An Open Letter to McDonalds, Subway, and All Other Purveyors of Gendered Toys

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(For those of you joining me from Reddit, welcome! I don’t post my child’s real name on the internet for obvious reasons. Owl is clearly a pseudonym – a blog nickname chosen by my readers. In case you read any of my other posts, my daughter’s name is also not really “Fritter”.)

Dear Fast Food Industry,

Tell your employees to stop using my child’s genitals to define his toy choices.

Let me tell you a story. Actually, let me tell you a series of stories about how my son has been reduced to a set of genitals by your employees.

McDonald’s recently had a line of Nerf brand toys on display. They had a line of blue toys and some of their pink/purple Rebelle line (because apparently girls can only play with pink weapons).

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My 4 year old’s favourite colour is pink, so he decides that he wants a pink one. He loves things that throw and shoot so he’s very excited.

I get to the cash and order his happy meal and ask for a pink weapon.

“He wants a girl one?” says the cashier.

“He wants a PINK one,” I said firmly.

He got a pink throwing star type thing and he was happy.

The next time we went to that McDonald’s he decided he wanted the cannon toy, which he had seen at a friend’s house.

The cannon toy is also part of the Rebelle line.

So I order his Happy Meal, and the cashier (a different one from before), “for a boy, right?”

“Actually, do you have that pink cannon that shoots a ball? He has his heart set on that one.”

“He wants a girl one?” asks the cashier incredulously.

“He wants the PINK CANNON THAT SHOOTS,” I said. “Do you have it in?”

“Uh, I’ll check,” she says, and marks his happy meal as “girl” on the cash register.

They had it in stock and he was overjoyed. He was playing with it in the Play Place (sans ball, because I didn’t want him to shoot another kid) and an older boy kept asking him “why do you have a girl toy?”

Owl ignored this questioning completely, perhaps not even realising that it was aimed at him. He’s not a girl. He’s a boy. He’s a big, loud, messy, active boy who loves to shoot things but also happens to love pink.

“Uh, why does he have a girl toy?” the older boy finally asked me.

“Why is it a girl toy?” I asked with a note of exasperation. “It doesn’t say “girl” on it.”

The boy looked stumped.

“Because it’s pink?” I asked him. He nodded slowly.

“Does that seem fair, to tell boys that they can’t play with anything pink? Girls can play with blue,” I pointed out. The boy wandered off and I tried not to be afraid.

Owl is going into kindergarten soon. He will be told that pink is for girls, that he can’t enjoy it or wear it or play with it. I wish I could tell him that this is silly childish nonsense, but in the end, where are kids getting it from?

FROM ADULTS.

From the amazed ADULTS who insist, in a BUSINESS ATMOSPHERE, on calling pink toys “girl toys”.

From the BUSINESSES who actually have separate toy lines for boys and girls, as if genitalia should be relevant when it comes to choosing playthings.

I’m sorry, but even sex toy shops don’t divide toys based on the genitals of the purchaser. Dildos are for everybody.

When we go to McDonald’s drive through, I have no idea what to say when they ask if my happy meal should be “boy” or “girl”.

How do I know which my son would prefer? If they said “Skylander or Barbie?” I would say “Skylander”. If they said “Blue or pink?” I would say  “pink”.

My son has often wanted a toy from the supposed “girl” selection, and while that’s easy enough (though annoying) to deal with when we are inside, at the drive through we are denied even the opportunity of knowing what the choices are.

So it’s a crap shoot.

“Boy or girl?” we were asked recently at the McDonald’s drive through.

“It doesn’t matter,” said my husband. “Whichever.”

“…Sorry, was that boy or girl?” asked the voice on the other end.

“Whichever!” said PH loudly. “Just pick one.”

“I still don’t… is it for a boy or a girl?”

“BOY!” I said loudly over PH’s shoulder, just to end the exchange. I felt like saying “HE HAS A PENIS, DOES THAT REALLY TELL YOU ANYTHING ABOUT HIS TOY CHOICES?”

They might as well say “penis or vagina?” when I order a Happy Meal at the drive through.

ASK ME WHAT MY CHILD WANTS, NOT WHAT IS IN HIS PANTS.

He has a penis, but sometimes he likes My Little Pony. He has a penis and sometimes wants the Skylanders toy. The two are not especially related.

But don’t worry, McDonald’s, you aren’t the only company I am pissed at.

Subway, I’m looking at you.

Owl LOVES Subway. He likes McDonald’s for the toys and the Play Place, but he loves Subway for the FOOD. He always gets a kid’s tuna sandwich and piles six different vegetables on top.

The kids meals at Subway are a good deal.

You don’t get a toy but you do get a drink and apple slices along with the sandwich and they put it in a reusable shoulder bag featuring characters from whatever animated movie is playing in theatres right now.

Inside Out is playing in theatres right now.

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Owl liked the green one, featuring the Mindy Kaling “Disgust” character.

Who is female.

“Oh, but that one is for girls,” said the lady behind the counter, hesitating and looking at my husband in dismay.

He glared at her. “THAT’S FINE,” he said with gritted teeth.

Seriously? You’re going to tell a little boy that he can’t have a particular bag because it is “for girls”? Why? Because it has a female character on it?

REALLY??

Listen, Fast Food. You need to stop. If you insist on carrying different toy lines for different markets, then you need to train your employees. This has been going on for a long time.

It isn’t enough to say you don’t train your employees to say girl or boy, because that’s how your frigging machines register the difference. Of course your employees will ask “girl or boy” because that’s the button they need to press.

Besides, they are part of our global culture which general recognizes that pink is for girls and boys can’t touch it. 

So it’s not enough to say that you don’t TRAIN them to be sexist. You need to make efforts to train them NOT to be sexist.

Don’t mark certain toy lines as “boy” and “girl” in your cash registers.

Change your POLICIES.

Train your employees in what to say.

Teach them to say “what colour of bag do you want?”

Teach them to say “Do you want a blue weapon or a pink one?”

Teach them to ask at the drive through “standard Nerf toy or Rebelle line?”

And when a boy asks for a pink toy, tell them to say “sure!” and deliver it with a smile because feminism starts here. Freedom from gender restriction starts here.

Otherwise you are a purveyor of sexism, and I’m not buying that.

LET TOYS BE TOYS.

Right now, the only way we have of protesting is with our wallets. But I hope you won’t do it because you want my money. I hope you’ll do it because it is RIGHT.

Sincerely,

A Pissed Off Consumer

Electing A Lovey… AGAIN

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Some of you remember Owl’s sleep.

Or lack thereof.

You may also remember my frenzied research into classically conditioning sleep using sleep aids and my selection of a toy to help with this project.

That didn’t go so well.

At the time, I was really thinking of Pavlov’s dog and researching toys that made noise to help Owl sleep. I thought that if he could mash a button and turn on a conditioned sleep response, that would be wonderful.

Unfortunately, the toy I chose was large, firm, and not very cuddly.

Then, one night, he developed an irrational fear of it, and that was that.

It might amuse you to know that he found it recently and had no memory of it. I showed him how you could press the button to make music. He listened to the music for a few seconds and then quickly demanded to know how to turn it off.

“I’ll save that for the baby,” he said firmly.

He never did develop a true attachment to the seahorse or any other object. My sister in law made and sent a cute blankie for him when he was a baby and while he still likes to lie on it occasionally, he never developed the kind of fixation on it that I had for my own “blankie”.

Anyway, lately I’ve been wanting to try again with Fritter.

Fritter is actually a pretty good sleeper. At night she’ll sleep three to six hour stretches and naps frequently during the day, although they’re generally cat naps.

That being said, sleep experts all recommend a “lovey”, and as someone who had one herself, I know the comfort it can bring. I want her to experience that.

This time, instead of thinking Pavlov, I just started researching popular lovies. What do kids fixate on?

Well, it seems like every site I find on the topic votes for a blanket with a head.

I’ve seen these around. My neighbour’s oldest son had a blanket with a dog head called Puppy that he lugged around everywhere. I think they’re weird looking, personally. What do they represent? Is the dog’s head severed and tied onto the blanket? Is it a skinned dead dog?

But you can’t argue with results, and according to the internet, kids love it. A blanket with a head combines the physical comfort of a blankie with the friendship of a teddy bear.

The most commonly recommended lovey is a product called Angel Dear. They have dozens of animal-headed blankets all under $20 in price. Price is important because parents warn you to buy multiples for when the original inevitably gets lost  or destroyed (I never lost my blankie, but I do remember my mother doing major repairs on it at regular intervals). Parents also claim that they wash really well and hold up to heavy loving.

Except I don’t like their lamb version, and I have it in my head that Fritter needs a lamb, because she’s an Aries who was born in the Year of the Sheep/Goat/Ram.

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Besides, the Angel Dear blanket really is a head on the corner of a blanket. You can’t even pretend that it’s a whole animal.

Then I found the Gund Huggybuddies. huggybuddylambThe lamb version is darn cute, and it looks like an actual lamb, albeit either a skinned one or perhaps just an anorexic. Out of 49 reviews on Amazon, not one is below 3 stars. Parents claim that they wash well, too, and kids love them. The only complaint is that the head is pretty big – much bigger than the Angel Dear version.

So I ordered it in.


We’ll see how this goes.

Dear Fritter – if you have a horror of sheep as an adult, it’s probably my fault.

In Which My Anxiety Fixates On Something That Is Completely Impossible To Prevent

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In the days following Fritter’s birth, I got a lot of questions about my mood from the public health office.  They called to check on me when we got home from the hospital, a week later, and again when Fritter was six weeks old.

Through some sort of file sharing with the hospital, they know that I have a history of depression and so they kept reminding me to expect baby blues. In fact, you could tell they expected it to turn into full on post-partum depression given the whole depressed-husband-and-a-four-year-old life situation.

I expected baby blues too. I mean, that’s pretty normal. Weepiness, sobbing over Skittles commercials… that sort of thing.

But it never came.

In fact, when they took me through a depression questionnaire at the six week mark, I passed with flying colours.

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Look at me, all not-depressed

I don’t know why I have been spared any sort of bizarre hormonal fluctuations, or post partum depression, but I am grateful.

Maybe it was having the support of my parents and mother in law (who flew out here again once my parents returned back to Nova Scotia). I haven’t had to behave like a fully fledged adult since the nightmare that was early January.

Support. It helps.

In any case, I’m feeling pretty happy, but I DO still have my generalized anxiety gnawing at me.

When Owl was a baby, I used to fret over his head. I kept having images of accidentally crushing it like an egg or melon.

With Fritter, I am terrified of SIDS.

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Worst “Preparing-For-Baby” Book Ever

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When I was pregnant, Owl picked a book out at the library and we thought it was great because it was called “There’s Going To Be A Baby”, so I thought it would be good for preparing Owl for the baby.

It looks fine in pictures.

The mother tells her son that “there’s going to be a baby” and then there’s a a series of lovely pictures showing the mother out with her son while her belly slowly expands and the seasons pass.

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Then we got home and read the text.

WTF.

Throughout the book, the kid asks his mother questions about what it will be like to have a baby, what the baby will do, and occasionally expressing resentment of his sibling-to-be.

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Ignoring all of that, the mother responds with speculations about what the baby may do when it grows up.

The kid, totally not comprehending the “when it grows up” part, tries to imagine a baby doing all this cooking, banking, sea faring, gardening etc. He gets a very confused image of what exactly having a sibling is going to be like, but he seems sure of one thing – it will be messy.

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So this poor kid basically keeps imagining various iterations of the theme “this baby sibling is going to ruin my life” while the mother does nothing to reassure him. She’s too busy watching the seasons change and speculating on baby names.

Finally, at the end of the book, the kid goes with his grandfather to meet the new sibling, and asks “…we’re going to love the baby, aren’t we?”

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He never gets an answer because the BOOK ENDS THERE.

Not only does the child never receive actual adult reassurance that they will, in fact, love the baby, but we never find out what really happens.

We never meet the baby, we never see whether the child gets useful answers, or if he does, in fact, love the baby sibling or (and?) if it really does ruin his life.

It’s basically a “how NOT to prepare your child for a sibling” book.

WHAT A GREAT BOOK I AM SO GLAD WE READ THAT.

I have seen this book in book stores since, so it actually seems to be selling. Who is buying this book? Who thought it would be good to prepare a child for a sibling?

I’m happy to report that Owl loves Fritter and hasn’t shown much resentment, so I think the stuff we did to prepare him worked. This book had NO ROLE IN THAT.

Things I Had Forgotten About Babies

I loved Owl’s babyhood, despite the colic, but in recent years I haven’t been able to remember WHY.

I liked this??

I would look at him pulling on his own pants and putting dishes in the sink for me, I’d wonder why on Earth I had ever thought that babyhood was so great.

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Some parents may sometimes wish that their children were babies again but I didn’t get that feeling. I loved watching him grow.

Wishing Owl back into a baby would mean undoing the person that he is now, not to mention bringing me back into the world of diapers and 2 am breastfeeding.

And yet, when Owl was a baby I used to cuddle him and I had felt that I definitely wanted to do this again.

So I did it again, even though I couldn’t remember why.

I did it even though I was dreading going back four years and starting all over again.

I did for the same reason my husband agreed to it, even though he did NOT love Owl’s babyhood and was dreading a baby much more than I was: because while we didn’t really want to go through another babyhood, we did want a second CHILD.

And there were parts I was looking forward to again – I did look forward to the tiny outfits and a child too young to talk back to me, or to run headlong into me from behind, nearly knocking me down the stairs.

There was so much I had forgotten:

The tiny little panting noises that babies make. God, those are cute. It’s like holding a very tiny, floppy puppy.

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The way babies stare off into space with one side of their lower lip drooping more than the other. It’s so adorably derpy that I can’t even.

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How hilarious it is when they get mad and do a really angry pout over absolutely nothing of consequence.

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The cute little “ah” noises they make in that tiny little voice.

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The way the skin on the back of the head moves around all loose and soft like that of a rotten peach (I love it, I don’t know why, I just do).

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How it feels to cuddle your child close and have them snuggle into you, instead of having them say “waaaaaaa-BASH!” and pretend to smash their car into your skull.

Those first smiles which are full of such pure and instant joy.

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The other crazy derpy faces that they make. IMG_2116

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Basically, I had forgotten the cuteness of a child who CAN’T pull up their own pants or put dishes in the sink – the sheer adorableness of a tiny person who has no idea what is going on and whose thoughts are so simple that they are probably best articulated with non-sentences like “wut do?” or “how be?”

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Fritter will get older, and she’ll start to understand what on earth is going on, and she will make me proud by learning words and achieving milestones and become more and more self sufficient, and maybe I won’t miss this stage.

But right now I’m glad she’s a tiny, soft, confused, derpy baby.

Who, by the way, sometimes sleeps through the night.

WRITE ALL THE THINGS

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This blog is six years old now and I miss it.

I miss writing. I basically haven’t done any in months. During pregnancy my energy levels decreased to the point where I could barely even read at the end of the day. Heck, by the last month before the baby came I was taking NAPS in the afternoons.

NAPS.

I NEVER NAP.

If someone wrote a blurb-like description of me, they would probably include “can’t sleep between the hours of 11 am and 11 pm” (along with “drinks a lot of diet pepsi” and “spends way too much time explaining stuff to people.”)

And this was with my mother in law, and then my own mother, to help out around the house. Even with someone cooking my meals, washing my dishes, and playing with my son, I still couldn’t summon the energy to focus on writing.

Now, I have slightly more energy, and I am burning with a hypothetical desire to write ALL THE THINGS.

I want to write a book on dog training for my dog training business, so that we can be the dog trainers who wrote a book.

I want to finish writing my fiction trilogy that parodies Twilight but with feminism and zombies.

I want to write on this blog and tell you about a zillion things.

I want to do a whole other blog where I do nothing but heavily overthink things.

Do I have the time for any of this? No! Because, baby! And four year old! Even with my mother in law to help, the fact of the matter is that it is very hard to type on a laptop while holding a baby.

I never sit at the desktop computer anymore, because that has become PH’s refuge from all the hustle and bustle in the rest of the house. It’s not like my first mat leave where I was home alone all day at the computer. Now it’s every now and then at the lap top with one hand.

Even when I do get to put the baby down for half an hour or so, I have trouble writing with the knowledge that the baby could wake up and interrupt me at any moment. It’s like falling asleep – you need to feel like you aren’t JUST ABOUT TO BE INTERRUPTED.

But I’m going to try. Because I love writing and I need it. I have so much to say.

But when I get half an hour – which do I write first?

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A Letter To Parents of Colicky Babies

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Dear Parent Of A Colicky Baby,

I know your pain.

I know how it feels to walk the floors for hours and hours every day, and night. I know how it feels when you read the definition of colic – crying for more than three hours a day, more than three days a week – and think, “there are babies out there who cry THAT LITTLE?”

I know how it feels to look jealously at couples in restaurants who are casually eating their dinner while their tiny baby slumbers peacefully in a car seat next to their table.

Meanwhile, YOU left your baby with a selfless friend or relative and you are trying to have a brief meal together to salvage your relationship even though you know that at this moment that your friend/relative is walking back and forth while your baby screams and screams.

Maybe you have said to each other “never again”.

Maybe you have already decided that your first born must be an only child because there is no way you can survive this a second time.

I know how that feels, too.

But.

Let me tell you about a different kind of baby.

Meet Fritter.

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She just turned a month old, and almost all of my photos of her feature her doing something very strange…

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The 2nd Labour Story Part III: In Which I Bond Very Quickly With A Doughnut. Yes, An Actual Doughnut.

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A lot of women talk about that magic moment when they see their baby for the first time. I have a theory about it.

You see, I didn’t have that magic fall-in-love feeling when I first saw Owl. I was just like, “hey, look, a baby.”

Some people claim that a heavily medicated birth, such as Owl’s, interferes with natural bonding hormones and prevent that awesome gush of love that some mothers feel on the birth of their child.

But I don’t think that’s it.

You see, I have friends who have felt that rush of love despite an incredibly traumatic/heavy intervention birth, and I know people who didn’t feel it despite a completely natural birth.

Here’s my theory:

It has nothing to do with the kind of birth.

It has to do with the kind of person you are.

I believe that if you are the sort of person who believes in or has experienced love-at-first-sight (in the romantic sense), you will be the kind of person who experiences love-at-first-sight on the birth of their child.

On the other hand, if you are a more practical, slow-to-warm-up kind of person, like me, you’re less likely to fall head over heels in love the moment a squalling newborn is dumped on you.

It’s a shame, because I would love to have that rush of mother love.

Still, when I watch videos about natural birth, people always talk about that rush of endorphins that comes with it, and it made me wonder if maybe that really would help. Maybe my theory is wrong.

So when I was told that I wouldn’t be getting an epidural, the part of my brain that was still ME and separate from my body was actually pleased because this way I might get to experience the big endorphin rush.

Yeah, I didn’t feel any kind of rush when I was giving birth.

I don’t know if I ever have endorphin rushes. Maybe I don’t have endorphins. Maybe there were endorphins but I didn’t notice them. Maybe if there weren’t I would have hurt even more. I don’t know. But I definitely felt no elation, no rush. Just some anxiety because I still hadn’t seen my baby.

Finally they brought her over to me and laid her on my chest.

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The 2nd Labour Story Part II: In Which I Display An Embarrassing Lack of Stoicism

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We listened to Ben Folds on our drive to the hospital.

We love the piano on Songs For Silverman and I tried to sing along instead of moaning uselessly during contractions.

So we drove to the hospital with me groaning, “I’ve got YOU… to THANK… for THIS…” and hoping that PH didn’t think I was extrapolating the lyrics to suggest that I was blaming him for my current discomfort.

“The problem is,” I told PH, “that the contractions are so overwhelming that for a while I feel like everything in the universe is hurting me. So when the contraction starts it feels like the piano is hurting me and I’m like “DAMN YOU, BEN FOLDS,” and then when the contraction eases I feel like the piano is making it feel better and I’m like “THANK YOU, BEN FOLDS.”

I also noted that when my contractions came closer together they were less intense, but that if the space between them stretched to three or even four minutes then it meant that a real doozy was on the way.

I actually preferred the doozies, because at least I got three or four minutes of relief first, rather than barely time to catch my breath before another one hit. I think that was what made my labour seem so awful last time – the fact that sometimes contractions were coming one on top of another with no real relief.

We pulled into the emergency parking lot of the hospital, expecting that PH might have to drop me off and go find parking, but unusually the parking lot was almost empty. Apparently early morning on a Monday is not the most popular time for emergencies.

It took me three contractions to get into the hospital. I had to finish one before I could get out of the car and then another one came on almost immediately and I had to stop in the middle of the lot. This one squeezed so hard that for a moment I felt a straining sensation, like you get when you have to poop REALLY badly and you’re struggling to hold it in.

That was weird.

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The 2nd Labour Story Part I: In Which Castor Oil Is Put To The Test

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Most women I speak to tried something or other to kick start their labour. It seems strange to try to trigger an event which is generally recognized as one of the most painful experiences a woman will endure in her lifetime. But I guess we do it for the same reason that PH always eats the least favourite part of his dinner first – to get it over with.

For me, the real spur was fear of being medically induced, which I had already experienced and was not anxious to repeat.

I knew that castor oil was my best hope, but I also felt rather pessimistic about it. I suspect that if left to its own devices, my body would carry the baby past the 42nd week mark.

Probably, castor oil would just cause me horrible diarrhea and I’d still have to be induced on Tuesday.

So I started with a small spoonful on Saturday. Most recipes that I saw involved 1-2 tablespoons.

I took a TEASPOON and waited for the diarrhea.

No diarrhea.

No baby, mind you, but no diarrhea.

So with increased boldness, I took two tablespoons on Sunday, mixed in with my yogurt, and waited.

…and waited.

….and waited.

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