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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Messages we send children

Before I get to what's on my mind tonight I should apologize for being a rotten sewing blogger. 

In the last four days I have made two garments for my daughter-in-law and another jacket for my husband. But before those could be photographed, which is what a good blogger would do, the jacket went off to work on my spouse and the things for my DIL got packed to be delivered by my daughter who is flying out tomorrow to meet the new baby.

Oh well.

For the next little while I am going to be making some crazy things for myself and you know I do stand still enough for pictures.

Now back to the subject at hand.

For various reasons this week I have been thinking of the things we say to children and how those things, if we intend to or not, get carried away with them as part of who they are, for life.

That's a pretty significant responsibility and it is something all of us need to be mindful of.

Right now I am considering all the times we affect young children not by what we tell them they can do or who they are, but of all the times we limit them by carving off some experiences as not for them.

I am thinking for example of toys, among other things.

I have three grandchildren here, the two girls and a boy. 

Over the holidays a woman my daughter works with sent over bags and bags of American Girl doll clothes her own kids didn't need any more.

It was quite a haul, a huge number of outfits and even an American Girl bicycle. Imagine how cool that is.

Well the girls have been happily playing with all this stuff for a while now and little Billy, their brother, has just been relegated to watch and plead for a chance to put on some tiny jacket, some pair of tiny shoes.

Last time I was over this week doing after school duty he told me that more than anything in the world he wanted and "American Girl Boy doll."

Of course he did.

So on the way home I swung by Walmart because it was on the way and checked out the toy department. Myself and another grandmother, who was there looking for a baby doll for her African Nova Scotian granddaughter, went through the shelves. I was pretty pleased to find that there was quite a variety, Asian dolls (now that's about time), dolls in wheelchairs and dolls with arm braces. Dolls that looked like the people who would play with them.

And me, I found an 18 inch boy doll for Billy.

Well this is what he thought of that:

Of course if I had been thinking ahead I would have realized what would come next - a request for clothes. Pyjamas, a bathing suit, and of course, because this is Canada - a hockey uniform.

This last one made me smile.

Billy's dad, my wonderful son-in-law, tells a story of when he was a kid and quit hockey. He just decided he would rather stay at home on Saturdays and watch the cartoons than go to practice, like his brothers.

Well the first Saturday morning he did this his dad threw a Sears catalogue down the stairs to the basement. "Here, if you are going to stay home, pick out a dress," his dad said.

The irony of course is that one of his brothers, down at the rink, would end up coming out as gay. 

They all love that story now.

The thing is of course not that boys can't play with dolls (or bake in Easy Bake ovens as this viral campaign proved) but that by not giving young males little people to play with we are, even unintentionally, cutting them off from opportunities to think about and practice taking care of other little humans. 

What a terrible thing it is to dam up something like that flowing in any child.

I was thinking of this after Billy, with great gentleness. held a newborn last evening, or of my son in California who takes care of his infant daughter as completely and as carefully as his wife.

Billy's sister already plays hockey. I am thinking that next time he is over he and I are going to cut out some doll clothes. I am sort of disappointed in myself that I didn't think of this before.

He would like that.


Anonymous said...

Barb, you are the best grandma ever. You post reminds me of the book William Wants a Doll. I loved reading it to little ones in school and to my own boys.


Anonymous said...

Donna got here first and echoed my thoughts as I read this post.


~ Your new fan in Cali

Sue said...

This is wonderful. I love that you are going to make the clothes. I work in a school library and I am always saying, “There are no girl/boy books!” The kids love it when a new student shows up and asks where the girl books are. We are all people and we read people books. And, boys play with dolls. And, girls play with trucks. I have a rant.

SewRuthie said...

I wanted lego and trains but those were for my brother. I finally got lego for christmas this year (I'm late 40s) and I loved it!

Sarah Wale said...

You are absolutely correct and I hope your grandson enjoys sewing as much as my two have. Go for it! said...

You are a great woman. I remember when I was young and wanted guns and a holster for Christmas and I always got dolls. All of our neighbors kids were boys and we played cowboys and Indians and I had to borrow their guns. When I was older my Dad took me hunting and taught me to shoot and I also joined the Army.
Just goes to show that you should treat kids as individuals and not put them in a corner. You should teach him to sew if he wants to learn. Maybe he will turn into the next great fashion designer.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in the ‘50s and ‘60s with 2 sisters. Mom had grown uo with a brother, so we grew up with toy guns, cars and trucks, plastic soldiers and sailors and Lincoln Logs and American Bricks as well as dolls. We complain that men don’t do their share of the child care, cooking and housework, but we freak out when as children they pick up a doll or play at their sisters’ little stoves.

Kansas Sky said...

Oh, you great big northern JOY. What a treat to find a fresh blog post this morning!! I was already thinking to send you a note of gratitude all over again for your faithfulness in blogging, not to mention your sewing dynamic that just utterly blesses my life. And now . . . THIS. Precious Billy!!! The luckiest little boy in Canada!! He's got YOU!

Robin said...

Love this story. After coming from a very gender oriented family with seven girls and one boy (who was the youngest!), I have seen the damage we can do to children with our fears and opinions. My brother received a G I Joe "action figure" and my dad wasn't too happy about it. My brother played dolls, and house with us (when Dad wasn't home) and we played battle games and mud westling with him. Now my two grandsons ages 5 and 2 want to get in the kitchen with Nana and my granddaughter loves trucks and matchbox cars. We can do more damage trying to put children (and adults) in a box rather than allowing them to explore their options.

SMP said...

Isn’t it wonderful that billy told you he wanted a boy doll!? Sometimes we just don’t see what is right in front of us. Being a grandma is a second chance to hear children’s wishes, really hear them. You’re a great grandma.

KS_Sews (Dressmakingbacles) said...

There were 4 of us growing up - 2 and 2 - but us three oldest were all back to back and my younger brother was 6 years younger than me. My sister, brother and I spent many, many hours playing together. Be it barbies, GI Joe, "school", we did everything together.

My kids are 16 months apart and of course, did e.v.e.r.y. thing together when they were little :)

I remember their dad being annoyed that I was "letting" him play with her kitchen set. Ironically, their dad did nearly ALL of the cooking at the time. He was really an amateur chef - he was good at it. When I pointed this out, he was QUITE embarrassed with himself!!!

Kay said...

Yes! Yes! Yes! Can you believe we are still confronted with this issue in 2019!?

beckster said...

It goes without saying that you are a fabulous grandma, but I think this shows you are just a fabulous person! Yes, all children should be able to select any option of play they want and decide what suits them. Play is just a treasure trove of learning experiences, and don't we want them to learn everything they may be interested it? I think so.

garnet128 said...

Yep, you are a spectacular grandma and I totally agree with you. I had a little battle of the wills with my hubby about 30 years ago when I gave my toddler son a boy doll. Hubby wasn't sure until he saw how much our son liked it. In turn, our daughter had every opportunity to play with what was labeled 'boy' toys. I always felt EVERY toy was a learning tool for the next stage of their development.

I felt the same about chores...they all have to get done so it doesn't matter if its a boy or girl that does them. We (mom and dad also) had a weekly schedule that we rotated monthly so that we all did something different every month BUT we all did everything at some point. My son grew up knowing how to cook and to clean a house better than a maid service and my daughter could cut the grass and wash cars and do household repairs like an expert. This was all age appropriate of course and built on over the years. They both are very confident adults now.

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, and the great news is that Billy was comfortable with expressing his wish for a boy doll. And of course that you found one.

My older son wanted to be a witch for Halloween when he was maybe 3 and I can remember a couple comments wondering what his father thought of that...... The answer was that he thought it was fine, but I was a bit shocked to even get the questions.


The Wooden Berry said...

Barb you’re not a terrible sewing blogger. I mean you told us about them didn’t you 😁😁 now about boys and dolls and sewing, I have been thinking about writing a sewing book oriented towards boys for quite a while now. The key word here is thinking ha ha. I don’t seem to be a doer, but a thinker so I passing the idea on to you. You are a doer so maybe you will run with the idea. I tend not to comment on most of your posts but I read them all. Thanks so much for being you. I for one really appreciate the humour and thoughtfulness you use when you share your life and experiences with us. Sewing used to be my therapy but in the past 4 years I’ve switched to crochet. Mostly because it’s more portable and I spend a lot of time waiting for my kids and hubby in various places.

Lisa - SF Bay Area said...

You sewed WHAT in the past couple days!?!?!? Jeez. I traced a pattern, made my alterations to the copied pattern and then when I happily was ready to start sewing, I found I hadn't cut out the fabric. Details.

When my second son was born, my sweet sister gave the first son her favorite huge baby doll that only had one finger bit off. My #1 son carried him (unclothed, I am afraid) everwhere and whenever his baby brother would cry, he would pick up his own baby and comfort him.

About 20 years later, my son's dad had a baby girl with his new wife. We were all thrilled and of course the toys came out of the basement so she could take whatever she wanted. I still remember my college grad son sounding totally indignant as he said to this little girl--"hey,that's MY Fisher Price stove!". Of course she answered "not anymore!" She also took his pink nap quilt--he had picked out the fabric when he was about 9 yrs old and was furious that he couldn't have the entire bolt.

Good memories--thanks for bringing them back to me.

ps. Our San Jose Sharks are finally playing decent hockey and I listen to most all the games on the radio while I sew.

Summer said...

Your Grandson is a lucky duck. He looks so happy with his new toy, and what a wonderful Nana you are!

Kay said...

Over 30 years ago my 2 1/2 year old son wanted a Barbie for Christmas. He thought she was beautiful in her elegant, sparkly evening gown, and he mooned over her pictures in the Toys-R-Us catalog. My husband was sure he would lose interest and that it was a waste of money, but that little boy loved her and took better care of her than his other toys. Then a neighbor kid whose father suffered from toxic masculinity snatched her from my son and tossed him on the garage roof. But my son never lost his taste for beauty and elegance, and is now married to a beautiful and stylish woman.

Camille said...

Thirty-six years ago (first Cabbage Patch craze) our two daughters both had to have a Cabbage Patch doll and we shopped (or should I say scrambled) for the "prize babies" as a family. There was a limit of one per shopper so the girls each paid for their dolls themselves. Our son, age 3 was asked multiple times if he would like one, too, and the answer was no. Later that day after watching his sisters play so happily with their dolls, tears flowed and he sobbed that he did want one of those Cabbage Patch babies after all. Of course we returned to the store and were fortunate to find a boy baby for him. What a happy child he was with that baby! He is the father of 3 now and we are so impressed with his parenting skills and patience. Did the doll make a difference? Who knows? But, in my opinion, it certainly did not have a negative impact.

Bunny said...

Your grandson is blessed. Great post and even greater philosophy, Barb.

Marianne said...

I think it will take a generation or two to eliminate gender expectations. Maybe it is close to happening. In my own family, both my son and daughter have always enjoyed helping their dad with home and vehicle projects. Unfortunately for me this usually means I cook for everyone while they do it. Someone has to, and DH and I still generally follow traditional gender roles in these things.

The good thing is that both my children own their own homes and both are excellent at doing fix ups and maintenance. They also change their own oil and switch summer and winter tires. I am very proud of this, even as I stir up a big pot of stew for everyone.

Kathy said...

I guess I was before my time. My son who is now 35 and in construction wanted a doll for Christmas and so I found a boy doll. It was probably 24" tall and he carted that doll with him everywhere. When our first grandson was born, his uncle cared for him and let his sister sleep whenever we visited.

Unknown said...

Hurray for all you have said and all the positive comments from others.

Fran said...

You are so right. I don’t know why we feel the need to separate what belongs to a girl or a boy. When you look at the famous male clothing designers and chefs, not to mention that at one time only men were allowed in the rigid knitting guilds of the Middle Ages. We all have so very much to offer and will only know what we are capable of if we are exposed to as many things in life as possible.

Brewer Barbara said...

This is my favorite blog post. Thanks for being a positive presence for all of us - your family AND your readers.