"Girls' toys teach empathy," an acquaintance said. "There's role playing and theater, in girls' toys." I can't recall what she said boys' taught, but I can make that up on my own. Building, problem solving, engineering. This is a serious generalization, but I later looked at my son's favorite toys. I saw trains and track, vehicles of all kids, blocks, puzzles, crayons (which are often called on as building materials), and small animal figurines that graced all constructions. And last, of all things, Beren loves bungee cords. They can connect nearly anything.
The set of dolls, representing a family, and stuffed animals were largely left alone. A doll from my childhood, 'Jenny', was dragged about by her hair. Again, not to generalize or parody our life of play, we play with ribbons, buttons, and fabric scraps. We play with the kitchen set and go "shopping" in the pantry. Beren is a fantastic help in the kitchen. He likes to participate and learn, and there's a bit of engineering to do in the kitchen, not to mention Jared spends a lot of time in the kitchen, too.
When I animated the dolls and stuffed animals, they became interesting. No, Beren did not put his animals to sleep, gently covering them as my friends' daughters did. Not on his own. So, I began to play act situations with stuffed animals and dolls. It's something that I did before - animals eating, animals going for a ride. But, a friend reminded me to use this theater play to reenact difficult situations, real life experiences. Panda bear scraped his knee and is nervous to climb high again. Monkey didn't like when Momma Monkey and Papa Monkey were upset and angry.
And then, suddenly, not because of my theater play, but because Beren was ready, he began to play with his stuffed animals. He's not putting them to bed, but they do have adventures. He's builds them nests. Momma Monkey and the baby monkeys are always together.
I must admit that I like building with blocks and making bamboo forts, too. I loved playing with the boys on our school's playground, an expanse of blacktop. Just blacktop with a couple hopscotch sets painted on it.
Gabriel and Shawn, fellow second graders at Franklin Elementary School in Rahway, were my companions. We roved the expanse, hemmed just by chainlink fence and brick school halls The blacktop expanse was endless. We collected clear and blue plastic beads that had burst from someone's necklace. Our treasures.
Sometimes they seemed so much more adventurous than the girls. I also loved my dolls, loved my hours and hours with my dolls, especially my Barbies.
And then, we moved to Hunterdon. Relations were tougher. Boys were not interested in girls, not for playground treasure hunting. Third graders are not second graders. Just as a two year old shifts to three, and is no longer a baby, second to third graders are shaking loose some bits of childhood. My companions became girls. We roamed the woods, hemmed by nothing but our occasional fears.
I still played with dolls, but they found their home in a large storage room. They'd been ousted from my bedroom as I shifted from seven to eight and nine years old. But still, I spent hours playing dolls, alone, now enacting ever confusing bits of information that found their way to my ears and heart, from television, books, and careful observation.