How I Spent My Summer Vacation

10 Jul

There’s a lot to be said about summertime in the desert, but one thing is certain–you’ve gotta get out-of-town if you can! Our plan for escaping the 110+ degree heat this July has been to bring the kids to my hometown where we will be staying with my parents for a few weeks. Alas, the best laid plans…..

While it appeared that we traveled in the wrong direction last week, we have really been enjoying ourselves here in the Midwest. It’s always a treat to spend extended periods of time “at home” seeing family and friends, but the biggest thrill for me this trip is that my kids get to go to outdoor day camp. There is something about my little ones experiencing an outside-all-day, muggy, buggy, running-through-the-grass, picnic table, nature walk, arts-and-crafts summer, straight out of my childhood memories, that makes my heart swell.  So it goes without saying that I was the most excited person in the car when we headed to camp on that first morning.

When we arrived, the camp director greeted us in such a warm and welcoming fashion that my kids instantly felt at home.  I have to say, I was pretty surprised to see how both my 3 and 5 year-olds were ready to jump right in with new kids at a new camp in a new town…they seemed confident and curious, and I couldn’t have been more proud.

A quick, easy good-bye to my 3 year-old, and the director walked my other daughter and me over to the 5 year-olds’ meeting spot. I’m not going to say that I didn’t notice that she was the first girl to arrive, because I did. But I was hopeful that this would be a non-issue, and she would slip right into the routine as smoothly as her little sister.  However, instead of introducing my daughter to some new friends (boys), the director assured her that more girls would be coming soon. The message that got communicated here was “kids more like you will be coming soon for you to be friends with, but these folks sitting right here are not them…so just hang tight.”  And while I’m certain this was not the intention, the expectation was set that the boys and girls would not want to engage with one another (nor be expected to), and a great opportunity was missed for calling on similarities, creating common ground and celebrating uniqueness. The director could have just as easily said, “Hey everyone! This is Annie. She’s from Arizona. Has anyone ever been there?” Or, “Annie, this is Trevor. He has a little sister in your sister’s group.”

Of course the director was only trying to make my daughter feel at ease. I know I’ve made similar assumptions about who kids would most likely feel comfortable with in new situations. But is this type of guidance helpful or harmful? If Annie felt confident joining the group of boys when we walked over, this introduction probably caused her to feel otherwise. It seems like some attempts to help kids feel more comfortable may only prove to make them feel more uncomfortable. And at the end of the day, assumptions and expectations that limit friendships limit kids and rob them of opportunities for diverse experiences from which they can learn and grow.


11 Responses to “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”

  1. Beth July 11, 2012 at 8:35 pm #

    My daughter’s pre-k class is overwhelmingly girls. On some days, 1 boy was in a class with 6 girls. I asked my daughter about this – did she play with the boy? did he play with the girls? She said not really. So does the group separation start with the kids and their play preferences or with the parents / teachers? I’m not sure. I felt sorry for the boy who was not into all the mommy pretend and barbie dress-up activities that the girls focused on.

    • Hillary Manaster July 13, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

      You raise some really interesting questions. I don’t really think that play preferences are hard-wired, but I do believe that they are heavily influenced by socialization. And as far as segregation between the sexes goes and where that all begins….there are a few things at work there. For one, kids have a tendency to sort the world and themselves into logical categories in order to make sense of things – a very normal part of their cognitive development. The conclusions kids draw about what constitutes a logical category and what that category means depends a lot on how much that category is already being highlighted within the social environment. When the social environment is organized to a great degree by gender then that’s how kids are going to self-sort themselves.

  2. morecompassion July 13, 2012 at 9:13 am #

    I love that you notice this stuff and find it bothersome. It is so refreshing! Man alive, I wish you could sit in a family dinner with me one night and see how my in-laws completely gloss over this stuff. Sometimes I’m just at such a loss for how to point this stuff out.

    • Hillary Manaster July 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

      It’s hard to notice if you don’t notice….but it’s really hard *not *to notice once you do. Ya know what I mean 😉

  3. Ann July 13, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    Did you say anything?

    • Hillary Manaster July 13, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

      I didn’t say anything to the director, but I began to introduce Annie to some of the kids – trying to find somethings in common (one kid had the same name as her cousin, I think I asked another about swimming…). The director was really only trying to be helpful. It’s tricky, you know? Would you have said anything or left it alone?

      • Ann July 13, 2012 at 12:32 pm #

        Well I’m only 14, so not a parent yet obviously, but… if it had been my little cousin? I guess I would have done what you did. But secretly, inside, I would have fantasized about going into full-on feminist schpiel mode and giving that director a piece of my mind. 🙂

      • Hillary Manaster July 13, 2012 at 1:37 pm #

        So great to have your perspective here 🙂

      • Ann July 13, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

        Thank you! I saw your article on Pigtail Pals Ballcap Buddies’ facebook page, so I came on over and loved it… thanks for your perspective!

  4. Nina Badzin July 14, 2012 at 11:37 am #

    I agree with the person above who said you are really good at noticing these things. And like you responded, I’m sure it’s hard NOT to notice once it’s on your radar.

    Like all gender issues, this one is tricky. I DO think some generalizations exist for reason–for the element of truth. Of course it’s not true that ALL girls will only play with girls and all boys only with boys, but I also don’t think it’s true that if we were completely hands off from the get-go about this that everyone would just play together in all cases. Did that make any sense? I totally agree though that in this particular case, if your daughter had any inkling to play with those boys, it would have been squashed with that comment.

    My experience–I never really liked playing with boys! Not sure why/when this started, but I was always a girls’ girl. Never had lots of guys friends. Actually, I think I was kind of self-conscious about that in high school.

    Hmmm . . . I might smell a blog post coming on . . .

    • Hillary Manaster July 17, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

      You make some really great points Nina. Left to their own devices kids would likely sort themselves into groups – and probably by gender. Gender is so salient for kids (even very little kids), and it’s often a “go to” category for little ones as they sift through all the information in their environment – sorting things and sorting people. It makes sense that kids would develop a strong affiliation to their “own group” and all things that they deem to belong to that group. So you’re totally right – being hands off would not necessarily lead kids to mix-it-up on their own. But how we choose to guide or direct kids does impact this divide. And it’s not to say that spending time in same gender peer groups is a bad thing -it’s not. However, when boys and girls grow-up spending little time together and seeing each other as being very different it’s no wonder that many report the same sentiment you shared of being self-conscious or uncomfortable when they do begin to be interested in engaging one another socially.

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