As a parent, you can find millions of little joys in the everyday things, as you watch your kids discover the profound beauty and untold mysteries of the world around them. But, once in a while, you can also get crushed, when you see them recognize a harsh reality of life and the world they're inheriting from us.
One of those little parental-soul-sucking moments happened to me recently, and it started with a simple drawing.
Our 6-year-old daughter loves to draw. She tells us she likes drawing more than going outside. She even knows what she wants to be when she grows up -- an author/illustrator. She's the best at drawing in the family. I remember a drawing of herself she made at age 3. It was the kind of thing a cartoonist would conjure up. Of course, I am a bit biased.
She also happens to love the Ninja Turtles. It's a family affliction I've written about before. In recent months, our two older daughters have grown out of their Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle obsession. But not our third. She still loves them, talks about them, plays with their dolls and asks to watch the show -- which has been reincarnated on Nickelodeon, after a 20-year hiatus, for another generation of kids.
One night a few weeks ago, our little drawing fiend took her art kit to the kid table in the corner and began a new masterpiece. When she was done, she didn't want to show me.
"It's just pretend," she said. "It will never happen," she added.
"What is it?"
Reluctantly, she showed me.
"I drew a girl Ninja Turtle," she said, with resignation in her voice. "But I know Ninja Turtles are all boys."
I smiled at the drawing as my heart sank.
I'm no dummy. I know there are many ways this world is unfair and cruel, to little girls and to everybody else. But, for some reason, her belief that all Ninja Turtles have to be boys hit me in the gut.
She's my third daughter. I've watched her older sisters grow up and I've worried before about what it's like for a little kid to suddenly realize the world is not entirely theirs for the taking, despite us telling them that, if they work hard enough and dream big enough, it is.
It reminded me of the time a few years ago when I was watching the Tour de France with my eldest, and she asked a simple question: "Why can't girls win this race?"
Something I never thought about, growing up as a boy surrounded by brothers, is something that's painfully clear now that I'm a dad of daughters: there are countless examples of things little girls simply aren't allowed to dream to do. It's especially true in sports.
Throwing the winning touchdown at the Super Bowl? Hitting the winning run in the World Series? Only little boys can have these dreams, even if it's not terribly realistic for most of us. And it's a profound moment for a parent when you watch that unfair reality dawn on your daughter.
Sure, there's a girls' version of baseball, but it's not the World Series. There's a women's NCAA tournament, but I've never watched it. Occasionally there's a female race car driver or a female jockey in the Kentucky Derby. And my daughters always root for them. But when I sit with my kids and watch sports, which I do a lot, with the exception of the women's World Cup, it's almost always men playing other men. They see that.
And there are many examples outside of sports, too.
We're Catholic. Every Sunday (OK, most Sundays... how about some Sundays) we attend church and watch a man lead the mass and perform the rituals of our faith. The question has been asked, why can't women be priests? I don't have a good answer, other than they just can't. One less calling for my girls to pursue, I guess.
Priests, pro football players, baseball stars, Tour de France winners and now Ninja Turtles -- the heroes my daughters cannot aspire to become add up quickly if you look around.
As parents, all we can do is be more cognizant of these messages and teach our children about the need for the serenity, the courage and the wisdom, as the saying goes. Lord knows, there's room -- and need -- for change, on these issues and others.
After the female Ninja Turtle drawing incident, I did a little research to see if the concept of a girl turtle had been broached. I discovered that in the long lifespan and many reinventions of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle franchise, there actually was a female turtle character introduced. Her name was Venus de Milo. Venus has yet to make an appearance in the latest Nickelodeon version of the series, which is all my daughter cares about. Still, there is hope.
And then, last week, another female ninja of sorts burst onto the scene. She's not a cartoon, or a turtle. But she's certainly a ninja. Her name is Kacy Catanzaro. And you can be sure my daughters gathered around the computer to cheer her on.
The world has many flaws, even more than I realized before I became a dad of daughters. But there are also a million things that are great, and awesome, and inspiring about it. This is one:
By the way, the inaugural women's Tour de France kicks off July 27th. It's called La Course, and you can be sure we will be watching.
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