An Army of Peg Princesses and Superheroes

Peg Princesses and Superheroes.

Peg Princesses and Superheroes.

During our recent afternoon of making fairies #2 reminded me of the weekend we spent making peg princesses and superheroes. We were trying to come up with something small to give her classmates at the holiday. I recalled seeing wooden peg dolls at the local crafts store. So I did a quick search and found lots of moms (unsurprisingly, I found no dads) making peg dolls (this was our model; she modeled her dolls on this page; there are beautiful examples if overly ornate for our purposes; and of course you can buy them on Etsy). These are all very nice but didn’t seem quite what I wanted. My goal was something #2 could do so we could work together on them. I was less interested in distributing gifts to her classmates than I was in spending a couple days working on a project together. So our army of peg princesses and superheroes was born.

Setup and materials—

Assembling the materials.

Assembling the materials.

We bought a couple bags of wooden peg dolls from here. I drove finishing nails into a 2×4 and cut off the heads so that we could hold the dolls as we painted them.

A finishing nail works as a holder for the dolls.

A finishing nail works as a holder for the dolls.

I then drilled a little hole in the bottom of each doll.

The hole drilled in the bottom to hold the doll on the nail.

The hole drilled in the bottom to hold the doll on the nail.

Paints and brushes came from the local arts and crafts store.


Then we had to think about how best to paint them. With a little masking tape and some forethought, you don’t have to worry about so much about the fine details the 6-year-old fingers can’t quite master. We made the princesses and superheroes in batches, sort of a peg-doll production line. I did the finish detail—e.g., faces and superhero emblems—but #2 was able to do everything else.

The assembly line of princesses and superheroes.

The assembly line of princesses and superheroes.

By the end of the first day we were about half done.

We’re half done.

We’re half done.

We returned the next day and finished them off. When they were all painted, I sprayed them with a clear coat to give them a nice sheen and to protect them from chips, stains, and water.

Our little army of peg princesses and superheroes.

Our little army of peg princesses and superheroes.

The only drawback, if there was one: when #2 told her classmates that she had made the dolls—she was quite proud of her work—they believed her. Some of the parents, however, were convinced we had purchased them—I had to reassure those parents that #2 was not lying, we had really made them.


Making fairies

The other day #2 asked me to make fairies with her. #2 quite likes making things—her busy little fingers are constantly turning discarded bits and bobs into little bundles and trinkets. When I said sure, she dashed downstairs to retrieve our “arts and crafts” box and returned. Out came the material, the thread, the yarn, the stuffing, the hot glue gun, and, after some digging around, the needles. We transformed our dining table into a fairy version of Dr. Frankenstein’s operating room without, of course, the maniacal laughter and bolt of lightning.

Over the next hour or so we cut out and arranged our fairy parts and assembled them. We compared techniques. We debated the best types and length of fairy hair. We worried about shape and size of fairy wings. We cut material and laid it out. We threaded needles and stitched bodies together and heads on bodies.

#2 opted for a muted, cream colored fairy with purple, heart-shaped wings. Thick, white hair crowned her fairy.

#2 chose a classic and subtle cream color for her fairy.

#2 chose a classic and subtle cream color for her fairy.

I thought a bright pink body would contrast nicely with light pink wings and complement crazy pink-and-white fairy hair.

Ya, I thought my fairy would prefer a pink body.

Ya, I thought my fairy would prefer a pink body.

Our fairies won’t win any arts-and-crafts awards (unlike our wooden princess and superhero dolls, which were fabulous (more on that some other time)). But we laughed and had fun. We have taken our fairies to breakfasts. They have ridden with us to school and flown into the classroom. One is lying with #2 right now in her bed.

Our fairies.

Our fairies.

As we cleaned up the mess, #2 casually remarked:

See, wasn’t it more fun to do arts and crafts with me than just to watch me play? I had more fun.

Yes. Yes, it was more fun.

Rules for Dating My …

There’s something troubling about the incessant “Rules for Dating My Daughter” memes. The fact that some of them are meant to be jokes doesn’t make them any more palatable to me—and even those intended to be jokes don’t strike me as funny.[1] Likewise, the closely related, earnest and well-intentioned posts, usually by fathers, fretting about when their infant daughters start to date seem problematic. Both cases seem grounded in fear and based on a fundamental double standard. And threats and coercion don’t seem, at least not to me, to be the most productive and mature ways to parent.

Let’s imagine for a moment a different set of rules, a set that a child gives to a father before introducing a Boy- or Girlfriend to him:

Rules a child could give to a parent

Rules a child could give to a parent

  1. I find it hard to see the references to shotguns and violence perpetrated on minors as funny. Just as I find it hard to see denying a daughter (or son) important, formative life experiences.  ↩

Slowing Down Time

Despite all the moments we parents capture with our smart phones, ours is a fool’s errand. We are powerless in the face of time’s inexorable passage, a passage that seems to speed up with each passing year. We can’t stop our children from growing up, making mistakes, moving on.

Yet I cling to each moment. I savor my time with #1 and #2. Not because I want to impede their progress, but because I can’t, and I shouldn’t. One day all too soon they will be gone—like little Jackie Papers they will come no more. No longer will their horizons and mine coincide. No longer will it be us against the world. Instead, they will have formed a new us’s looking out over new horizons.

I know our time together is slipping away. I want to stop it or at least slow it. But I can’t. It breaks my heart. All I can do is relish each moment we have together and hope they will, one day, cherish those moments.

Embracing Failure

When Stephen King received his first rejection slip, he nailed it to a wall, listened to Fats Domino’s “I’m Ready,” and “felt pretty good actually.” He was 12 or 13. He knew something that most of us have forgotten, if we ever knew it in the first place:

When you’re still too young to shave, optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure.[1]

Optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure at any age. Unfortunately, as we grow older we become more fragile rather than more resilient with respect to failure.[2] As we become more timid, we risk teaching our children through our actions (or inactions) to fear failure. We risk raising children who will lack the confidence and fortitude to overcome the many hurdles life will set up for them.

As a father, one of my goals is to convince #1 and #2 to see failure as an opportunity. Every failure offers an occasion to learn something both about what you are trying to do and about yourself. More than simply not fearing failure, I want #1 and #2 to welcome and embrace it.[3]

Failure is not an end but a promising new beginning.[4]

  1. From Stephen King’s On Writing, p. 40.  ↩

  2. For example, listen to little kids talk either in their native language or one that they are learning. They commit grammatical errors, use the wrong words, mispronounce words with reckless abandon. Contrast their behavior with that of adults learning a foreign language whose fear of making even the smallest mistake causes a sort of linguistic paralysis.
    Our fear of failure seems, at first glance, understandable. We have more invested in any project or endeavour—as adults failure is more costly and has wider reaching consequences. We have families and houses and lives that we can’t disrupt. We have bills to pay. We no longer heal (emotionally or physically) as quickly as we did as children. But there are so many ways to fail that don’t cost much—take up a new hobby (e.g., painting, drawing, piano, sewing, cooking), learn to dance or a new language, write a story and try to get it published. But put the nail in the wall first, so you have a place to impale all the rejection slips.  ↩

  3. King apparently had little difficulty embracing those early rejections, which he sacrificed on the nail in his wall: “By the time I was fourteen … the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it” (p. 41).  ↩

  4. I can’t help but hear echoes of Semisonic’s “Closing Time:” “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”  ↩

Some Dads do Diapers and …

News sites across the U.S. have picked up Lindsey Tanner’s AP article “Dads do Diapers and More, Myth Busting Survey Says,”[1] which summarizes recent National Center for Health Statistics. Unfortunately, Tanner’s summary does not link to the original survey, which provides interesting additional information about methods and other results that Tanner did not include: Fathers’ Involvement With Their Children: United States, 2006–2010. The survey’s results are not as “myth busting” as we might hope.

The survey polled fathers living with and apart from their children and asked about two groups of children, under 5 and 5–18. According to the survey, of fathers living with their children engaged in the following daily activities:

  • Transport to/from activities: 20% (with children 5–18).
  • Read: 29% (with children under 5).[2]
  • Help with homework: 30% helped their children with homework daily (for children over 5).
  • Bathe, diaper, dress: 58% (with children under 5).
  • Eat: 71% (with children under 5); 66% (with children between 5–18) (perhaps not coincidentally, 65% of these fathers talked with their children about their day).
  • Play: 81% (w/ children under 5); .
Father involvement survey not all that surprising.

Father involvement survey not all that surprising.

The survey itself, as the researchers admit, is a bit crude in how it polls fathers. What would happen to the results if fathers with more than one child reported involvement according to child? What if children were divided into finer-grained categories, e.g., 0–2, 2–4, 5–9, 10–14, 14–18 (or some other divisions that mapped onto stages of development or childcare needs, or schooling)? The survey also relies entirely on self-reporting—who knows what these numbers would look like if partners were asked about father involvement.[3]

Regardless of its limits, and despite fathers’ increasing involvement, some trends seems slow to change. Fathers still shy away from the dirty, dull, and tedious tasks such as bathing and transporting.[4] Presumably mothers pick up the slack with these quotidian tasks. Play, long a staple of father involvement, remains fathers’ favored activity.

One final statistic from the survey:
88% of fathers think they are doing a very good (44%) or at least a good (44%) job parenting. I suspect that mothers would evaluate much less favorably their own parenting.

  1. Don’t bother looking at more than one. Those same news sites not wanting to pay staff to do any extra work (or perhaps having cut staff), have all simply posted verbatim Tanner’s article. I linked to the site that was easiest to read.  ↩

  2. I regret that the survey did not ask about how often fathers of children 5–18 read to their kids, an activity that is both important and a relaxing end to the day.  ↩

  3. Mothers and fathers often see different and different amounts of labor: Parenting by Tally.  ↩

  4. Unfortunately, the survey’s results do not distinguish between fathers of children under 5 who fed their kids and those who merely ate with them. It also doesn’t indicate how many fathers of children between 5–18 cooked meals for their kids and how many merely ate with them.  ↩

Why is Parenting a “Job”?

We’ve all heard it and probably said it: “Parenting is the most important job you’ll ever have.” But is parenting a “job”? My dictionary defines “job” in a variety of ways:

job (noun)

  1. a paid position of regular employment.
  2. a task or piece of work, esp. one that is paid.
    • a responsibility or duty.
    • [ in sing. ] (informal) a difficult task.
    • [ with modifier ] (informal) a procedure to improve the appearance of something, esp. an operation involving plastic surgery.
    • (informal) a crime, esp. a robbery.

The OED entry offers interesting reading (who knew that “job” could mean excrement?). Along with the typical association of work-for-pay, most of the definitions are vaguely negative and imply some form of obligation.

We can dismiss parenting as a work-for-pay job. And while parents often feel shat upon, clearly that is not what we mean when we say “Parenting is the most important job you’ll ever have.” The way some people parent borders on criminal, but parenting, I think we can agree, is not a crime. So we are left with parenting as a difficult task or responsibility or duty or obligation.

I worry that such connotations debase and mischaracterize parenting. To be sure, it is frequently difficult but it is not a task. Taking out the garbage is a task. Wiping up vomit is a task. Walking the dog is a task. Do you love and care for your children only out a sense of duty, some obligation, some responsibility? If so, I encourage you to tell your child tonight, as you put her or him to bed, “I love you out of a sense of duty. Sweet dreams.” Or, if you prefer, “I have an obligation to love you. Sleep tight.” I worry because duties, obligations, and responsibilities are typically imposed by external authorities. Parenting should not be imposed from without.

To be sure, parenting is arduous, effortful, laborious, painful, tiring on good days and exhausting on most. It is also uncertain, risky, parlous, and costly. If you’re lucky and the stars align just right, parenting is easy and fun. If you’re lucky.

When we talk about parenting as a job we risk treating it like a job. We risk reducing it to a task, an obligation, a duty, a crime, to excrement. Parenting is not the most important job I’ll ever have because, well, I don’t consider it a job.

I parent because I love #1 and #2. Love is never a job.