Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What Happens On The Playground...

This morning’s talk shows were all abuzz with the news of a recent J. Crew ad in which the young son of one of the company’s executives is pictured sporting pink toenail polish along with the comfy cotton clothes that have made the brand so popular. Apparently, the ad has sparked tons of controversy, with a Fox News commentator saying that the parent’s decision to allow the boy to wear toenail polish could result in years of therapy for the child.

After I got over my initial disgust that major network news programs were covering this story, I thought about a recent outing with my 11-month-old daughter. In our neighborhood, which rightly claims more strollers than cars, the playground was the place to be on the first freakishly warm day of the season. My little girl squealed with delight as we approached a group of children playing on the miniature monkey bars. The moment I freed her from her stroller, she wobbled over to the group to join in on the fun.

She received a warmhearted reception and was invited to participate in a game of “Touch My Face.” The parents formed a protective barrier around the tots, and secretly hoped the fun didn’t result in their child catching some annoying bug that required a doctor’s visit and antibiotics. But my daughter and her tiny playmates were oblivious to our discomfort and continued putting their grimy little fingers in each other’s eyes, noses and ears. At one point, I noticed my daughter with a little boy’s fingers in her mouth. If her father had been there, he would have locked her in her room until her thirtieth birthday. It didn’t matter to these new playground pals that their group was as diverse as the UN. All that mattered was that everyone was at their eye level and babbled the same peculiar syllables.

But when do things change for us? When do we lose the innocence we have when our lives are scheduled around our nap times? What makes us start noticing our differences and judging each other for them? Eventually these kids will realize that among their group one of them is a Jewish boy, another has an African-American mother and a Puerto Rican father and another is being raised by gay parents. But hopefully by then it won’t matter.

My daughter’s world is already very different from the world her father and I grew up in. She is living among people of all different faiths, sexual orientations and socioeconomic backgrounds. Hopefully she will even call some of these people her friends, without giving much thought to what makes them different.

In my opinion, the problem with this news story is not with J. Crew or the model’s parents for letting him have his toenails painted pink, but with the rest of us for caring. Kids don't think about the world as gay and straight or black and white until we teach them to. Rather than criticize the mother for letting her son play with her polish, let’s give her credit for the fact that she is actually spending quality time with him. As far as I know, there are no studies that link toenail polish with sexual orientation. But if there are, does it really matter?

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