Let Children Enjoy Childhood

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I had an unpleasant encounter with a male STEM proponent, and it’s been on my mind for days. Not because I’m anti-STEM or science. I’m definitely pro-STEM and science, and I think that boys AND GIRLS who show interest and aptitude for science and math should absolutely be encouraged to pursue those interests.

Please note that I said ENCOURAGED. I also believe that kids who want to read fiction, write stories, write poetry, draw pictures should also be encouraged to pursue their interests. Even if they want a  doll or other traditional toy for their birthday instead of a chemistry set or a microscope or a telescope.

When I was in elementary school, I read some of Rachel Carson’s work, and I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist. That lasted a couple of months until I read a book about nursing careers, and I decided that I wanted to be a nurse. Then I started writing stories. And I knew what I wanted to be was a writer.

My father and grandfather gave me a healthy interest in the outdoors: plants, animals, birds. My grandfather used to point out the constellations to me. That and the year we studied astronomy for a semester in elementary school left me with an amateur’s fascination for the skies.

I still played with dolls every day.

Dissecting frogs and giant worms in science class revolted me. I think I failed that semester. I wanted nothing to do with the class any longer. I tuned out.

I have great difficulty with math. This started in the fifth grade when I had a teacher who actively disliked the kids who didn’t “get it” right away. If you needed extra help, she had no time for you. So I often turned in blank math tests well into high school and no one tried to help. I wasn’t getting it, so I wasn’t worth anyone’s time.

What saved me was art, history, civics, and English. When I was 16 I was in a car accident caused by a drunk driver and couldn’t go to school for a month. A math teacher came to my house and tutored me after school. When I went back to school, I was put into a remedial math class. I learned the basics that I had missed in elementary and middle school. With my high grades in the arts and humanities classes, I graduated in the top third of my class.

By that time I had been interested in folklore for a couple of years, and I read everything on the folklore and religion shelves. And trashy romances. And I still collected dolls.

I attended a four year private university and majored in English: Writing Studies. I had to drop out after three semesters due to financial aid cuts. My grandmother paid for me to go to community college. I graduated with a two-year degree in Paralegal Technology.

Now there aren’t any paralegal jobs here . . . unless you’re willing to work part-time under the table. I’d rather stay at home and write.

I’m a (paid) freelance writer by day and an aspiring novelist by night. In between, I’m a darned good amateur photographer, I’m still interested in astronomy, and I developed an interest in mycology as an adult living in a house in the woods with a stunning variety of mushrooms popping up in my yard in late summer and fall. The mushrooms are what made me go out and buy a good high-end camera and that got me interested in photography.

I still collect dolls. I’ve had a couple of people get very upset with me because I’m a 44-year-old woman who collects dolls. I don’t understand that. Adults play video games, read comic books, collect comic books, collect Funkos, collect action figures. So what’s so wrong with my dolls?

I think that the doll issue is so misunderstood by people outside of the doll community that it deserves its own post, so I guess this will be a two-parter.

I’m going to end this (because I have to go write an article for an addiction recovery center that helps people stay clean after detox) with a brief anecdote about a woman my age that I met in kindergarten. After decades of wondering what happened to her after my father put me in a different school, I reconnected with her last year. She’s brilliant. She has a fascinating career in STEM and a wonderful family, and she’s still dealing with emotional issues caused by an overbearing father–almost a stage father–who decided that since she was very good at math and science, that was her life path. And he gave her no choices. And she can’t even bring herself to come back to this town to visit me because of the bad memories of her early school years. She speaks regularly about giving her children the real childhood she didn’t have.

It’s just as cruel to force a girl who finds dissection fascinating and wants a microscope for her birthday to play with dolls because science isn’t “ladylike” as it is to take the doll out of the hands of the child who loves it and hand them a chemistry set that they do not want.

My father was a bastard, but somehow he managed to strike a healthy balance in types of play and education. He taught me to play chess by the time I was in the third grade. My grandparents added to my fascination with history. I regularly drive past my grandmother’s decaying childhood home and I want to know everything about how they really lived.

I’m as well adjusted as can be expected considering those couple of awful teachers I had at crucial points in my education. But I had a great history teacher in high school and a great English teacher in middle school and I think that they saved me. They, and the high school art teacher who said “draw what you want” and gave us a variety of media, and Mrs. Briggs, the math teacher, who tutored me while understanding that I was never going to be a math teacher. But my art teacher made me believe I could be an artist, and my history teacher gave me a fascination with medieval history (one of my other casual interests is archaeology, particularly from that time period) and my English teacher told me that I could be a published author like her.

I learned about archaeology and skeletal facial reconstruction from a romantic suspense novel that I read in high school.

I want teachers like the ones who encouraged me for all children. I want the teacher who sees the girl carrying the Rachel Carson book to guide her in the direction of environmental science.

But dammit, if that girl–or boy–also loves their Monster High collection, no one should belittle her or try to make her feel ashamed for liking dolls.

I’ll try to get to part two tomorrow, but I have a lot of content to write for the addiction recovery center.

I guess writing little stories in the 2nd and 3rd grade wasn’t a waste of time, huh?

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2 thoughts on “Let Children Enjoy Childhood

  1. I love this post! I completely agree that kids should be encouraged to pursue the things that fascinate them, otherwise we’ll just have a bunch of kids who feel disconnected and unhappy. Leading to disconnected and unhappy adults. That sounds awful to me.
    Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Dear Malissa, Thank you for your positive comment. I almost didn’t publish this post because I thought I would receive a torrent of negativity. It gives me hope to know that other people feel the same as I do.

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