at-home parent; my mother didn’t work when I was young, so it’s not like it wasn’t a viable option to me, it was just never what I wanted to do. I want to have a career, or at any rate, I want to have a meaningful and influential impact on the world beyond my family. And so as much as I have always wanted to have children, I’ve never imagined myself as the primary caregiver. It’s unlikely, really, that either my husband or I will choose to be at home with the kids full-time, and that’s always been fine to me.

Except, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way that I want to parent. I just finished reading It’s OK Not to Share, which is a seriously fantastic read that, starting from the first principles of:

  1. Kids are people, with all the rights that implies; and
  2. Kids have unique needs and values that may not make sense to adults, but that are very real and need to be respected

develops really rich parenting strategies that, quite frankly, model exactly the kind of parent I want to be. It’s seriously worth reading.

But the problem, of course, is that these strategies involve establishing and maintaining certain kinds of environments for your child, and having ample opportunities to support and model conflict management techniques and other behaviours. And short of finding a daycare and/or preschool that upholds the same kinds of ideals of care that I would like my children to be exposed to, I worry that we simply won’t be able to have as much influence on their development as would be necessary to really teach them the kinds of things I’d like to impart.

I also realized today that the one person I know who is raising their (truly amazing) kid with awesome social justice ideals and respect for the kid’s autonomy and the like is, in fact, a full-time caregiver to their kid.

So now I don’t know what I want to do. I used to just worry about things like being able to get my parents to accept and respect the fact that I will under no circumstances be spanking my children, and that if they were to spank them, that would be grounds for them to never be alone with my kids again. Now I’m worried that I simply won’t be a big enough presence in their lives to combat the messages they’ll be getting from the world at large.

I’m sure it’s mostly an irrational fear, and I know that people who had two working parents were still deeply affected by their parents’ parenting choices and styles, but I also know that it’s going to be harder to make sure my kids avoid indoctrination into a lot of mainstream societal things, and are able to understand the difference between what’s normal and what’s right and wrong. I’m sure it’s just something I’ll have to play by ear, and it’s not something I need to figure out right now, but it’s what I’ve thinking about lately.