We are on vacation this week with the cousins, spending our time between a beautiful Lake Michigan beach resort and daily adventures in the local area. The crew of kids consists of three girls (ages 9, 6, and 3) and two boys (ages 7 and almost 2). All are having a grand time.
One of the things I love about my family getting together is the true celebration of “kid time”. Because our cousins live overseas our time together is precious, devoted to the kids playing together and soaking each other in as much as possible. No fun measures up to the exploits and trouble you can get into with cousins. The midnight bedtimes, peels of laughter, overcrowded bath tubs, jokes and secrets, popsicles snuck before dinner….. this is the good stuff in life.
Last night as I watched the five of them run around on the beach I looked down at my baby nephew’s footprint in the sand. A month shy of his second birthday he still has those fat, delicious square baby feet. The three year old has a penchant for nudity, as most preschoolers do, and was skinny dipping in the lake. Her legs are so much longer than last summer and they belie the baby chub that lingers on her body that is looking more like a “kid” than the baby she has been.
They are all growing so, so fast and I find myself whispering often in a half wish/half prayer “Stay little forever”.
My own kids, the 9 and 7 year olds, are so big now. They just don’t stay little. They grow and grow faster and faster. Their baby footprints are long gone, my daughter’s imprint in the sand is nearly as big as my own foot. When she chases me in the lake I actually have to work at outrunning her long legs, not like the slo-mo up and down run I do when the the 3 year old and almost-2 year old chase me.
My family encourages all of the kids to explore, try to new things, create, be silly, be strong, be themselves. We will sometimes divide them into “the bigs” and “the littles” for certain activities, but never do we do “boy stuff” and “girl stuff”. There is no such thing.
And? There just no time for that. Think about how much there is to do in childhood. To learn, to try, to discover.
There is no “boy side” or “girl side” to childhood. There isn’t time to limit any part of these years, these magical few calendar pages of childhood.
A list of what our boys and girls have been doing this week:
Water slides and boogie boarding
Attending a major league baseball game
Exploring interactive story land gardens
Art fair and face painting
Airplane show and talking with pilots
Tag and Chase
Paddling a boat to a small island for a kids-only picnic
Playing make believe
Science experiments on beach
Sea shell gathering
Making friends with two guys flying remote controlled airplanes; guy uses hawk plane to chase kids all over a field
Desperate attempts to catch sea gulls (tactics include: stealth, flanking, ambush, and pleading with promises of love and tear-filled eyes)
Sand castles and digging giant moats
Turning little brother into a sand merman
Splashing in Lake Michigan
More crayfish hunting
I notice the other families visiting the condos around ours and I see boys and girls running all over the beach and common areas while playing. Some are playing organized games like baseball or tag, many are digging and digging in the sand, others are playing with toys like the group of boys and girls I saw with a large container of fighter planes. Most of the kids are running between the water park and the beach, losing their minds with all the choices of fun.
This is why I get so fed up with the gender stereotypes I see all over children’s clothes and toys, telling them how to be a girl or how to be a boy. That isn’t what childhood is about. We are wrong to place limitations on this time in life.
Our kids are experts at being kids, we just need to give them the room to remind us what it should look like.
Melissa Atkins Wardy is a speaker, media consultant, and the author of“Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from Birth to Tween”. She is the creator and owner of Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a company that has been offering empowering apparel and gifts to Full of Awesome kids since 2009www.pigtailpals.com.