playing with dolls

When I was a child I had an impressively large collection of Barbie dolls. Many of them were hand-me-downs from my older sister who had lovingly cared for her dolls and was utterly dismayed when I got my claws into them… I thought I could improve on Barbie’s face with a little biro (ok, a lot of biro!). Our younger sister was worse still, she pulled their heads off so often that they became loose and would fall off during play. When that happened she would always say, in character,

“Oh no! My head fell off, just wait while I pick it up.”

She also cut their hair, very short. She cut it when the head was attached to the body, and when the head was separated from the body. She wasn’t fussy, if it had hair, she’d cut it.

Fast forward a couple of years and I began buying Barbies of my own with my pocket money. I lovingly cared for them, just like my older sister had cared for hers. I adored my Barbies, they were my favourite toys to play with. They had managed to keep me captivated all through my childhood. They were a toy that evolved with me, from the basic doll play of a young child to more elaborate character play spanning several “episodes” where I created personalities for my favourite dolls and used them to act out long and involved plots. I played with Barbies a lot, I even played with them when I was in high school. I had two friends, one from primary school and one I’d met at high school, who also played with Barbies still. I’m certain there were more of us, but it wasn’t cool to admit it so we pretended to everyone else we knew that we didn’t play Barbies when we visited each other. No, we “hung out” (playing Barbies!).

As a young teenager my Barbie play moved from character play to character and scene creation. I created a character in my mind, gave her a name and made her clothes out of old socks and fabric from my Mum’s stash. I then built her an environment that expressed her personality. I’d make dioramas out of cardboard boxes, poster paint, fabric and craft glue. I never really played anything out once I’d created a character and an environment. I just posed the doll in there for a little while until I felt inspired to develop a new character.

One sunny day I was in the backyard hand sewing some clothes for a Barbie when a friend of my Mum’s (who I didn’t like then, and who I still find incredibly irritating all these years later) came out and teased me for playing with Barbies. She shamed me, told me I was “too old”, and asked me when I was going to grow up like everyone else in high school.

After that I decided it was time to pass my entire collection on to my younger sister who wasn’t particularly interested. It wasn’t long before we were packing the dolls, their horses, their cars, their accessories (I told you I had an impressively large collection!) into big boxes and giving them to the little girls who lived across the road.

I was really sad to see my Barbies go. I hadn’t wanted to stop playing with them.

Now we’ll fast forward a few more years. I’d finished high school, long since forgotten about the Barbies. I was at uni and I met a fella who sparked my interest in feminism. Here’s a funny fact for you… most women I know remove their body hair for men, but for this particular man I stopped removing my body hair. He told me he’d never been with a woman who shaved her arm pits, and being eager to please that particular man I stopped shaving mine, realised how much easier life became and in the 8 years since I’ve not looked back. I’ll have to remember to thank him next time I see him! Anyhow, I digress…

So, back to the Barbies, my young hairy self began to critique fashion dolls. They’re a cog in the huge machine of patriarchal oppression. They create unrealistic “beauty” ideals for young girls. They perpetuate intolerance. They represent a narrow expression of femaleness. Etcetera…

I decided then that no child of mine would ever play with fashion dolls! It’s so easy to idealise the way we’ll parent when we’re not yet parents, isn’t it?! So, I the hairy, feminist, idealistic parent of as-yet not conceived children would not set my child up to idolise a symbol of opression. When my daughter was born I adhered to it too. I ranted to my family, I gave strict instructions to them all to never, never, never buy my daughter a Barbie doll, and they’ve been obeyed for 4.5yrs (those strict instructions still stand, in case you were wondering). I had my older sister on my team also. We were the anti-Barbie brigade and you should have seen us go!

Let’s fast forward again shall we, because this story is already getting ridiculously long… We’ll fast forward to last week. Boxing Day to be exact. The day I, the hairy anti-Barbie feminist Mama, bought THREE fashion dolls. One for Sprout. One for Moe. One for me!

I know, I know. Those who know me in real life can pick your jaws of the floor now and allow me to explain myself.

Back in October 2010 I wrote this post about toy weapons and my (then) feelings toward them. The first comment, from Kestrel, on that post is one that introduced a whole new perspective to me. Here is the first part of Kestrel’s comment, for those who don’t want to click the link.

There is an essay in Katrina Kennison’s “Mitten Strings For God” which you may find helpful. She has tow sons and one has never shown any interest in things that (to quote from memory) slice, swat, explode, shoot but her other son has always been fascinated by pirates, swords and guns. Because of her own attitudes towards weapons that son began to name himself “bad”.

I began to wonder if it was ok to impose my own value judgements on my children and the things they expressed interest in. I know I hate it when someone poo-poos something I’m interested in. I know I hated it when my Mum’s friend did it to me as a young teenager. What happened to me then, being shamed into giving up something I really enjoyed, could very well be what I would end up doing to my own children. The thought that I could say or do something that would lead my children to believe that they were bad because I didn’t approve of their interest was really upsetting. After lots of discussion with myself, with Bean and with other parents, I resolved to be a bit less black and white about everything my children showed an interest in. Sure, I can discuss issues with my children, I can explain why guns are harmful, why Barbies are harmful etc. but at the end of the day, I’m not interested in creating a forbidden fruit or creating a situation where my children believe there’s something wrong with them because they like something I don’t approve of.

For the record, Sprout is really fascinated with killing monsters at the moment. She’s hugely into guns, though she hasn’t got any toy weapons she still uses sticks to pretend. I’ve been told it’s very normal for 4 year old children to be into weapons and fighting games. I view it as an opportunity to discuss violence with her. She’s reminded regularly to play carefully with her”guns”. She knows (though sometimes needs reminding) that if someone says or otherwise indicates that they don’t want to play that game that she’s expected to respect that and stop the game. She knows she’s not bad for playing at killing monsters. She knows she’s not bad for telling someone she just killed them. We’ve been able to give boundaries, while not stifling the phase she’s in right now.

So, how does that tangent relate to me, anti-Barbie me, buying fashion dolls for my children?!

I’ve taken Sprout into toy stores a few times, and every time since around the time she turned four she’s asked me about the fashion dolls. I’ve dismissed it, told her they’re just toys, told her they’re for doll’s houses, told her all sorts of things without trying to put (too much of) my own value judgement on it. She was never going to get one, right? So what did it matter? Wrong. She kept saying things like,

“Oh I really wish I could have one of them.”

And I would reply,

“Why? What makes you want one?”

She could never give me an answer beyond saying that she just wanted one.

I remembered how much I had loved playing with my Barbies, and felt like a bit of an arsehole for telling her she couldn’t have one. I still couldn’t get past the Barbie thing though. All the bloody make up. Ewww. I started doing some research on Barbie-sized dolls that weren’t Barbie. I was looking for something my daughter could relate to a little more. I found a few, but the ones that stuck out at me were the Liv Dolls. They were inexpensive, unlike the Japanese dolls I’d found that were a bit more realistic. The Liv Dolls don’t tick all my boxes. In fact, they tick few. They still have skinny bodies, disproportionately big heads (reminding me somewhat of starved catwalk models) and flawless skin/make up.

What they did offer, aside from a price tag that make them attainable, was more realistic eyes, an articulated body, flat feet that can wear normal shoes and hair that can be replaced with a new wig so hair cutting wouldn’t be such a big deal.

I decided to buy a doll for each of the sproggets, and one for me, so there’d be enough for us to play with all together. If I’d just got one for Sprout then Moe may have decided to wreck the game since he couldn’t play. I also wanted to play with my daughter, so that’s where my doll comes in to the equation.

While I was reading about dolls I came across a few tutorials for how to remove the stock face paint on dolls and how to repaint faces and seal them so they could be played with without rubbing the paint off. I also found some inspiration for handmade doll’s clothes, which I thought couldn’t possibly be too hard… I was slightly wrong there! Sewing anything in miniature is an exercise in frustration. Aaaaanyway…

I decided that for the cost of these dolls I could wipe one of the faces, and try my hand at customising. At the very worst we’d just have a doll with unpainted features, it’d have to be better than the stock make up look, surely?

So I got the materials I needed (acetone based nail polish remover, acrylic paints, matte varnish, gloss varnish) and had a go.

Before
After wiping stock paint off and before painting
After face repaint.

Turns out I’m not so bad at painting doll’s faces. After I did the first one Sprout asked me to do hers, she wanted freckles on her doll too. I got a wig for Sprout’s doll that is closer to her hair colour so her doll shares her eye and hair colour. She has named her doll “Annie” and Annie comes to a lot of places with us. Annie originally had inserted eyelashes like the others I’ve done, but Sprout wanted yellow eyelashes and on learning that I can’t buy yellow eyelashes she decided she’d rather Annie have no eyelashes than brown ones!

Annie, dressed as a pumpkin!

I’ve made 3 or 4 t-shirts for Annie (and friends), a couple of skirts, a couple of dresses, some overalls and a pair of pants.

I have since wiped the paint off my doll, but left Moe’s for now since Moe broke the leg on his doll and has shown that he’s still too young to be interested in dressing dolls.

My doll

I have also spent this week customising dolls for my niece and nephew. The children of aforementioned older sister, who is also anti-Barbie! With my sister’s permission I’ll be giving my 9 year old niece and 5 year old nephew their first fashion dolls. A cowgirl and a farmer…

So, it’s not a perfect solution. There is still something anti-feminist about them, but it’s been a good compromise for our family, and at the end of the day I have to acknowledge that despite my obsession with fashion dolls as a child and young teenager (and even now, as an adult I suppose), I’m still hairy and damned happy about it!

posted by wildecrafted in education,journal,wilde crafts and have Comments (9)

resolving to consume less

Since having the sprogs I have become lazy in the execution of my personal goal to live sustainably, to live with consciousness and absolute responsibility. I’ve decided to reassess my consumption of “stuff” in general, and the two areas I’ve decided to really focus on right now are plastic and clothing because they’re the two areas I think I’ve been most lax in recent years.

Taking off the blinkers of convenience and really seeing the amount of unnecessary plastic that comes into my home, I feel quite ashamed. Then looking at the mountains of washing we’re able to generate before we start to run out of clean clothes to wear is embarrassing.

The clothes we own are largely poor quality, especially the sprogget’s clothes – cheap clothes designed to be worn a few times before they wear out. Clothes that have been cut and sewn with no concern for the direction of the fabric grain. Clothes that look old and shabby after just one wash. I used to op-shop with glee, but then it became all too hard to rummage through op-shops for clothes in the right size and style with first one, and then two children in tow. The convenience of rack after rack of the same item of clothing in various sizes, so reliably available, became too irresistable.

With some changes in the air for my family that enable us to do more than just (barely) make it through each day without dropping the bundle I once again feel able to take on a more conscious approach to treading lightly. I feel able to be more aware of the impact of my choices and actions on my environment, and on other people. Now is a great time to create some new habits and reclaim some old ones.

PLASTIC

Questions to ask at the point of purchase:

  •  Do I need* this?
  • Can I source something that isn’t made from/with plastic to do the same thing?
  • Will this last a long time, or is it designed to be thrown away?
  • Is it made from/with recycled or virgin plastic?
  • How likely is it that this will be reused or recycled when I dispose of it?

 

Actions to take:

  • Take cloth bags to the shops every time.
  • Choose products with no (or at the very least, less) plastic packaging.
  • Give preference to non-plastic products eg. wooden, metal and cloth toys; metal and silicone food containers.
  • Choose recycled plastic products & packaging where plastic is unavoidable.
  • Recycle all plastic that comes into my home and into my hands.

 

CLOTHING

Questions to ask at the point of purchase:

  • Do we already have adequate (and seasonally appropriate) clothing in our cupboards?
  • Will this last?
  • Is it well made?
  • Can I make this?
  • Is it natural fibre?

 

Actions to take:

  • Make our family’s clothing myself, excepting socks because I can’t knit (yet!).
  • Buy from op-shops and local artisans only, avoid chain stores.
  • Buy natural fibre fabrics to eliminate reliance on oil for synthetic fabric production**.

 

So help me out here folks, what other questions can I ask, and actions can I take, to consume less and consume what I do with mindfulness?

Anyone else keen to reassess their consumption of stuff and set some personal goals too?

*Obviously I don’t need anything made from/with plastic like I need water, air, shelter and food, so in this instance I mean for “need” to be read as more than a want, more than a frivolous “because I like it” purchase. For example: buying food in plastic packaging.

**I already choose natural fibre fabrics for myself and the sprogs, I consciously chose to do this 7 years ago, but it’s something I think is important enough to note here in case someone else is taking inspiration from this post…

posted by wildecrafted in journal and have Comments (4)

albany centennial markets

Saturday morning I “worked” on a fundraising stall for the local branch of the Australian Breastfeeding Association. I type “worked” because it didn’t feel like work. It felt like hanging around with a few awesome women, getting a bit of a social fix, talking about boobs and babies, then having a look at some interesting stalls.

The market was fairly quiet I thought, though I’ve not been to one of them before so I don’t know what’s normal for that market.

My favourite stall was right opposite ours. I didn’t have my wallet, so I couldn’t buy anything (this time!) but I wanted to share these delightful handcrafted toys with you. They are so sweet!

This is Elizabeth from i.love.milly.mu.

Now, I don’t have a facebook account anymore, but if I did I’d be a fan of the i.love.milly.mu page. I think YOU should be a fan, dear reader, if you have a facebook account. Firstly because these toys are beautiful, and secondly because Elizabeth informed me yesterday that she intends to host a facebook giveaway very soon so you could win yourself a little bit of cuteness from i.love.milly.mu! If you don’t have a facebook account, you can still see the page (I could) and Elizabeth’s contact details are on there so you’ll still be able to get in touch if you like her cuddly wares.

Note: There was no incentive for me to post about i.love.milly.mu beyond believing the products are great. This market was the first (and so far the only) time I have met Elizabeth.

posted by wildecrafted in journal and have No Comments

dancing bells

About a week ago I found a link to this post at the Childhood 101 Playopedia. I thought it was a pretty funky idea & told myself I should really do something like that one day.

Fast forward to Friday arvo, when I was at a craft store with the sproggets & I found a bargin bin with colourful ribbons in it.

“OH YEAH!” I thought, “I’ll do that dancing hoop thing…”

Sometime between selecting the ribbons and finding some hoops I decided I’d add some bells to them. I’ve been taking the sproggets to Rhyme Time at the local library & Babyman is really getting in to jingling the bells along with the rhymes & songs so I thought bells would be a good addition to dancing ribbons.

I have used brassed steel hoops, instead of the wooden hoops in the original post.

All the “ingredients” on the table

I made the sproggets two each, so they’d both have both hands full & hopefully not fight over them. So far they’ve argued a little bit but there are enough Dancing Bells to go around so any dramas are easily resolved.

 

 

posted by wildecrafted in journal and have Comments (2)

Spontaneous Learning: Alphabet Blocks

This afternoon as I sat down for a short rest on the couch between cleaning, (children’s) crafting & general sprogget parenting duties Babyman approached me whimpering & crying while climbing on me to poke me in the chest & tell me he wanted “more”.

I somewhat resentingly breastfed him, why can’t I have just 5 minutes peace?! My wish was his command, he promptly fell asleep & stayed asleep when I rolled him off me onto the couch. The Bubble had been playing in her room & noticed Babyman had stopped crying. She must have also noticed that his crying wasn’t replaced by his common Babyman chatter because she asked me if he was asleep, & then on hearing that he was, she asked me if I would like to join her in the game she was playing.

Even though I was tired & wanted nothing more than to stare at the wall for 5 minutes while no one talked to (or at!) me, I siezed the opportunity for some time to connect with The Bubble, who has found this transition to a new home & new town quite difficult. She’s feeling the isolation, & she’s acutely aware of the stress Bean & I are under at the moment as we transition to a (hopefully wonderful) life in the Great Southern.

The game The Bubble was playing was with some alphabet blocks my Mum gave her for her first birthday almost 3 years ago. The blocks have letters & numbers on them, as well as pictures of things beginning with the corresponding letters. She was arranging them so the pictures were all facing her. She asked me to help her with that. After I’d turned a few blocks for her she handed me a block with a picture of an igloo on it and asked me what it was.

I told her it was a house made of ice, which is called an igloo. She picked up a block with a traditional looking brick house on it & asked if it was like that house. I told her it wasn’t and explained again what an igloo was. I suggested we get my laptop and look on the internet for some pictures of igloos.

Looking at photos of igloos led to questions about who lives in igloos, which led to looking at photos of Eskimos in traditional dress. Feeling satisfied with all she’d learned about Eskimos and igloos The Bubble then handed me a block with a peacock on it.

We looked up pictures of peacocks and she was fascinated. I decided to check youtube for a video of a peacock doing a mating dance. Bingo! She watched the peacock strut about wiggling its bottom & ruffling its beautiful feathers, then watched the peacock walking about with its tail feathers down, scratching at the ground much like a domestic chicken.

Next up was an octopus. We looked at photos of octopi, which she told me reminded her of starfish. The first time The Bubble saw a starfish was in the water at South Beach in Fremantle, a small sandy coloured starfish. The next one was a larger, vibrant blue starfish in an aquarium at the WA Museum in Albany.

We also looked up pictures of icecream sundaes, snails, angels, nurses & other things she already knew about, simply because it was such a novelty for her to have a bit of control over what showed up on my laptop screen which is usually not something she has access to.

After about 15 minutes I redirected the play back to the blocks & packed the computer away. The Bubble’s interest in the blocks continued after Babyman woke up, while I vacuumed & mopped the loungeroom & until Bean came home from work much later than usual. After the initial excitement of Bean’s homecoming she was back to the blocks which she continued to sort into various groups that made sense to her, stopping only for dinner & a brief “Hello” when Bean’s parents came to lend us their car. She left the blocks on the coffee table in the loungeroom before she went to bed, so I did too. She’s obviously not done with them so I’ve decided to leave them where she left them & see if she picks up her game again tomorrow.

This was pure natural learning in action, I didn’t suggest the game, I had nothing to do with it until I was invited to. It felt great to observe, & I felt blessed to have been invited to be a part of it.

posted by wildecrafted in education and have Comment (1)

Oh look, a faery spewed on my chairs!

Well, not really… I just painted them.

A few months ago we endured ikea & while we were there we bought a couple of small children’s size cane chairs. The were raw wicker, unfinished. I always thought I’d do something to finish them – maybe varnish them, maybe paint them…

I decided to go with bright coloured paint. After all, they are children’s chairs… Who am I kidding though?! Any excuse to make my whole house look like faeries have come in and spewed all over everything. I love colour. I’ve always loved pastel colours, earthy colours, muted colours, bold primary colours. Recently, through challenging myself to try something new in fabric selection for my patchwork projects I’ve grown to love bright colour also. Although, fluro colours & day-glo make me want to spew…

It took me AGES to paint the chairs. A couple of hours per chair. It’s painstaking work with a paint brush (instead of spray paint) & a baby who wakes for feeds several times mid-task. Each chair used a lot of paint too, about 3/4 of the 500mL sample pot per chair for one coat. The wicker just sucks up the paint. As expected, the chair I painted with the darker base colour used more paint than the chair I painted with the lighter base colour.

Anyway, I think they look cute & I’m looking forward to painting more things soon.

On my list are our currently unfinished pine bookshelf (distressed look planned for that one), the old changetable/chest of drawers that will become my fabric cutting table/fabric storage space and our pantry (distressed look planned for that one too) and our unfinished pine bedside tables (also acquired while enduring ikea).

Technical bits:

I used Taubmans colours on these chairs. The darker green/aqua colour is called “coolaide” and the lighter green is called “split lime”.

posted by wildecrafted in home and have Comment (1)

Toy weapons and war play

I have been pondering toy guns over the last few days as my daughter saw children playing with toy guns for the first time a few days ago. She has not mentioned it, she didn’t ask what they were and on the surface it appears not to have affected her. It has affected me though, it has reminded me yet again that as my children get older I know I will begin to encounter difficult situations where they are exposed to things I would prefer they were not exposed to. Things that they may ask me about, things that I would like to be able to discuss without giving judgement laden responses. I know also that children are so very perceptive and even though she’s not mentioned seeing the toy guns, she would have noticed them and they would have made some kind of impact.

I’m not comfortable with toy weapons. Increasingly so as I become more involved in the refugee rights movement again, this time with more personal involvement with people whose lives have been torn apart by war. Often literally, with many refugees having prosthetic limbs because they’ve stepped on land mines. People who are very traumatised by their experiences with real weapons, real violence.

I feel that toy guns (and, in fact, all toy weapons) are a glorification of war, and I feel that war is… I actually can’t even articulate the sorrow and anger I feel with regard to war. I can’t see anything positive in war. I am committed to non-violence. That certainly doesn’t mean I am never violent, I am very ashamed to acknowledge that I have yelled at my children in anger on several occasions, that I have handled my children roughly when I’ve strapped them into their car seat or pulled them roughly away from a game before they’re ready. My committment to non-violence is a committment to work on ways to address my anger issues (of which I have many), to learn to express anger in a healthy way, to reprogramme my default behaviour when faced with a stressful or anger-inducing situation. For myself, for the people I love, and for people I don’t even particularly like I am committed to non-violence.

I know it’s naive to wish I could protect my children from all exposure to violence when we live in a culture that is quite numb to it. Violence for entertainment, violence on the news. Even without a television or electronic games they’ll be exposed to it in our society, often in very subversive ways. I feel very sad though, that children even know what guns are, that they can conceive to pretend that an inanimate object is a gun when a toy gun is not available.

I have a stance against dolls that represent an unhealthy body image (Barbie, Bratz etc) & princessification (thanks Siobhan), and I feel that my stance against toy guns comes from a very similar place.

I wish to express to my children, through my rejection of certain toys & imagery, that some ideas including (but not limited to) war, “beauty” as media/dominant westernised culture portrays it, intolerance of (racial, physical, sexual, gendered, cultural etc.) differences go against my ethics.

I’m also wary of imposing my own ethics on my children as I know that I’m not necessarily right and I know that other people have very different ethics from me. I know, for example, that some people who I love dearly believe that my choice to consume animal products is unethical. Even though I am very conscious of where the animal products I consume come from (organic & biodynamic farming practices, raising backyard chooks to kill ourselves), these people who I love, who also love me, do not agree with me on this one. Despite differences in our value systems, we’re able to respect each other, and while I value that so much I do think that unconditional acceptance is something of a myth for me, I must be honest about that. I love to believe in unconditional acceptance but I don’t know if I am infallible enough to actually accept everything my children may choose unconditionally in much the same way that I am committed to non-violence despite being unable to control violent tendencies in myself completely (yet).

I believe I will always love my children, regardless of choices they may make in future that I don’t agree with. If I’m honest though, I know I would feel very disappointed if either of my children chose to engage in war in any way (for example). I believe I would still love them unconditionally, yet I believe I may not be able to unconditionally accept some choices they make. Of course this is all theorising right now, I can’t know how I would respond if not faced with the situation. I would hope that even when my children make choices I don’t agree with that I would be able to keep my mouth shut if I have nothing helpful or constructive to say, but then, it’s all down to perspective isn’t it? I may think that vocalising my displeasure at their choice is helpful and constructive, while they may not.

I know that for now, while I am our children’s primary care-giver I will not allow toy guns in our home because I do not wish to normalise war by accepting war play into our daily lives. I wish that it was not a scenario I have to ponder but I like to think that if I see my children engaging in war play I would use it as an opening to discuss my values regarding war in an age appropriate manner. I don’t think it’s helpful to shame them, or other children, for engaging in war play. I think that making a big deal of it could actually have an effect opposite to the desired effect of squashing any interest in war play, turning it into the forbidden fruit instead. With real, honest information I feel confident my children will make informed choices as they grow up, I just wish I didn’t feel so nervous about it!

posted by wildecrafted in education and have Comments (4)