My little girl won't turn five until next month, but she has crammed more femininity into her short life than I have in my 38+ years on this planet. Consider the evidence:
- Her favorite colors are pink and purple.
- She always sits still and listens to the teacher.
- She only wants to wear dresses - the poofier the better.
- She loves to have her babysitter polish her tiny fingernails and toenails.
- Her favorite names are Ariel, Belle, Jasmine, and Cinderella.
- Her favorite pop song, which she sings loudly and frequently, contains the lyrics: "You be the PRINCE and I'll be the PRINCESS, it's a LOVE STORY - BABY JUST SAY YES!!!!"
About a year ago, a woman at the grocery store told her she was cute. "I'm not cute," she corrected, "I'm adorable!" Now if that isn't gag-inducing, I don't know what is. Fortunately, after a long talk about inner beauty and modesty, this did not recur.
The fascination with all things girlie, however, has continued. Until now, I've been fairly bemused but not bothered by it.
This changed, however, during the winter session of gymnastics this year. The Super Tots class split up, and the girls went with one instructor and the boys with another. All except Samantha, that is, who every week ran away from the girls to join the other group. Interesting development, I thought - maybe her inner tomboy is emerging.
I soon learned that the draw, however, was the male instructor leading the boys' group. Without competition from other girls, Samantha quickly pushed the boys aside, ran to the instructor's side, took his hand, and literally batted her eyes at him. Tall, handsome, and about twenty years old, he was completely unprepared for this onslaught of attention from his pint-sized admirer.
My mother and I soon observed that the skills she had performed easily in the fall, like pulling herself up on the bar or walking on the balance beam, had vanished in a pink cloud. Instead, Samantha held up her arms and said "Help!" while gazing imploringly at the hapless dude. She then melted happily in his arms as he lifted her up.
This nauseating scenario ceased once female instructors took over in the spring. Samantha listened, concentrated, and executed her moves with no assistance from anyone.
"Now there's an argument for single-sex education," my mother pointed out. I see her point, certainly, but at the same time, I'm not sure that isolating her from the opposite sex is a realistic solution.
Samantha has also started bursting into tears at the tiniest provocation. Her older brother growls, "Samantha, you're such a princess!" and this is not a compliment. He is referring to The Princess and the Pea, in which a tiny lump robs the Princess of an entire night's sleep.
Samantha, I feel, is exhibiting her own version of "middle-child syndrome," a phenomenon in which the middle child in a family displays the most attention-seeking behavior, as he or she often gets lost amidst the oldest's accomplishments and the baby's pure cuteness factor. And in our family, the oldest and the baby are both boys - so what better way to get attention than playing up the feminine?
All people repeat behavior for which they get positive reinforcement. Obviously, her girly-girl behavior has gotten her some of the attention she has craved. I cannot change how others react to her, but I will make a more conscious effort to praise and reinforce her brains, talents, kindness, and independence.
By Jenny Douglas Vidas