Saturday, October 27, 2012

Dump Trucks and Princesses


“MAMA! STOP!” These were the words spoken by my then one-and-half-year-old son, Wyatt when we were driving home one day. My heart about stopped. I thought I had just run over a squirrel, or ran a stop sign, or did something horrible because the shriek in his voice was so urgent that you would have thought Wyatt was going to die if I didn’t stop. I quickly realized that nothing terribly wrong had happened; we merely drove by a construction site. Nonetheless if we didn’t stop and take a look at all the big machines driving around in the mud, Wyatt was going to start WW III with a world-class temper-tantrum.

I pulled the car over, got Wyatt out of his car seat, and in the rain (it’s always raining in Hood River, OR), we walked over to the fence line to see dirty – rusty – loud machines backing up, “beep, beep, beep, beep.” Going forward. Backing up, “beep, beep, beep, beep.” Leveling dirt. Backing up, “beep, beep, beep, beep…” I rolled my eyes – boring. Surely Wyatt felt the same, but when I looked down at Wyatt: his eyes, his face, his open-mouth-with-drool-coming-out look said it all – he had never seen anything so cool in his life. Dump trucks, skid steer loaders, forklifts, crane trucks – Christmas had come early! The site was a one-year-old gold mine!

Wyatt tugged on my shirt, insistent I sit down so he could curl up in my lamp and watch the amazing spectacle before him. Wyatt didn’t move and this was unheard of. He’s normally bouncing off the walls. If I’d let him, he would have sat still for hours watching these machines.

Visiting the construction site became part of our daily routine and I started getting into it. Wyatt would get his “big machine” fix while he sat in my lap so transfixed and so subdued that you would have thought I’d drugged him, and I would have about 15 minutes to check my email and social/media news sites on my phone – win-win for both of us.

Soon our house was FULL of toy construction equipment: the books we read, the music we listened to (Truck Tunes – check it out, “Forklift Boogie” is my personal favorite), Wyatt’s clothes – everything had a dump truck on it. And I didn’t think twice, I embraced the construction toddler obsession phase with open arms.



That is until one day at the construction site one of the workers came over to talk to us. Wyatt started quivering with excitement – you would have thought this guy was Santa Claus. I was going to have to get him to autograph our copy of Good Night Construction Site. Our conversation went like this:

            “I see you guys here every day,” the big construction worker said.
            “Yes, my son thinks you and your machines are the coolest thing ever.” Wyatt is still in my lap trembling with excitement.
            “Well, tell your son to stay in school so he doesn’t end up like me,” and the big construction worker turned around and walked away.

Wyatt, not really understanding the English language, merely kept watching. I on the other hand sat rather dumb founded. My initial reaction was: that was really harsh, I doubt he’ll sign Wyatt’s picture book. But as I sat there, I started to agree with him. If I could choose my son’s career, a dump truck driver was not in the top ten. Mind you, I believe machine workers have a legitimate career. They are the backbone of our society – they build our roads, our schools, our firehouses… But, its grueling work that probably takes a heavy toll on one’s body. We packed up and drove home.

Since that interaction I’ve often thought about Wyatt’s true obsession with dump trucks. He created this obsession. I did not. Dump trucks were one of the very first things he ever cared about. If his plastic dump truck was comfortable, he would use it as a pillow. And yes, I encouraged it by our daily visits to the construction sites and purchases of dump truck toys galore. But his obsession with big machines was all him. Which got me thinking about what I was obsessed with as a toddler.

I didn’t have to think long: princesses! When I was Wyatt’s age I wanted to be a princess. And believe me, my Mom did NOT embrace this obsession, or encourage, or create it. My Mom was a gym teacher, an original supporter of Title IX, and a proud tomboy. She cried with joy when I didn’t make the cheerleading squad in 6th grade – trust me – she hated everything pink and princessy.

And despite my mother’s beliefs, I claim that my princess obsession (present tense, I still have it) is healthy. As a girl, when I was a pretending to be a Princess, I wasn’t just prancing around in a pretty dress – I was kicking butt and taking names as well! From my top bunk while wearing my rhinestone tiara, I was leading the free world! I was giving speeches that made grown men quake because I was going to take over the world and make it a better place! What were these speeches about? I don’t know – but that rhinestone tiara I wore made me believe my words were powerful and bold and were going to inspire millions to fight with me to save the world and then some. And as a adult, It has inspired me to worship amazing leaders, who whether or not they have a Princess title, are royal: Princess Diana (with grace and poise required by her British Royal Title, hugged children and adults infected with HIV at a time when most wouldn’t be in the same room with an infected human. She got in the mud and helped unarm numerous landmines littered across Angola), Michele Obama (regardless of one’s political beliefs, is an amazing leader who is using her title and power to attack childhood obesity), Sylvia Earle (A true queen of the oceans nicknamed, “Her Deepness,” has used her powers to accomplish numerous environmental achievements) – the list of outstanding royal women is endless.

And yes I agree with my mother, these obsessions can quickly become unhealthy – buying everything “princess” Disney makes is not good, and buying everything “dump truck” that Amazon sells is also unhealthy. Peggy Orenstein, an amazing writer, does an excellent job documenting how toxic the princess world can be. Please click here to see her blog. And she’s right, so many  “princess” toys are awful. But as mothers, we have the choice not to buy that stuff. We have the choice to guide our daughters’ princess obsessions to real princesses who are amazing. Just like I have the choice to guide my son’s dump truck obsession, by refusing to buy him every dump truck toy he sees.

The point of this post is: toddler obsessions are crazy. I have no idea why my son loves dump trucks, but he does and no matter what I do when we drive by a construction site he is going to scream to stop, and sometimes we stop and sometimes we don’t. And when I was a toddler, regardless of my mom’s persistent desire for me not to be a princess, I wanted to be a princess and rule the world.

A lot of girls want to be princesses, and a lot of boys want to be dump truck drivers, and is that so wrong? I don’t think so. I’m a proud adult that still wants to be a princess so I can use that title to save the world. And as an author, I write about an amazing eleven-year-old princess who, I hope, will inspire other young kids to become world leaders that fight for our dear planet.

So this Halloween I ask you not to roll your eye at every girl dressed as a princess. One of theses little girls you see with a tiara on her head might one day stand in a beautiful suit in front of Congress giving a speech that will for generations be thought of as some of the most powerful words ever spoken. But if you can’t help yourself, and you truly hate the princess obsession, then I ask you to only be fair and also roll your eyes at all the little boys who would be dressed up as a dump truck if their mom’s could figure out how to make such a costume.

Happy Halloween Everyone!

Big Smile,
Sarah

To view Sarah's middle grade fiction book click here: Paperback and Kindle 

1 comment:

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