The things that will never make it in the baby books and other musings from a stay at home mom

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Career Counselor Barbie

I let Julia open her first Barbie doll yesterday. It was a Princess Barbie set, complete with Barbie and Kelly dolls, a castle that unlocks with a special key necklace and loads of teeny-tiny choke-my-son-if-I-turn-my-back-for-a-nanosecond accessories. A friend had given it to Julia for her second birthday and it had quickly been whisked away in the "open in the future" pile. Since I know we're about to get a new onslaught of birthday gifts, I figured we'd better finish clearing out last year's pile, much of which we just never got to, either by circumstance or (in this case) design. So I left the box with my babysitter, who is still cursing me for forcing her to unfasten the 700 little twisty ties that held Barbie and her accoutrement in place ("they STITCHED her HAIR to the BOX," she kept repeating when I returned home) and ran for my life.

Needless to say, Julia loves this new toy, which embodies everything that scares me about raising a girl in one sickeningly pink package. Needless to say, Evan is equally entranced. I told Julia that Barbie and her accessories would have to live in Julia's room where Evan could not get to them, and she agreed readily enough. But damned if she didn't insist on all going up there to play as soon as she got home from preschool today.

So there we were, Julia styling Barbie's hair into a fashionable ponytail and talking about how the new object of her affection was going to spend her day and me trying desperately to distract Evan with giant Elmo dolls and toys that make a lot of noise as he continually tried to steamroll right over to the barricade I was making with my body and help himself to a nice portion of choking hazard. I was only half listening as Julia told me Barbie had a bunch of errands to do and I asked what her plans were for the day. Her answer stopped me cold in my tracks.

"Oh, you know. She's going to get her toenails painted and stuff."

I was paying full attention now. This was dangerous ground we were about to tread on. "Maybe she should go to work instead," I answered carefully. Julia laughed. "Girls don't work," she answered me in the voice she uses when she knows I'm teasing her. "Only boys work."

It was at this moment that I knew I'd done irrevocable harm to my daughter when I decided to be a stay-at-home mom.

"Many, many women work, Julia," I replied quickly. "You know lots of them. "Grandma works, you know. And Dr. Singer. And your teachers. Mommy used to work, too, before I took some time off to be home with you and Evan. I've told you before about how I used to work for the TV company. And I'll go back someday when you're older..." I was babbling now. "I think Barbie needs to go to work, Julia."

Julia lifted Barbie's dress so that I could see her feet. I noticed that they were bare and halfheartedly began a search for her shoes before Evan choked on one of them. "But mom, look," she said, "her toenails don't have any polish on them."

"No one will notice as long as she keeps her shoes on," I answered, shoving pink plastic stilletos onto Barbie's permanently arched feet as fast as I could. "Now come on. What kind of work do you think Barbie should do?"

"I guess she'll be a teacher," Julia answered with a little sigh, looking longingly at the feet which were apparently going to have to remain au natural as long as she was playing with her suddenly crazy mother. "And she'll go to work over here, on my bookshelf..."

Julia resumed her play and I resumed my attempts to entertain Evan, all the while wondering how much work it would take to get my resume into shape and where I could find reliable childcare right away. Realistically, I know I'm not going any place any time soon, though. I made the commitment to have children knowing that I wanted to be the one to do the full time work of raising them, at least during these early years. I love being home with my kids and I'm not going back to work just to show my daughter that women do indeed have a role in the workforce.

So how then do I reinforce the notion that Julia can grow up to do anything she wants when all she sees around her are me and women like me who are putting our years of high-priced education and workplace experience to work cutting out construction paper butterflies, preparing grilled cheese sandwiches and wiping snotty noses? The best thing I can think of to do (since the exposure to female professionals I'd been so carefully cultivating these past 3 years has obviously failed to make the impact I'd hoped for) is to role play every conceivable career opportunity when I'm playing with Julia until her options become more clear to her. I have the feeling Barbie's about to become my new best friend. I wonder if they make a pepto bismol pink briefcase accessory to match those silly stilletos.


At 8:38 PM, Blogger Kristy said...

I love the "putting our high priced education [to good use]" comment. That one gets me on a regular basis...six years of higher education for this? And all the stuff I do that's fulfilling (outside of wiping those noses, that is), is stuff she (and later, he) can't really see -- the reading, the writing... -- so "by example" doesn't work.

Well, we'll figure it out, huh?

At 4:09 PM, Blogger Rosemary said...

So much like my own experience, Rebecca! If it's any consolation, look into the crystal ball I wish I'd had back then. My daughters went to all girl high schools - of their own volition! They are both in college, honors program, and both fully committed to using their brains (one also fully committed to full time party schedule - at least as full-time as she can manage with full-time school and almost full-time work), and neither EVER taking back seat to a guy because he was smarter, more capable, or because that was his rightful position. I guess it all works out in the end, though they (well, Sean - my most independent!) gave me a bit of a scare for a while.


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