The Kiddy Pool: The Politics of Play

Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture. 

Where some folks see a cardboard box for the recycling truck, I see an opportunity. Why would I drop hundreds of dollars on play structures when the boxes from a chair and a lawn mower become tunnels and houses and sailboats with a little imagination? Sure, that philosophy explains why I keep finding kidney beans in the living room (I made bean bags; my daughter made “soup” and a bean train). It justifies the hint of glitter that coats the kitchen floor…long story. My kid’s creativity astounds me on a daily basis—and I don’t think she’s unique in that respect. Children simply see the world in different ways, and their fresh perspectives remind us that, really, cows and Dalmatians do look kinda similar.

So while the pundits and psychologists share their own issues about The Breast Milk Baby, I just find the doll dull. The sweet babe comes with a halter top with flowers to symbolize breasts; draw the doll toward the flowers, and the baby makes sucking noises as if it were nursing. You can imagine the controversy—a doll that embodies all the mommy wars stuff about which way is The Only healthy/practical/morally superior way to nourish a child. I’m not interested in those issues here. Children are active purveyors of culture and keen observers; they mimic what they see, be it breast or bottle. I believe dolls can influence children significantly, but I also believe anyone who wants to change the baby-feeding culture of this country can’t rely on The Breast Milk Baby for much help.

I’m guessing that a lot of the kids who get this doll will use it in hilarious and unexpected ways. Maybe a bunch of children will get together and stage a nurse-in with their baby dolls. Maybe they’ll shower the dolls in dried beans and yell “Soup! Yum Yum Yum!” Maybe they’ll just take the dolls’ clothes off. I admit I stole those last two examples from my daughter’s repertoire. Anyone seriously invested in increasing breastfeeding rates in this country should provide education and support for parents, not expensive, didactic dolls that suck the fun out of playing pretend. Dolls are supposed to be about play—not politics.

About Erin Wyble Newcomb

Erin Wyble Newcomb earned her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and Women's Studies from Penn State University. In addition to parenting her daughters, running marathons, and making things with glitter, she teaches in the English Department at SUNY New Paltz. Follow Erin on Twitter @ErinWyble or at http://phdmama.com/.


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