Say No to Princesses?

no-princessIs there anyone else out there who would agree with me that Cinderella, and all these other princess cartoons, should have a PG-13 rating?  That these cartoons really aren’t appropriate for younger kids? They’re all about looking pretty, and finding your prince charming – really not the kid of lessons I want to be teaching my kid.

We went to a princess birthday party this weekend. There was lots of the expected – pink, purple, sparkles, swirly dresses, tiaras. All the pretty little girls had a ball. Since then, my girl’s been in a princess mood, more so than before, if that’s even possible. So yesterday she raids her closet, and grabs all the new dresses I had stocked up for the summer. She decides she wants to try on every one of them, along with her hats, and fake jewels. Then she wants us to take photos to send to family members while she poses like a miniature princess model. No, she’s not about to enter her teenage years… She’s two.

Princesses, to little girls all over, mean pretty dresses, jewels, tiaras, castles, magic, and handsome princes. Lost are the real morals of these stories on their little minds. Appearances are emphasized – Belle’s the star of the story while the Beast is often forgotten. No kid will pay attention to a frog, even if he has a princely heart. Cinderella isn’t teaching girls not to be mean – it’s all about magic, glitzy gowns and dancing with Prince Charming.

And as adorable as our little girls may look parading around in their tutus and tiaras, later on these habits could spell trouble for daddy’s wallet.

Now I don’t want every girl out there to detest me for bashing their beloved fairy tales. I too grew up on these and enjoy the royal treatment once in a while – but once in a while is the key. The commercialization that’s taken over these characters, with an overdose of princess paraphernalia, cannot be healthy for the younger kids. As we all know, too much of anything is not good. Since this stuff is everywhere, toys, clothes, movies, tv, books, you name it, it’s difficult for parents to keep their kids away even if they want to.

It seems that Disney has received some criticism on this topic, and is trying to remedy this using their latest princess, Sophia the first. What has your experience been with Sophia – is she really teaching some valuable lessons, or is it just more glitz and glamour now aimed directly at toddlers?

I’ve been wanting to host a princess party for my little one’s 3rd birthday. But now I’m thinking I’ll hold off for a bit… maybe till she’s 13. Of course by then princesses may be a thing of the past. She may have moved on to boy bands and the like – the next Justin Bieber… YIKES!

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Radio Flyer

I always wanted a Radio Flyer as a kid. The classic American toy that gives flight to so many kids’ dreams. Just seeing the bright red toys with white text splashed across it reminds you of happy, childhood days.

So yesterday I decided to take my baby girl to my favorite toy store to pick up her first Radio Flyer. We had a fun time scouring the colorful toy racks, searching for the familiar red wagons. I was surprised at how excited this tow year old was at the idea of buying this toy, assuming she hardly knew what a Radio Flyer was.

After a lot of browsing and trying, we finally settled on a ‘scooter. I grabbed the bright red, bulky package, when immediately a demanding voice squeaked, “Not the red one!”

What?! Not the red one? Red is what defines a Radio Flyer. Whoever even thought of coming up with Radio Flyers in different colors? Every image I had of these wonderful playthings was in red. Red is the Radio Flyer brand! So I tried explaining to her how cool a Red scooter would be, how envious every kid in the neighborhood would be, how pretty I thought the red scooter looked. Didn’t work. I tried a different approach – it’s red or nothing. A tantrum ensued.

We returned home with a pink, sparkly scooter.

So much for the Red branding! I guess the company has been more farsighted than me, catering to meet the needs of their ever-changing market including the new generation of pink-loving, bossy, princesses.

Fun, Free, cold weather places for toddler and me

My little one had a blast this summer. At one, she’s already showing her outdoorsy personality, grabbing the car keys whenever she finds them and pointing to the front door. It was easy keeping her busy in the summer with daily trips to Grandma’s and their playhouse, evening strolls in the neighborhood and weekend visits to parks, beaches, pools etc. But now I have the task of providing healthy entertainment during the winter months. And I hate cold weather. If I had it my way I’d hibernate the winter away. So to keep me from finding excuses to get lazy this winter and succumb to the ever-present temptations of tv and wii, I put together a list of easily accessible, fun, and best of all FREE places you can enjoy with your toddler in this weather:

1. Pet store: a great and free alternative to the zoo, farm, or aquarium, a visit to the pet store will provide all the excitement and learning for your little one.

2. Book store: When we take my daughter to the local Barnes & Noble she doesn’t want to leave! Her favorite is the little  train set that she plays with in the kids section, while I read a fun story to her.

3. Library: Story time at your local library is a great way to introduce her to other kids and nurture the love for books.

4. Play area at the mall: I took her here when she was around 9 months old and she was amazed to see so many other people her size. It’s still a great place to take her when she gets tired watching Mommy shop. Mommy gets her rest, and baby builds her social skills!

5. Grocery store: Hard to believe, but it’s quite easy to turn a trip to the grocery store into a fun, learning experience. My baby loves riding in the shopping cart, picking up her favorite cereal box, and saying hi to all the people in the checkout line. You can also get a little toy shopping cart for baby so she can take charge of her own shopping!

6. Farmer’s market: What a great place to help your toddler learn to identify different fruits and vegetables listed in her Alphabet books! We took our daughter last weekend and she had a great time. An added plus for us was all the compliments she received from others there. One of the nice shop owners even handed her a free bag of Asian jelly candy.

7. Crafts: There are several stores that hold free DIY classes for kids. Some interesting ones you can check out: Michaels, Home Depot, Lowes.

8. Museums: With a little bit of research you can score some free visits to museums and other local attractions. Some state and university-affiliated museums do not charge an entrance fee or have one day of free entry e.g. Philly Art Museum allows free entry on Sundays. Also, check out other programs like (my favorite) Bank of America’s ‘Museums on Us’ program where card holders gain free entry to selected museums on the first full weekend of every month! Please Touch Museum, here we come!

9. Local events: Flip through local magazines that may show up in your mail or from your pediatrician’s office – they often have lists of free/low-cost children’s activities in the area.

10. Religious center: If you want to expose your kids to yours or other religious activities, take them to your mosque, church, or synagogue. It’s a great way to start religious dialogue. These centers also often organize group activities and can be a great place to make new friends for both baby and you.

11. Kiddie gyms: Gym classes are becoming quite popular even for little kids these days. However, these can be quite expensive. But even if you don’t want to fork out the money for regular classes, most gyms offer an introductory class. Look up the gyms in your area and take advantage of the free classes. You don’t have to sign up for more if you don’t see the worth.

12. Volunteer: Teach your child values of compassion and generosity  and enjoy some quality time together by looking up volunteer opportunities that you can participate in as a family: check out local medical centers, soup kitchens, or senior centers.

13. Family and friends: Sometimes a change of scene can do wonders to a child’s mood. Use this to your advantage to revamp your social life and take her to visit Grandma’s, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, coworkers. If necessary, just keep the visits short to maintain both yours and their sanity 🙂

We’ve pretty much tried all these ideas and they’ve worked well for us. The list is still work in progress as we try to explore a new place with baby each weekend. Would love to hear what kind of places you enjoy as a family!

The ‘Like’ Phenomenon

I don’t know about you, but I love the ‘Like’ button on facebook. It is so convenient. Fan of a business or product? ‘Like’ their page. Find a friend’s posted picture cute? ‘Like’ it. A colleague’s facebook status made you laugh? ‘Like’ it. Who would’ve thought one little button could be so versatile. It’s popularity is evident from the fact that it’s become a known expression now… Tell anyone to ‘like’ a picture and they’ll know you’re talking about the facebook button (well, aside from the almost extinct population that has yet to own a computer or smartphone – come on, even every grandma I know is on facebook these days). And the best part about the ‘like’ button is it eliminates the thinking factor. If I like a picture one click allows me to indicate this.I Don’t have to put into words any thoughts or feelings about the picture.  So I don’t need to think about what exactly I like about the picture. If the picture appeals to me in one glance I hit the ‘like’ button and am ready to move on to the next thing that interests me. Such a time saver!

To further convince you that I’m addicted to this button, let me tell you about how much I miss it when it’s not there. For example, on twitter – very often I’ll see a tweet that I just like. Now if I retweet it, or reply to it, I have to think about what to say about it. Sometimes you just don’t have the time or energy to do that. It would be so convenient if I could just hit ‘Like’ to let the tweeter know and then move on. But since there is no ‘Like’ button I often end up leaving off the reply for later, and then of course it never happens (should mention here that I’m kind of new to twitter so may the twitter phenomenon hasn’t hit home yet). Similarly if I read a news article sometimes all I want to do is hit ‘Like.’ And happily for me many sites are now adding the ‘Like’ widgets 🙂

Now this is all well and good as long as I’m on the ‘liking’ side. But how does this affect the writer in me? and the mommy in me? It’s great if someone ‘likes’ my blog post, or my story. But it is so much more exciting when someone leaves an insightful comment. After all, a ‘like’ is hardly a conversation starter. In fact, it is more of a conversation killer. But even as a writer, I find myself taking the easy way out if I see the ‘Like’ button. So why wouldn’t others? And how much worse would it be if this phenomenon spread to other parts of our lives. Imagine how it would feel if your child just hit ‘like’ after you told them about your day or read them a bed time story. I thus find the mommy in me asking, is technology making us lazy? and our kids lazier?

Take the GPS as another example. I LOVE my GPS. It is such a life savor, especially for me with absolutely no sense of direction. Gone are the days of MapQuest and Google Maps where I’d have to give myself an extra 10 minutes before going anywhere to print out directions. Even farther gone are the days of asking for directions. Back in Pakistan where GPS’ aren’t available yet because of the complete lack of road signs and grid street structures, believe it or not, people still ask for directions. I remember as a kid before going to any birthday party I’d have my dad speak with my friend’s dad for directions. And these would be dependent on landmarks – the green Defence library, the submarine roundabout, the Eagle house… Then the ride over would be quite a bonding experience for my dad and I. He would tell me what landmarks to look out for as I peered out the window pointing out whatever I thought made sense. Sometimes we’d spend hours looking for the right house (and this was before cell phones). My daughter will never experience this – unless of course our GPS breaks, and at the same time both our cell phones’ batteries happen to run out while we’re driving…

And then there’s the Kindle or similar e-book reader. Now that’s one bus I haven’t gotten on yet. I just don’t get the same pleasure from an e-reader that I do from turning the worn pages of a good classic. I keep reading about how babies are good at imitating us – how the best way to teach them is to model the behavior we want them to adopt. So we’re supposed to read to them as early as possible. But what if they never see us reading? They only see us with an e-reader, or an iPad, or a blackberry? How then do we expect them to develop a love for books and reading instead of video games? I was  deeply saddened by Border’s demise. Will Barnes & Noble (in store form with actual paperbacks) still be around when my baby’s older?

Do you have similar fears or do I just sound paranoid? I’d love to hear your thoughts – preferably in ‘comment’ form, though ‘likes’ are also appreciated 😉