Advent-ures

Christmas is one of my favourite times of year, not because I’m particularly religious—in fact, I’m not religious at all—but because I love the trappings of the season, many of which date back to pre-Christian times. I adore the tree and the twinkle lights, the decorations, even the snow on the ground for one day of my life. And of course, the presents. I’ve never been too proud to say that I like getting presents as much as giving them, and if you know anything about me at all, you’ll know that the Jehovah’s Witnesses can come to my house as many times as they like, but until they lift their weird-ass moratorium on getting gifts, they will never own my eternal soul. But the one concession I make in terms of the more heavily Christian aspect of the holiday season is the Advent calendar. Every year, I buy several different kinds for Ken and Kate. The current favourites are Lego for Ken and Lego Friends for Kate. For a treatise on Lego and sexism, please feel free to go to My Week 266: Toys for Girls and Boys; luckily, Ken and Kate have no issues with ‘girl’ vs. boy’ toys and Ken’s Lego snowman is holding a pink and purple boombox decorated with hearts, while Kate’s Lego girl figure is wielding a sword (and why there’s even a sword in an Lego Advent calendar is a mystery for another day). I also got them your standard Lindt chocolate calendars, one of which I had also purchased for myself but then gave away to my nephew, leaving me sans Advent-ure.

And you’d think that SOMEONE in my house would be like, ‘Oh poor you—here, let me buy you an Advent calendar of your own so that you can join in the fun’ but alas, that did not happen. What did happen is that, hopes dashed, I went out at the last minute to get one for my own damn self, but all they had left were Reese’s Peanut Butter calendars. At first read, I’m sure you’re thinking, ‘Why, that’s not so bad’ but let me assure you that after last year’s Reese’s fiasco, I was none too pleased. Let me explain:

There are 24 doors on an Advent calendar, one for every day from December 1st to December 24th. Every door on the Reese’s calendar is exactly the same size, with the exception of December 24th, which is HUGE. So every day last year, while Ken and Kate were oohing and ahhing over the adorable Lego, or the assorted Lindt chocolates (balls, bells, bars, teddy bears), I extracted a very small, very miniature peanut butter cup from my calendar. But the last window was so big that I consoled myself: ‘It’s going to be the BIG CUP. Maybe even the one stuffed with Reese’s Pieces!’ I mean, it had to be, right? There had to be a pay-off at the end that made the tiny cups, barely a morsel in the mouth, and all the waiting, worthwhile. Because part of the discipline of the Advent calendar is NOT ripping the whole thing open and eating all the chocolate at once—it’s having ONE each day no matter how bad your chocolate craving is. So every time I thought of skipping ahead, even by one day, I would remember the BIG CUP waiting, and I would go have a glass of wine instead. Then at long last, it was Christmas Eve, the day when I could finally reveal my Big Cup and gloat a bit while Ken and Kate were nibbling on their Lindt bunnies. I pulled back the giant cardboard window and guess what was in there?  Inset into a much smaller container within the giant window was a very small Reese’s ‘praline’ cup. A tiny  f*cking PRALINE CUP?! A month of waiting for that? I’ve been disappointed many times in my life, but this one made the top ten.

(Slight tangent: I was also very disappointed two days ago when Kate, Ken, and I finally finished the very complex 500 piece jigsaw puzzle we were working on as a family, only to discover, as I had indeed suspected, that Atlas had eaten several of the pieces, and Mexico City was looking very hole-y. Atlas defended himself by claiming that he was only trying to help, but undermined his own defence by whispering, “They were so delicious.”)

At any rate, I’ve made my Reese’s Peace with being deprived yet again of the Big Cup. And I’ve already bought the Lego Advent Calendars for next year and hidden them in the fireplace. And before you think I burned them in a fit of pique, let me explain that when we moved into our house, the previous owner privately called me over to the elaborate fireplace surround they had constructed, and pulled down what looked like a decorative panel to reveal a hidden compartment. I’ve used it ever since to hide presents, although it’s a bit too warm for chocolate. And then two days ago, Kate was assembling her most recent Lego Advent toy:

Kate: This Lego cake is adorable! I hope there’s one just like it in next year’s calendar!
Me: Who can say?
Kate: I’ll go look—it probably shows it on the box.
Me: What box?
Kate: The one in the fireplace.
Me: What are you talking about?
Kate: Your secret hiding spot. Behind the gold panel. Come on, Mom, I’ve known about that for years.

And now I’ve lost my secret hiding spot. Imagine my disappointment.

Find the secret compartment

My Week 266: Toys For Girls And Boys

So a couple of weeks ago, I was talking to Leslie, one of the “train gang ladies”, which makes us sound a lot more badass than we actually are, but really means that we all just take the train every day and stand around chatting about which train car attendant is the cutest, or meanest. Anyway, Leslie is really into Harry Potter and she told me that Chapters had their Harry Potter Lego Advent calendars for sale. And I was super-excited because I love Harry Potter. I don’t particularly like Lego myself, having realized a very long time ago that, while it’s great fun to put together, what the f*ck do you do with it afterwards? It just sits on a shelf collecting dust and if you try to play with it, it breaks into tiny pieces that you will inevitably step on. But the Advent calendar is a tiny spark of daily fun, and later, I can roleplay scenes from the Harry Potter movies for Titus. With the Lego figures. Obviously.

But it reminded me of the year that I forgot to order our Lego Advent Calendar. It was close to the beginning of December and all the good ones were sold out so I was getting panicky, but one night I was on our local Buy and Sell group and someone had a new Lego Advent Calendar for sale. I was immediately all over it. “But”, the woman cautioned, “it’s GIRL LEGO.”

I was like “So? What difference does it make?” and I bought it. Unfortunately, I was misled by my own naiveté, which had caused me to envision a bulldozer driven by a yellow lady Lego instead of a yellow man Lego. No, gentle reader, the difference was much bigger than that. I knew it when I saw the title on the box. It said Lego Friends; the “i” was DOTTED WITH A HEART, and I was immediately infuriated. Here’s what I bought. Two female dolls, and their little doll house. The “Lego” figures looked like Polly Pockets, or miniature Barbies, NOT those awesome Lego guys with the pointy heads you can put helmets and sh*t on. These girls apparently lived together and liked to cook in their kitchen with the pink blender and purple mixing bowl that came with the kit. They had a pink and purple couch, a pink and purple toboggan, pink presents, and a white kitty cat who was wearing a purple collar with a pink heart on it. And the worst part was that virtually nothing needed to be assembled. I could forgive the colour scheme (personally I LOVE the colour purple) and the cutesy hearts, because assembly is the great equalizer. However, Lego seemed to think that girls are too clumsy or stupid to put things together the way boys can, so almost everything was preassembled for them. Anyway, I was shocked that in the 21st century, this kind of blatant sexism still exists, that according to Lego, all girls like hearts, the colours purple and pink exclusively, kitty cats, and cooking, and have trouble with manual dexterity. But on the box, there’s a warning that the kit isn’t suitable for children under 3—Lego claims it’s because of a choking hazard, but I think this just gives all of us a chance to make sure our little girls play with lots of regular “boy” Lego before they turn three and have to be exposed to the ridiculous world of Lego stereotypes. Then again, when I examined the scene on the box more closely, the two girls were obviously living together, cosying up on the couch to exchange pink presents, and were planning to host a dinner party with their kitty. Could Lego, in an extremely subtle and subversive way, have created the first Lego Lesbian Couple? Maybe I was wrong about Lego after all.

But then I started to do a little more investigating and realized that, unless Lego had created an entire COLONY of queer women, they were just plain old sexist. Case in point, the Lego Friends “Lighthouse Rescue Centre” where you can join Mia, Emma and their girlfriends (the only characters pictured on the box are female) as they cavort with sea lions, and holy sh*t is that a heart on the jetski?! I don’t know about you, but I’ve NEVER seen a PINK lighthouse, let alone one with a waterslide. Compare this to the Lego Helicopter Rescue kit that features four dudes (only guys are featured on the box) and a very realistic hospital, ambulance, and helicopter.

Now, I don’t mean to imply that there’s anything wrong with a girl liking pink things, or kitties, or make-up—god knows, I love ALL those things and got my hair coloured purple on Saturday—I just think children should have a choice that isn’t based on gender stereotypes forced onto them by companies like Lego. Boys can like pink lighthouses and girls can like red helicopters. And people can be whoever and whatever they want to be.

I think back to my own childhood and wonder how I managed to escape those same media stereotypes and ended up being the person I am today. (My grade 5 teacher told my parents that I was “bossy and outspoken”—you’re goddamn right I am.) I had Barbies, and a Barbie camper, but we also had the “cowboy people”, one of whom was Cowboy Jane, whose only goal in life was to f*ck with Barbie by kidnapping her baby for a hefty ransom when she was on one of her many camping trips. Finally, my brother, who has a Ph. D., and I decided to test the laws of gravity, physics, and thermodynamics all at the same time by sticking matches in the side panels of Barbie’s camper, setting it alight, and launching it into our swimming pool from my second story bedroom window (don’t tell my Mom).

Today, I’m looking after the adorable child of my brother and sister-in-law, who agrees with me that people should be able to like whatever they want—she reminded me that even though she likes pink, she also likes red and black. Right now she’s wearing a sweatshirt with a unicorn on it and she’s drawing a very realistic picture of an egg:

Me: What are you good at?
C: Um…I’m very good at drawing things.
Me: You are.
C: I’m really good at math. I’m also very good at painting. And building things.
Me: You ARE. Anything else?
C: I’m good at being kind to people and also being helpful.
Me: That’s a very important thing for everybody to be good at.
C: I’m good at paying attention. Every day at school I get a sticker for paying attention. I DO have a lot of stickers.
Me: Awesome.
C: Also, I’m going to be a veterinarian one day.
Me: Excellent.