Norah, Ryan, and I went to the library with our pal, Sara, and her daughter, Samantha, who is a month older than Norah. The two girls are good friends-- always shrieking and jumping up and down when they see each other. Chasing each other, playing ring-around-the-rosie and such. And the library is a great place to meet when it's cold out (yeah, it's still cold. I live in Minnesota) because there are books (duh), a Lego table, puzzles, a coloring station, and the epitome of toddlerdom: a train.
After running around to each activity, the girls settled on the train. It is set up on a short table, so the girls each grabbed a little engine or car or whatever and happily ran them over the track as they walked around and around the table, occasionally screaming "Choo choo!" Sara, Ryan, and I sat down on the benches next to the table and chit-chatted.
(And before you gasp and clutch your chest at the thought of screaming in the library, the children's section is pretty isolated, and the children's librarian assured us that loudness is expected at times.)
Then a little boy, probably 4 years old, came over with his dad. He immediately started grabbing the unoccupied trains and held them tight to his chest, explaining to the little girls that he was playing now, and shoving his way through them. I couldn't understand everything he was saying, but I heard words like, "mine," "move," "no," and others, indicating that they were not sharing well.
Samantha got a sullen little look on her face and slowly walked over to us. She crawled up on the bench between Sara and I.
"Boy talked to me."
"Samantha, it's okay to talk to boys." Sara shook her head. Samantha stayed put, looking angry.
Then I heard raised voices.
"This goes up!" The little boy had his had on some kind of lever on the train set. A little red, plastic bump appeared on the track. He put his hands on his hips.
"Down!" yelled Norah. She flipped the lever.
The little boy turned to his dad, who was reading a magazine near by. His face went up to the ceiling, his eyes closed, and his mouth twisted and gaped open. I'd seen this two million times with Norah-- he was about to flip out.
As the dad tried to explain how sharing is nice, and tried to contain the little boy's tantrum, I rushed over and tried the same.
"Norah. You don't even know what this lever does. Why do you care if it's up or down?"
She furrowed her little brows. "Down."
After the parental interference, the train set was quiet again. Samantha came back to the train. They walked with their trains around and around. Samantha and Norah still had serious looks on their faces, and kept their eyes on the intruder.
The little boy started telling them the names of each train. Then he started bossing the girls around.
"Shhh. Be quiet," Norah commanded.
"Norah! Use nice words," I said.
"Please," she muttered.
The little boy started lifting up the bridge, stopping the train action for the girls. Samantha's angry face returned, and she walked back over to Sara, still staring daggers at the little boy.
"You can't go there!" the boy said to Norah, blocking the track.
"You need go home," she said.
I resisted my urge to high-five her, and gave her a half-assed "Norah, that's not nice," for the benefit of the dad. Ryan didn't try to conceal his laughter.
Now, I at least realize what I'm supposed to do as a parent. I'm supposed to teach civility, sharing, cooperation, and all that stuff. I'm supposed to be teaching her that it's important to get along with others, even if you disagree with them. In fact, I'm a big fan of getting along with others.
But for some reason, I was proud of her. One, I realize that she's two. She's not going to talk it out with the kid. She's not going to ignore it. She's not going to suggest alternatives or feel empathy for another child who also hesitates to share and play nicely. So she's got to use what she's got. And she stuck up for herself and said no. (Or in this case, "down.") And two, she was kind of badass. Both of the girls were. They didn't let that boy boss them around, even if he was older and bigger. It was... awesome.
She hasn't yet been tainted by society's gender expectations, or my unconscious teaching it to her. Girls are taught to be nice, quiet, and above all, to be liked. Boys are praised for their strive, assertiveness, and leadership. She was doing what was purely in her nature-- not conforming to what is generally expected of little girls. She was tough.
While I wish boys (in general. A sweeping generalization) were taught a little more about compassion, nurturing, cooperation, and all that "girl stuff," for the time being, I'll settle for my girl being taught a little more about badassness. And I'll try my best not to squash out that assertiveness. It'll maybe even it up a little bit.
On a side note: Check out this artwork. You'll have to scroll a little down on the blog. It takes the most common words used in toy commercials, but it's split between toys marketed for boys and toys marketed for girls. It's a startling representation of what we value in the different sexes, as far as temperament and behavior.