On RJ’s bookshelf / September 2015 / 4 months +

20150908200412There’s nothing quite like the fresh scent of ink on paper and the rough caress of your finger turning a page. Old-fashioned books seem almost a novelty in this digital age, but as far as children are concerned, my bibliophile husband and I agree – print trumps pixels, every time.

There are many reasons to read to your child, not least being the sheer pleasure of curling up with a good book and a snuggly warm body to enjoy audible literature. At this stage, RJ is more interested in swiping at the pages and stuffing the book corners into her mouth. But she’ll get the hang of it soon enough.

I was surprised by the ingenuity of children’s books nowadays. It’s a new breed of board books with sticky tabs, magnets, stickers, pop-ups and other fancy bells and whistles. Heck, I’m practically buying them for myself, not baby!

Here’s three of RJ’s current favorite books.

20150908062618 (2) Curious George: My Growing World

A real gem we found at the Big Bad Wolf book fair, this board book folds out to become a measuring chart AND a story book. It even has a helpful record section to keep track of baby’s growth. Of course, i’m a sucker for such multi-tasking items. RJ’s favorite part of this book is the mirror, which she spends incessant time gazing at everyday.

I had to fold it up because it's too long to fit into the shot
I had to fold it up because it’s too long to fit into the shot
Cute stickers and a Record section to track baby's growth. I'm sold!
Cute stickers and a nifty Record section to track baby’s growth. I’m sold!

20150908062614 (1) Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes

We scored this classic for cheap, there seem to be many variants popping up at various books sales in KL (Book Excess, Times, MPH). I chose this version because I liked that there were some rarer rhymes inside.

The box set comes with three illustrated books inside: playtime rhymes, bedtime rhymes, and action rhymes. Each page has vibrant drawings that bring the classic nursery rhymes to life.

The bedtime rhymes group together a few simple favorites with good rhyme and metre to lull your little one into slumber. Playtime rhymes are more fun and the action rhymes have some instructions included so you and your child can act them out.

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Expect to see old ones like “ring a ring of roses”, “row, row, row your boat”, and “pussy cat, pussy cat, where have you been”? There are some really odd ones which I’ve never heard before. Here’s one I really liked from the book, which almost seem like a tongue-twister.

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[ Aside: I’ve come to realise the violence, misogyny, racism, social segregation, etc in fairy tales and nursery rhymes, something I never noticed before. Still, I think i’ll let RJ read the stories and make up her own mind about it. ]

20150908062619 Animals Go

Of course, which baby’s childhood isn’t full of safari animals? Our venerable soft toy collection is practically a mini zoo (well, only 4 animals counts as mini, right?) and we had once thought of a gender-neutral animal-themed nursery back in the hazy days of early pregnancy.

RJ loves this book chiefly because the animals have 3D ridges for her to run her curious little fingers over. The high contrast in the colors and large, quirky illustrations are great to hold the little one’s attention. Each page has a close-up detail shot as well as a portrait with a verb describing the animal.

RJ's favorite page - the ladybug (or do you call it ladybird?)
RJ’s favorite page – the ladybug (or do you call it ladybird?)
My favorite page is this gorgeous peacock. Eye-popping details on the fan.
My favorite page is this gorgeous peacock. Eye-popping details on the fan.

Showing these animals to RJ is one of our ways to teach her about nature, a topic close to our hearts.

Since Daniel’s degree is in ecology and biodiversity, we often talk to RJ about animals, plants, and the ecosystem. During our evening walks, he would point out shrubs to her, let her feel the texture of the leaves, and explain about the process of photosynthesis.

When she’s bigger, we’ll let her collect the leaves and paste them in a scrapbook. She can write their names like a proper field experiment. Can’t wait for RJ to be old enough to read more interesting books. We hope she’ll grow up to love books as much as we do. Until then, we’ll keep reading to her. (Sometimes, even an Ikea catalogue will do…)

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Will post more about other books that we purchased for RJ, in the meantime, here’s some book-related links:

What are some of your children’s favorite books? Share with us.

Much ado about a tutu

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Who cares about tutus!

It was RJ’s first time wearing the t-shirt tutu dress that cousin A gave from Singapore, and her eyes radiated indifference at the frilly, flamingo-colored garment. A passing stranger spotted the baby over my shoulder and exclaimed,  “oh, what a cute baby. Boy or girl?”

*insert appropriate emoticon here*

All dressed up and nowhere to go

Now I am by no means a “girly” kind of mother, I am at best ambivalent about fancy (though admittedly, so darn cute) clothing for babies, which they will outgrow in a matter of weeks.

People usually give two different types of reactions when I tell them I have not purchase any item of clothing for RJ since she was born.

(a) What, none at all? How could you resist, they are so cute! (yes they are)

(b) way to go. there’s no point buying clothes, kids grow so fast. (yes, they do)

Maybe when she’s older I’ll be really excited about getting her hairclips, tights and matching shoes. Right now, I think she’s too young to notice. So the hand-me-downs and gifts from friends will do just fine. In fact I think there’s enough of them to last til she’s a year old!

She hates the inevitable moment after her bath when we put on her clothes over her (slightly large) head. The prettier the dress, the harder it is to put it on! The shrieks and tears are hardly worth the “reward” of the cute visual effect.I suspect nice clothes are more for the parents’ enjoyment than anything else. My own mother can still remember and is able to describe in minute detail the dresses I used to wear as a baby, three decades later!

But I digress.

Clothing = gender identity?

Despite my misgivings about overly feminising my baby girls’ clothes, I must admit it does irk me a tiny bit when asked if she’s a boy or girl.

I’m not sure if parents of boys feel the same way. Maybe it’s “worse” for a boy to be mistaken for a girl, but this assumption seems to smack of gender bias.

Where did we get the notion that gender specific behaviour should be prescribed from infancy? Not only do we dress our tiny tots in mini versions of adult clothes which deliberately highlight their gender, we go one step further by telling them how to behave “appropriately”.

I find this particularly true for girls.

“Shame shame, don’t pull up your dress!”
“Close your legs when you sit, don’t be such a tomboy…”
“Don’t climb and run around so much, you’re a girl!”

We make such pronouncements to baby girls even two or three months old who are hardly capable of controlling their limbs, let alone be cognisant of societal gender norms.

I caught myself myself such statements once or twice, before stopping and reflecting on my choice of words. I asked myself, by speaking to RJ this way, what message I was sending her? What mindsets was I subconsciously passing on to her?

At this age, she is learning to develop gross motor reflexes. Much as we want to encourage good manners and form graceful habits, that can come later.

So I will strive to focus on building confidence, competency and allow room for the process of learning and failing.

What does “you’re a girl” actually mean?

If we are so keen on writing the gender narrative, we may end up restricting our children’s natural aptitude and curiosity.

What if Jimmy Choo’s parents had told him not to play with shoes or that fashion was “for girls”?

What if Marie Curie’s teachers had told her not to bother studying science because “It’s a boy’s subject”?

What if my parents had told me not to study law because they deemed it not a suitable career for my gender?

Thankfully, they didn’t. My father demonstrated car repair, carpentry and plumbing to both my brother and I when we were growing up. Although I never showed much aptitude for these pursuits, I’m glad my parents didn’t confine me to playing masak masak with Barbie dolls.

In fact, I only owned one doll toy, which my brother helpfully decapitated. Yep, I grew up playing with the boys and joining in with their games, rough-housing and all.

When I was in my early tweens I went through a phase where I loved wearing baseball caps and vests (hey, this was the 90s!),  no wonder I was mistaken for a boy occasionally.

No harm done, I’m still a girl, no gender confusion there. Eventually I grew up and discovered dresses, heels and other trappings / perks of feminity.

Fast forward 20 years.

I don’t feel offended if someone mistakes my daughter for a boy, it just makes me raise my eyebrows. Why judge a baby by its clothing or gender? In the same vein, I tend to bristle inside if someone asked if I’m a Chinese.  Ethnic pride aside, I wonder, why should my race matter to a stranger?

I just don’t want RJ to think she can’t do anything because she’s a girl. I want her to be brave to explore and learn and struggle on her own terms. If she fails at anything (and she will), let it be not for want of trying, or from being restricted before she even started.

OK, so I’m making too big a deal out of a small article of clothing. The inevitable boy / girl guessing game is probably the most instinctive question to strike up conversation. Truth be told, you can’t really tell at first glance, because young babies look so androgynous with their sparse hair, unformed physical features and generic baby rompers.

Anyway, back to the less observant auntie whose question sparked this post. She came closer and realised what RJ was wearing. “Oh, pink. She’s a girl. Sorry.” Curiosity satisfied, she then turned away. End of conversation.