04/10/2015 02:07 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Simple Is Better, or Spiderman Does Cry

by guest blogger Renee James, humorist and blogger

A few months ago, I wrote about my newly adopted philosophy of life: "Nothing Is Easy." At this point, I'd like to add a corollary: "Simple Is Better." Given a choice between an overwrought, tortured approach to a problem, or a direct, hands-on solution, simple is better.

I confirmed this after reading about how one Norwegian woman addressed a problem with her 3-year-old son. But first, a trip down memory lane...

My husband and I never had one conversation about how we would address "gender neutrality" when it came to raising our sons. Not one. Maybe you disagree and believe that having that discussion is vital. Certainly your prerogative.

We did this instead: We both worked outside the home, me in a full-time position with an annual salary (and benefits), he as a freelancer with an ever-changing schedule and regular (but not scheduled) paydays. Between us, we covered our bills, saved for the future, contributed to some charities, and splurged on a few small luxuries from time to time. Between us, we also did the following: laundry, cooking, yard work, snow shoveling, grocery shopping, family finances, and home-improvement projects. We weren't groundbreakers, believe me. Remember my corollary? The simplest approach to our busy lives was to share these tasks.

Oh, and one more thing: Between us, we raised our kids. From babyhood onward, that means our sons observed the following on a regular basis: Daddy cooking, doing the laundry, and grocery shopping; Mommy paying the bills, shoveling snow, and sanding drywall. (They saw just the opposite, too.) Sometimes Daddy handled the pediatrician appointments; sometimes Mommy met with the accountant. We both changed thousands of diapers and cared for upset stomachs and soothed sore throats. (Early on, with three kids under the age of 2, we had to--we were outnumbered.)

We were "agenda free" regarding our children's interests. When they were young, they loved Littlest Pet Shop as much as they loved Legos. They participated in football, soccer, basketball, and track. One of them is still a pretty impressive runner, and they all still enjoy getting friends together for touch football at midnight whenever everyone is "home." They took tennis lessons and art and music lessons. They play something like eight instruments among them, and have gorgeous tenor voices.

As parents, we were a team that worked for the benefit of the team. On any given day, whoever made it home first started dinner. Whoever was home when it snowed started shoveling. I can't remember how we sorted out who sanded the drywall.

So let's get back to Norway. Cartoonist Linnea Johansson's 3-year-old son was holding back tears one day because, he said, "Spiderman doesn't cry."* Ms. Johansson promptly created a coloring book she titled "Super Soft Heroes," which depicts various strong men in scenes that highlight their "soft" sides. (Her next project is titled "Super Strong Princesses.")

The images show male superheroes in various situations: baking cookies, grocery shopping, dancing, being serenaded by a woman, petting a kitten, and going to the bathroom. Yes, Spiderman is sitting on a toilet with his Spidergirl daughter sitting on one beside him. Whatever. Why this is his "soft" side is beyond me. I can't really explain a lot of these except to say, "What?"...

Isn't this exactly what the problem is? This whole situation reminds me of that Dan Hicks song, "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?" I'm pretty sure that one way to keep gender roles alive and well--or alive and debilitating--is to keep talking about how we need to keep talking about gender roles. At this point, even Gloria Steinem has to be shedding a tear.

Here's an idea: Stop.

I'd like everyone raising children to quit talking about gender roles for one year, and let's see where we land. No, I'm not at all sure it will make a difference, but I do know this: The Mister and I didn't sit down with our sons one day and say "Blah, blah...'gender roles'...blah, blah...'equality'...blah, blah...'are just as capable'...blah, blah...'empowerment.'" We just did what needed doing day by day. It became our life. And--surprise!--our sons seem to have survived this madcap experiment in child rearing just fine.

One of my favorite quotes is this: "Sharing my tears and tenderness is a risky and courageous act of love." I've seen my husband tear up; I've seen him cry. Fun fact: So have his sons. If Linnea wants to share the idea of overwhelming human emotions with her son and situations that prompt tears, may I suggest the following movies when the time is right: Dumbo, Old Yeller, The Princess Bride, Rudy, Field of Dreams, Brian's Song, Schindler's List, Life Is Beautiful, Platoon, and Terms of Endearment? Read some of your favorite novels aloud with your son. Read how Reverend Sykes admonishes Miss Jean Louise/Scout to stand because "her father is passing." Read John Grogan's last moments with and final words to his beloved pet: "Marley, you are a great dog." For God's sake, read the description of a re-born Ebenezer Scrooge: "He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew." There are millions of images, words, sounds, and experiences that move all humans to tears.

I suppose one coloring book with one well-intentioned message can't hurt, but then again, maybe it can.

* For the record, Spiderman does cry; so does Superman. He cries in "All-Star Superman" (at the loss of his parents); in "Red Son" (realizing he's to blame), and in "The Imperial War" (because of the 7 million people in Kansas he couldn't save). He is also crying on the cover of "Crisis on Two Worlds."

Renee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, Pennsylvania, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists' Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates--and broods about--life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, "Really? You're kidding me, right?" (or wants to, anyway), and she welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.

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