How To Teach A Girl To Take Up Space: Kite Flying Edition

Breezy, sunny spring days beg for picnics in the park and kite flying so that is exactly what we did with my parents this weekend to celebrate my pop’s birthday. Kids were chasing after the kites’ shadows and in general just running around like you would if being chased by bees. Kids were also flying kites, making them dip and twirl in the wind. It was so entertaining to see all different kinds of families flying all colors, shapes, and sizes of kites. People of all ages were out there – my dad is 65 and the youngest kite flyer looked to be about 3 years old.

In fact, she is one of two kite flyers I want to tell you about. She was having great fun with her dad and her little kite. The wind had some good gusts at this point and she had trouble holding onto and steadying her kite. My son and I were playing catch with a baseball nearby and I could hear her dad repeatedly encouraging her to use her muscles and to not give up. What a great message for a girl to hear!

The other flyer I want to tell you about was a girl maybe 9 or 10 years old. She was with her grandmother and what looked to be a younger sister or cousin. She was enjoying watching her kite bob and weave in the wind, and had let it go out as far as her string would allow her. When that wasn’t high enough, she climbed on top of a picnic table to raise her kite even higher towards the sky. She was quite pleased with herself, stomping her feet and whooping into the wind.

At one point, her kite took a nose dive and became snared in a tree. The girl momentarily froze, unsure of what to do. I thought she might drop her string, run to find her grandmother, or call for her sister/cousin for help. Instead I watched as she kept her gaze steady while she sized up the situation, quietly working to solve her own problem. She decided a few good tugs and yanks should free her kite. She pulled once, not very hard, to test if the kite would rip. When it stayed in one piece she gave a really good yank, the kind when you fill your lungs up first and go up on your tippy toes before pulling down with all your might. The third tug had her kite free and flying again, which brought about more foot stomping and louder whooping. Never once did her eyes stray from the problem she had to solve. Never once did she search outside of herself for the answer.

I thought about what a different play experience this was for her than what is typically marketed to girls: stay close to home, clean the home, care for babies in the home, beautify the home, beautify yourself, focus on fashion, acquire things instead of experiences, play at being sexy, be rescued by a man.

But outside, in the sunshine and the wind…..

Kite flyer

No one told her to get down, that she might get hurt. Or dirty. Or unpretty.

No one told her to lower her voice, or to act like a lady.

No one told her to mind her messy hair, her loud voice and stomping feet.

No one told her girls don’t climb on top of tables, act grand with their bodies, holler into the wind.

No one told her to wait for a boy to rescue her when she encountered a problem.

And the girl was just fine as she was, rescuing herself, taking up space on this earth and in the sky.

 

MAW Profile PicMelissa 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 2009 www.pigtailpals.com.

Find her at www.melissaatkinswardy.com. You can connect with her on Facebook (Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies) and Twitter (@PigtailPals) and Pinterest (Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies). 

When Gender Stereotypes Do Not Allow You To See

Every time I hear a gender stereotype said, I challenge it. I’m “that” person in the room. Hearing those words are like nails on a chalkboard to me. (For you whippersnappers, it would be like losing your wifi.) Those stereotypes alter our beliefs and how we allow our children to interact in the world. I am raising a boy and a girl, and their gender is not their most salient quality about their person.

The other day my friend’s son was standing on top of the high monkey bars. “Get down, you’ll hurt yourself!” she hollered to him. And then turned to me and said, “Boys!” I cocked my head to the side and made no attempt to hide my smirk as I pointed out to her my daughter was standing right next to her son. “Don’t break anything on the way down!” I hollered to my daughter as she jumped off. I turned to my friend and said, “Girls!” In reality, it was just two kids being kids, giving their mothers heart attacks as they launched their bodies off the play equipment from seven feet in the air.

And when a mom I know was going on and on about her sons bringing her gross things from the yard and how hard it is to raise boys, I directed her attention to my daughter and her girlfriend who were marching around the field with branches raised in the air like parade banners, cicada shells hanging off their ears and lips. I told her it was the same thing for moms of girls. In reality, kids will be kids and some have a propensity for bringing you bugs, snakes, frogs, and spiders. And the occasional dead bird.

And this morning, when someone at school mentioned how glad they were the kids got some playtime in the morning before they went into class. “These boys really need it”, she said. I looked around at girls running and playing tag in the field, another group of girls spinning in circles, and my daughter and her friends jumping around and squawking like chickens. “The girls do too, by the looks of it.”

In all of these instances the girls were doing EXACTLY the same things the boys were, but it was literally invisible to the people observing the situation because it didn’t align with their stereotypes.

In the twenty-some years I’ve been working with kids I have yet to have this belief discredited: When we limit our children, we limit our children.

Everything found in the Nothing of Dog Days

My five year old is sitting on the couch, staring into space, making a dripping noise with his mouth and kicking his foot back and forth. He has been doing this for nearly twenty minutes. I have no desire to find him something to do, call over a friend for him, nor turn on a movie. Despite the myriad educational toys, puzzles, science kits, art supplies and books laying about, I will not be getting up from my chair to direct his attention towards any of it. He is doing exactly what a kid should be doing during the dog days of summer — daydreaming.

It looks like he is doing nothing and in today’s culture of go!go!go! and over-scheduling kids, his apparent laziness might cause some to panic. He is not currently building any bankable skills nor learning how to excel at a sport. He is not reading. He is not playing a game.

He is just sitting there, doing nothing.

But I’m okay with it. We did our camps and our swim lessons and now is time for him to zone out to the sound of wind chimes and street construction and the city bus zooming by. If he were listening closely he could hear his sister’s singing from the bedroom and the next door neighbors talking in their yard.

I think our kids need more time unscheduled, unplugged, unlimited. Daydreaming allows the imagination to stretch its legs, and that gives our kids the ability to invent, problem solve, create, and inspire.

Maybe he is watching the leaves rustle in the hot breeze or counting the chirps from the cardinal perched on the fence. Maybe he is in another world entirely, fighting sea monsters or traveling through space or building cities in his mind. Perhaps he is playing a vignette in his imagination, giving a silent voice over to the script because the only words he knows how to write are “Ben”, “I love my Mom”, and “Star Wars”.

Maybe he is building a machine, one that runs on the leftover sprinkles that fall to the plate after decorating cookies. Maybe he has discovered a rare bird, one whose song soothes the sick. Maybe he is a traveler, teaching magic tricks to the children of a village in exchange for dinner and a cot. Maybe he is a dog catcher, a fishermen, a stay-at-home dad. Maybe he is training alligators, or building tree houses so large a family could live in them. Maybe he is discovering how fairies make glitter.

Maybe he is doing something the imagination of his thirty five year old mom cannot conjure, a something that only a five year old could see and believe in.

Empires of imagination are built on long stretches of uninterrupted time. So sit he will on this dog day afternoon, because in the apparent nothingness is everything.

Benny doing more of nothing, on another dog day afternoon.