I’ve been buying a lot of books for babies lately.
Many of my closest friends have begun reproducing which means our social calendar has seen an influx of birthdays for people newly arrived on the planet. Since we don’t have children, and I haven’t had a lot of interactions with tiny humans throughout my life, I’m not quite sure how to buy gifts for them.
Babies grow so fast that clothes seem incredibly temporary and I don’t know really know anything about toys. I know play is fundamental for the development of children but I don’t know which toys foster the right kind of play. I also want to buy something more meaningful that will nurture mental and emotional development.
Reading books, developing an appreciation and enjoyment of them feels more critical than ever for children. They are a single idea, without motion or advertisements, presented for you to consume at your leisure. The ability to focus on a book is so crucial in a world inundated with screens projecting ever more kinetic distraction. But I didn’t really know what kind of books to buy. I wanted to find something that taught values or morals. Something my friends could read to their kids at night to hopefully end the day with a life lesson.
I feel this profound need to be the family friend who gives meaningful gifts, to be a kind of conduit of personal growth. And I realize that is ridiculous when considering I am giving gifts to children who can’t do much more yet than eat, poop, and giggle. So who knows what will actually resonate? But I want to at least give something positive to consider.
So I went to the bookstore. I was prepared to be overwhelmed by choices but my decision was much easier. Two books sitting next to each other on the top shelf called out to me.
Baby’s Big World: Mindfulness
My First Book of Feminism (For Boys)
I bought them both. And here is why.
I don’t think it is ever too early to teach mindfulness or equality. We operate in a world that has a shocking ability to passively impact how we act and make decisions. The ability to understand and control our emotions affects every single thing we do in our life. Mindfulness isn’t some hippy-dippy concept, it is a valuable and useful tool that allows one to pay attention to, and be present in, the moment. The ability to process emotions and pause before reacting is something our society is decidedly lacking in. Myself included.
When it comes to Feminism I have seen a wealth of books directed at little girls recently, books highlighting successful, and often overlooked, females. This is wonderful. I’ve even thought about giving these books as gifts to some of the little boys we’ve had to buy gifts for. Boys need to understand and value the contributions of women beyond the passing headlines of Women’s History Month. Boys need to understand they can have female role models as well.
In this way, they can internalize rational and holistic views on our world. What we have done for boys has been insufficient. We are aware of gender inequality. But awareness isn’t enough. The World Economic Forum recently released a report stating the pay gap between men and women will close in 202 years. And while the pay gap isn’t the only indicator of gender inequality, it is a very important one. It is a clear indicator our efforts thus far haven’t been enough.
Which means we need to do some things differently.
I watched “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” recently, the documentary about Mr. Rogers. I was struck by how prescient his vision was as well as how committed he was to his mission. He seemed to understand, better than anybody, how children, regardless of age, comprehend and internalize their experiences. How their limited language was often so precise at describing their feelings.
The documentary talks about a point in time when Fred Rogers felt they had covered every issue and there wasn’t much left to say. But he soon realized that was not the case. And after rebooting the show it went on to air for decades more. The lesson here is clear; we can always do more. From a very early age, children are shaping their world-view and having it shaped for them. They need a safe place to grow and learn and understand. We can try to shelter our children from the world, but it will find them one way or another.
It might seem like a one-year-old is too young to be reading to about mindfulness and gender equality… but why? We can establish behaviors and mentalities in our young boys so they see equality, not as something to strive for, but as something to maintain. We can help them realize their role in it. We can help them become advocates and actors in the process.
We can make it such that mindfulness and feminism exist not only in books for children but in our everyday lives.
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