A mom, a dad, and two nutty kids.

Next month in Cosmo Parenting: How to live your dreams through your kids and look great doing it!!

Wow. This parenting thing is complicated. Every time I sign Ben or Molly up for an activity I have to ask myself:

1. Am I doing this because they like it, or because I like it?

2. Am I choosing this activity to conform to some outmoded gender stereotype, like “girls are supposed to do dance, and boys are supposed to do hockey?”

3. Am I choosing this activity to deliberately DEFY some outmoded gender stereotype, like “wouldn’t it be SO COOL to be the parent of the ONLY boy in ballet class?”

4. Can I even afford the fees, let alone the equipment?

5. What if they don’t like it? Will I make them stick it out, or let them drop it?

I have no coordination. Zero. In fact, less than zero: I have negative coordination. When the good lord was handing out coordination, ze not only skipped me, ze came back and took extra away from me and gave it to Kerri Strug. When I tell people that, they always laugh and say something like, “Oh, yeah, I totally know what you mean, me too, like back when I did my twelve years of dance and gymnastics I was totally awful…” and I think to myself, “I don’t think you quite ‘totally’ know what I mean.”

When I was in Godspell, our Judas, who was also a choreographer, bravely tried to teach us a simple dance number and I had to take him aside and explain, “I need you to understand that when I say ‘I have no coordination and I’m not going to be able to do this,’ I’m not just being self-deprecating – I can try my very hardest to learn it and I can practice it for months but when it comes down to it, I will get up on stage and I will %$&* it right up.” In the end, I got to stand in the back on a sawhorse  playing rhythm sticks, and damn it, I nailed it!

“We Beseech Thee” from Godspell
That’s me in the back – NAILED IT!!
©PicklesINK 2012

With this lack of coordination both coupled with and contributing to my lack of interest, I was a dismal failure when it came to athletic pursuits. I hated every minute of ballet as a preschooler, loved swimming lessons but despised competitive swimming, and never went back after one brief season each of soccer and softball. Skiing was the only exception. Artistic endeavours were more up my alley and I sang in multiple choirs and played in multiple orchestras through my school career and recently discovered a love of acting. I am also amazed by the seemingly effortless skill of dancers, gymnasts, and figure skaters and love watching them. Ian brings the love of competitive and team sports to the equation, with childhood success in swimming and judo and an adolescent and adult rugby and soccer career under his belt.

So when it comes to Question 1, things get pretty complicated. I would LOVE to sign up Ben and Molly for everything under the sun, especially those things I would have loved to do but couldn’t – Wouldn’t it be amazing if Molly became a champion gymnast? A pro hockey player? A prima ballerina? If I get Ben into lessons early enough, he could be a  concert violinist! A pro baseball player! A musical theatre triple threat! All of these things that maybe I could have been if only my parents had started me in lessons when I was 2 and forced me (for my own good, damn it!!) to continue!

Or Ben could be a professional busker…
©PicklesINK 2012

And then Question 2: When Ben was 3, we signed him up for hockey, but we’ve got Molly in dance. What if Ben would like dance better? Are we pigeon-holing him? What about Molly? She seems to like dance, but am I just seeing that because she looks so cute in her pink dance outfits? What if her niche is actually judo? Am I selling her short?


Seriously, how friggin’ cute is Molly in a dance outfit?
©PicklesINK 2013

Then there’s the flip-side, Question 3: I’m a liberal-minded, enlightened, feminist mom, and I should make sure everyone knows that! Am I letting down the cause by dressing up my daughter in her pink leotard and packing her off to dance class with all the other girls every Saturday? Maybe I should sign Ben up – PEOPLE need to SEE that boys can do ballet too! Ian is really good about calling me on that one. Having grown up as one of four brothers in a fairly traditional family, he leans towards being more comfortable with Ben in gender-normative “boy” activities while being happy to consider trying Molly in anything; and in my “enlightenment” (and those are deliberate air quotes) I am biased towards putting Molly in gender-normative “girl” activities (because SHE LOOKS SO DARN CUTE!) while wanting to push the conformity envelope with Ben. Together we meet in the middle and make a pretty good team.

Not to mention, how friggin’ cute is Ben in hockey gear?
©PicklesINK 2012

And of course Question 4: How privileged I am to even be able to ask this question, and to have it so far down on the list, when for so many families this is Question #1 and none of the other questions even factor into the decision!?! I have to be mindful of just how amazingly lucky we are that we have these opportunities available AND that we can afford to provide Ben and Molly with at least some of them.

Finally, Question 5: What will we do? I don’t know yet. My parents were really good about making us stick things out for long enough to know for sure that we wanted to quit, and I’m thankful for that. I think I’ll have to play that one by ear, and activity by activity. It kind of links back to Question 1, doesn’t it? We will have to make sure that in making that decision, we’re focusing on what Ben and Molly want or don’t want and not what Ian and I want.

With that in mind, of course, I’ll sign Ben and Molly up for violin, piano, hockey, tap, ballet, t-ball, soccer, swimming, acting, gymnastics, ringette, curling, skiing, tuba…or maybe not! I’m trying my best to provide them with a variety of options to see what peaks their interest (so far DEFINITELY dance for Molly, but we haven’t hit on a real love yet for Ben) while not falling into the trap of signing them up for something Every. Single. Night!

Of course, when Molly is a pro tennis player and Ben a Broadway star, I’ll let you know so you can say, “I knew them (or at least read their mom’s blog) when…!”

~ karyn

How do you navigate the crazy world of kids activities?


Gee, Karyn, are there any dolls you actually do like??

I’m not all doom and gloom, privilege/oppression/whiteness/and-other-social-work-buzzwords. There are some good options out there if you’re willing to do some digging (or some sewing).

I have a collection of dolls/hand puppets from when I was a teenager called “Treehuggers.” These were, in my opinion, the best rag dolls ever made. You could buy from the catalogue or place a custom order, choosing gender, eye shape (from a selection of buttons), hair colour and texture (yarn – straight, ravelled, dreadlocked, long, short), and skin colour. They also encouraged fine motor development through tie-able shoelaces, button fastenings on the clothing, and  the fact that they could be used as dolls or hand puppets, making them excellent toys for children with special needs. Unfortunately, except for the odd Ebay listing, you can’t get them any more. If anyone reading this has mad sewing skills and wants to go into business, let’s talk!


My collection of 4 Treehuggers dolls, each with different skin colour, hair colour and texture, and eye shape and colour.
©PicklesINK 2012

Cabbage Patch Kids are still available in black or white and as boys or girls. At the lower price point they have unfortunately gone to the glossy doll-hair but you can get the “original” version through the website for a price. Lots of the older ones are available in thrift stores though.

Ben and Molly's babies: From left, Lissaba, Melissa, Alyssa, and baby with no name.©PicklesINK 2012.

Ben and Molly’s babies:
From left, Lissaba, Melissa, Alyssa,
and baby with no name.
©PicklesINK 2012

There is a line of dolls called “Hearts for Hearts Girls” that is reasonably affordable. Each doll represents different country and comes with a story book, friendship bracelet, web access code, and donation through World Vision to help girls in her country of origin. Unfortunately, in Canada they are exclusive to Walmart, which may turn off some consumers. They only have girls, but that does fit with their concept.

Part of the “Hearts 4 Hearts Girls” collection: From left, Consuelo (Mexico), Dell (USA), Rahel (Ethiopia), Zelia (Brazil), and Lauryce (USA). Photo credit: Hearts 4 Hearts Facebook page

I also quite like Groovy Girls – contrary to their name, there are boy dolls, and they come in many different skin tones and hair colours and textures (yarn). They have been around since 1998, so they would probably be available in second-hand shops as well for more variety. We have a great collection that was given to Molly by my cousin.

Molly's collection of "Groovy Girls" dolls©PicklesINK 2012

Molly’s collection of “Groovy Girls” dolls
©PicklesINK 2012

Online, by asking my good friend Google to find me “ethnic dolls” I also found the following intriguing websites (below). Sadly, the first entry that turned up in my search was toysrus.com, offering “ethnic dolls, including Dora the Explorer, Barbie, and SpongeBob.”


Screenshot of Google search for "ethnic dolls"

Screenshot of Google search for “ethnic dolls”

Anyway, moving on…

My World Ethnic Doll Clothing, based in Toronto, Ontario, was founded by a Canadian teacher who wanted to provide parents with the opportunity to purchase doll clothes that represented their cultures. This website provides a wide variety of multicultural fashions, male and female, and androgynous dolls in 4 different skin tones. Prices are shockingly reasonable.


My World Ethnic Doll Clothing
doll and clothing collection

Kids Like Me, based in the UK, provides educational toys, books, and resources that embrace diversity, special needs and inclusion. Their online catalogue offers a variety of reasonably-priced multicultural rag dolls (boys and girls).

And finally, oddly enough, IKEA has the coolest collection of multi-ethnic, unisex, and extremely reasonably priced doll stuff anywhere…which I suppose should not be particularly surprising since they have for some time been ahead of the game when it comes to providing unisex (ie. neither pink nor blue) toys such as kitchens and toolbenches. The LEKKAMRAT series includes 3 soft doll options (different skin and hair colours and facial features), 4 different sets of outfits, and a bathtime set in which the bathtub is blue. BLUE! IKEA also offers a wooden doll bed with blue sheet and rainbow-striped cover – and listed as “related products” to the doll bed are the children’s “10-piece coffee/tea set,” “5-piece kitchen utensil set,” and “toolbelt with soft toys.”

Photo of LEKKAMRAT dolls in various outfits
from website of Kimberley Bezaire, PhD

Whether you are searching for a doll that looks like your own child, trying to find resources for your classroom or daycare, or looking for ways to promote diversity in your own home, there are definitely options available – in fact, more than I even realized when I started this post.

~ karyn

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Lottie: She may be new, but is she improved?

A good friend posted this article to my Facebook timeline the other day, asking what I thought of it:

“New doll made with body image in mind”, Toronto Star, December 12, 2012

Two “Lottie” dolls by Arklu
Toronto Star, December 12, 2012

According to the article, Arklu, the company that makes ‘Lottie dolls’ “worked with two academics to work out the exact proportions of an average healthy 9-year-old. The scaled-down dolls don’t have breasts or super skinny waists, although their heads and eyes are enlarged.”

I had skimmed the article when I first came across it and remember thinking “Meh…cute dolls, nice concept, good price, but it’s been done,” but being asked specifically for an opinion compelled me to look a little deeper and I wound up tossing and turning all night thinking about my response, which was this:

As options for young girls go, I don’t hate them. I don’t think they will do any harm (or any more harm than any other doll, but I’ll get to that) but I don’t know that they’ll do the good the creators are hoping either. I know we as a society have heaped a lot of vitriol on Barbie, but I believe she is a symptom of our warped ideal body image, not the cause. When I was a little girl playing with Barbie, I saw her as a doll, not an image of an ideal woman. I never thought I would grow up to look like Barbie…I also never thought I would grow up to live in a Dream Castle (TM) or drive a bubble-gum pink motorhome.

Barbie in her Magical Motorhome (1990)

Aside from the weird physical proportions, Barbie (bearing in mind, I haven’t actually seen any of the movie/TV tie-ins, so I’m basing this solely on the commercials and characters from when I was a kid) is actually not unempowered, as female characters go. Except for that “Math is hard! Let’s go shopping!” talking Barbie debacle, Barbie usually represents an independent and successful woman – she has been a doctor and teacher, owns her own home, car, and motorhome, and though Ken shows up occasionally, he’s generally an unnecessary add-on. Yes, there is plenty of gender stereotyping (ie. Dr. Barbie spends all her time delivering cute babies and clearly has a weakness for short skits and pink stethoscopes , but the Lottie dolls obviously have not made clear inroads there either.

Dr. Barbie with 3 Baby Dolls (1995)
Special Edition Career Collection

On the other hand, these dolls do fill a void in the market – there are lots of baby dolls and lots of grown-up dolls (Barbie), but the only in-between little girl dolls traditionally have been TV characters like Dora or Doc McStuffins, or are prohibitively expensive (American Girl dolls, china dolls) so it is nice to have an affordable option that kids can personalize and relate to. In terms of the not wearing makeup, heels or jewelry, it’s a nice hook but to me the faces still have that same “glamour” look that defines all of these giant-headed, small-bodied dolls: Huge eyes, long straight hair, and perfect skin. Conclusion of the body-image section of my comment: I don’t think that these dolls are going to solve any problems, but they aren’t really going to create any new ones either.

Putting the body image piece aside, further study of the Lottie dolls brings up several other issues for me. First, on reading her website, we see that “Lottie” is clearly not suffering from any lack of funds, since her favourite activities include “pony flag races” and walks in “English country gardens” with her (presumably pedigreed) dog, “Biscuit the Beagle.” Lottie may be shaped like the average 9-year-old girl, but she seems to enjoy a very different class of leisure activities than the average girl who will be playing with her.

Second, and this is common to the whole “fashion doll” and for the most part the “doll in general” market – where are the boys? When are we going to meet Lottie’s brother Larry, who, I don’t know, loves playing soccer with Lottie and her friends when they’re finished with their English country garden picnics and fox hunts?

And third, and this is my very biggest issue – Traditionally, dolls are white. This is a HUGE problem for non-white children. There was a study originally done in the 1940’s and then re-created in 2006 by a high school student that demonstrated that when given 2 baby dolls, one black, one white, black children (boys and girls) overwhelmingly preferred the white doll and attributed positive attributes to it (“pretty,” “nice”) and negative attributes to the black doll (“bad”), and also identified the black doll when asked “Which doll looks the most like you?”

Kiri Davis - A Girl Like Me

A Girl Like Me DVD Video Poster
© 2012 Kiri Davis

That bears repeating – the study was done first in the NINETEEN-FORTIES and repeated in TWO THOUSAND AND SIX and showed NO CHANGE in attitude. Please take 7 minutes and go and watch the extraordinarily powerful documentary by Kiri Davis. I’ll wait.

When I was about 3, Cabbage Patch Kids came out, and they were the first mainstream, popular manufacturer to actually offer a selection of black dolls.

Cabbage Patch Kids

Four Cabbage Patch Kids (1982)
©PicklesINK 2012

Now manufacturers are offering more selection when it comes to non-white dolls (or at least, black dolls – there is still very little out representing other ethnicities) but even those options only change the skin colour – they still have idealized, typically “white” features such as small, pointed noses, and long, smooth, glossy, straight hair, and these Lottie dolls are no exception (here’s that picture again). Does this look to you like the “average 9-year-old girl”?

Two “Lottie” dolls by Arklu
Toronto Star, December 12, 2012

Meteorologist Rhonda A. Lee

Consider the fact that a black meteorologist named Rhonda Lee was fired this November for responding – politely – to a viewer’s FB post saying that her short-cropped hair made her look like a “cancer patient” and she should wear a wig to avoid upsetting viewers (the viewer than continues on to say that while he is not racist, the world has “certain standerd [sic]” and asks, “if you come from a world of being poor, are you going to dress in rags?”);

News8 Anchor Jennifer Livingston

while at the same time a white news anchor, Jennifer Livingston, was hailed as a hero worldwide by responding to a letter saying that she should lose weight in order to be a better role model with a 4-minute on-air segment (she was interviewed by, among others, Ellen, Katie Couric, and Glamour magazine).

Rhonda Lee’s viewer is right – our world does have certain standards which have been set by public opinion and which are reinforced every day by, among other things, the dolls that are available for our children to play with. If Arclu wants their Lottie dolls to help to dismantle and reinvent these damaging standards, they have a little more thinking to do before they get to the heart of promoting positive self-image in the young girls (and boys) who are really at risk.

~ karyn

Do you like or loathe Barbie? Would you buy a Lottie doll?


Toddlers and Tiaras and Toys



This really, really irritates me. More than irritates me – This really makes me mad. In case you can’t zoom in enough to see, on the left we have the “Fun to Fix Gift Set” and on the right the “Little Glamour Gift Set.”

Let’s break it down: As with most baby toys, you have two options, 1. Unisex; or 2. GIRLY GIRL WITH HEARTS AND SPARKLES.

The “Fun to Fix Gift Set” comes in bright, “unisex” primary colours and is demonstrated by a unisex model baby dressed in pale green waving the toy actively.

The “Little Glamour Gift Set” makes no pretenses about being unisex: demonstrated by a baby girl in a hairband passively smiling at her “diamond” bracelet, the toys are pink and purple with a splash of turquoise and of course a GIANT SPARKLY DIAMOND. The description at www.toysrus.ca reads, “3 glam accessories for that oh-so sweet little one! Give a little glam and – just to be practical – teethable, easy-to-grasp features. Set includes Baby’s First Purse, a Diamond Ring Rattle and two teethers where fashion style meets teething comfort!” (emphases mine). There’s no need to be “practical” of course when it comes to sweet little girls, but hey, they threw that in there as a bonus; “glam” on the other hand is clearly a necessity.

I hate the idea that someone buying a gift for a baby shower walks up to an eye level display that tells them that an appropriate toy for an infant “Aged 3-18 months” is a “diamond ring rattle” and “baby’s first purse!” It’s with only a little hyperbole that I say it’s a hop, skip and a jump, followed by a slow twirl and a flash of whitened teeth in a make-up caked face at the judges, to the pageant world of our favourite train wreck of a TLC show, Toddlers and Tiaras.

The show is considered by those who watch in amused disgust to be so ridiculous that there is even an app on the website where you can “Toddlerize” yourself:

Go for the Supreme Glitz Makeover!

Go from drab to fab with big wigs, sparkly hair-wear,

faux diamonds and more! Mix and match until you’ve

created the ultimate glam-over!

There’s that “glam” again – in this case, high-lighting the over-the-top-ness of “glamming” up your toddler to compete for “Ultimate Grand Supreme” or even better, “Living Doll,” (seriously. click on the link. it’s a real thing.) with its prize of “crowns and mon-nay,” but not so funny after all when you look back at the mainstream toy encouraging you not once but twice to give a little “glam” to your 3-18 month-old.

We have tried really, really hard not to raise a Disney Princess. Ben and Molly play together with their trains, blocks, dollhouse, Playmobil, toy kitchen, dolls, and dress-up chest filled with astronaut, pirate, doctor, chef, firefighter, and fairy costumes. But you can’t necessarily fight nature, and like it or not I have one of the girliest little girls who every reigned as Princess of Girlytown – at 2 Molly insists on choosing her own clothes and 9 times out of 10 her outfit will be monochomatic bubblegum pink. (That 10th time is when all of the pink clothes are in the laundry and I won’t let her wear PJs).

But while I’m happy for her (and Ben, but that’s a whole other post) to wear as much pink and sparkles as she likes (including pink sparkly skull and crossbones nails from the Sally Hansen Salon Effects Avril Lavigne collection. Just awesome), and I don’t think there is anything inherently damaging in sparkly dress-up and accessories in and of themselves…


…I still want to make sure she knows that looks and “glam” and diamond rattles aren’t the only important thing. And I’m happy that for the most part that we’ve “come a long way, baby”

…and moved beyond a time when girls concentrated on looking pretty and waiting passively to “make a good match” or packed their bags and went proudly (and prettily) off to university to earn an M.R.S.

But products like the “Little Glamour Gift Set” remind me that we still place a heck of a lot of emphasis on how our little girls look and dress, which teaches them that that is where their true value lies, and it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon or a sociologist to tell you that that is damaging.

So I will take this as a reminder to make sure to balance my “Aww, you look so pretty!“s with a healthy dose of, “You worked so hard on that!“s, “That was such kind sharing!,”s and “Wow, what smart problem-solving, Monkey!“s.

~ karyn


Hair today, gone tomorrow.

Let’s be honest – I don’t set a particularly conventional example for my kids when it comes to hair.


©PicklesINK 2012

Which is how we’ve wound up with pictures like this:


©PicklesINK 2012

And this:


©PicklesINK 2012

So a little over a year ago when Ben said, “I wish I was a girl so I could have ponytails,” what else could I have said but, “Boy, have I got news for you!”

Around the same time as Ben and I were having this conversation, there was some media coverage of a family who were reported to be raising a genderless baby. The story ignited a “Storm” of controversy with a frankly shocking number of people suggesting that refusing to reveal the child’s biological sex to the world amounted to child abuse and that the children should be apprehended and the parents arrested(!). From the original article and the follow-up by the mother, we learn that the family consists of mom, dad, an older son who keeps his hair long and often wears dresses, a middle son about whom we don’t know very much, and gender-free baby Storm. A year ago I remember thinking, “Oh, look at those non-conformist, ultra-liberal parents encouraging their son to ignore the teasing of his peers and continue to push the gender envelope – what are they going to say when he finally has had too much and wants to cut his hair?”

Well, here I am now on the other side of that fence, and it’s not as easy as I thought! I’m finding myself amazed at what trumps what in this gender game, and Long Hair = Girl seems to top them all – which means that, dressed entirely in sports-type, blue attire (including hat and glasses), wearing dirty Thomas sneakers, and standing beside his pink-dress-bedecked sister with her hair in braids, Ben is now being taken for a girl more often than for a boy.


Tea party in the pillow fort
©PicklesINK 2012

Fortunately, Ben navigates this world like an anthropologist studying a previously unknown civilization. When the lady at the farmer’s market says, “What a smart little girl you are!” Ben replies neutrally, “I’m not a girl; I’m a boy. Why did she say I was a girl, mommy?” (Field note: The natives frequently attribute the female gender to me. Further study will be required to determine why this is. Consultation with Dr. Mommy could be enlightening.) There was a great moment last year when a repairman (in the true, 1950s sense of the word) came to fix the dishwasher – Ben was playing with a pink toy mixer and the guy said, “What are you doing playing with that? That’s women’s tools! That’s for them to use to cook us dinner with!” Ben shot him a very confused look and said, “But I’m pretending it’s a vacuum.” (Field note: This guy’s a doofus.)

On the other hand, I am really struggling with it, and I can’t really figure out WHY. People aren’t making fun of him; they’re just assuming that he is something that he is not, and I can’t figure out why that bothers me. (Field note: Maybe I need to take a page out of Ben’s book and just chill about it.)  I have far more respect for baby Storm’s parents now, having had the smallest taste of what they go through every day with the non-gender-conforming oldest child. On a practical level, the hair is also a real pain in the neck (in this case, literally) because he screams bloody murder when I brush it, so there’s a part of me that really hopes he does get tired of being mistaken for a girl and decides to cut it soon.

Ben, whose opinion is really the one that counts here though, is enjoying his ponytail and will cut his hair when he gets tired of it. And informs me that if people laugh at it, he will just ignore them. And tomorrow would like to wear a hairband like Queenie McBear in The Berenstain Bears book The In-Crowd.


©PicklesINK 2012

Addendum – July 21, 2012

…and then there are those days when you just can’t blame folks:

©PicklesINK 2012