I’ll be Frodo, you be Sam

lord of the rings legoImagine: Two imaginative, well-adjusted kids are introduced to the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Soon after, they spend their free time sword fighting with sticks. Playing “the time when Sam saves Frodo from the spider.” Drooling over the Lord of the Ring LEGO sets in the toy store. Creating maps of Middle Earth. Donning capes and vowing to protect the kingdom.  Begging to see The Hobbit trailer over and over on the computer. Then, some more invisible sword fights.

Pretty normal, right?

However did you picture two little girls in this situation? Because those two kids are my daughters, and this has been our month so far.

Behold, as the world turns upside down!

Since a few weeks ago, when Thalia and Sage first watched the trilogy with us (at Nate’s insistence), they were instantly obsessed. I wasn’t too worried about the content; I checked Common Sense Media and decided the positive messages and role models trumped the violence. The sex is nil. Plus, I know their capacity for imagination and love for fantasy and mystery–from the Oz series we’re still devouring to The Goonies–and I know their limits. Ask Sage today if Smeagol is scary and she says, “why would I be scared of Smeagol? It’s only a movie, Mom.”

And of course we watched every moment with them, explaining each scene as it happened and justifying away the creepy orcs with, “don’t they look so silly? They look so silly, right!”

Yet, it’s almost comical to see the raised eyebrows of shopkeepers and teachers and sundry adults as Thalia relates in great detail (to anyone who might listen, I should add) why “Fellowship of the Rings is the best one;”  and Sage jumps in to argue that Return of the King was far better than The Two Towers  “which was just a lot of war stuff.”

Who are these two little girls in twirly skirts and pink scooter helmets, talking about the complexity of Gollum’s inner struggle or the “cool scene with the giant spider?”

They are my little girls. And they are not always as they seem.

Sometimes my kids are Dorothy and Ozma on adventures through Oz. Sometimes they’re Jesus “and the girl from Hanna Montana” singing and dancing. Sometimes they’re Junie B Jones and her best friend solving mysteries. Sometimes they’re Luke and Leia protecting the galaxy and singing the Darth Vader song they made up when Thalia was 4.

This week they are Hobbits.

If they don’t grow up to be novelists or actors or at least kids who single-handedly bring Dungeons and Dragons back to Brooklyn I’ll be shock. Thalia has already informed me that I am Arwen–I could do worse–and Nate is Aragon and they are Frodo and Sam, and guess what! We’re all going out on Halloween this way.

(And like that, we are now that crazy Lord of the Rings family who vacations every year at the Renaissance Fair. I don’t recall signing up for this at the hospital, but it’s possible. I was coming down from the epidural.)

Now here I have to admit, the one parent it all seems to make the most nervous…is me. Not the love of the movies (and more excitingly, the new desire to start reading the actual Tolkien books), but the physicality of the role-playing.

I still work on getting over my knee-jerk fear fear of my girls climbing and swinging and wrestling, flipping over the couch arm and hanging upside down on the monkey bars from their knees. I want them to expand beyond the traditional girl fantasy zone which comprises of princesses, dollhouses, “kitchen,” more princesses, and those LEGO Friends who own pet shops. But part of that is me encouraging it, the way Nate thought to sit down with them in the first place, and bond over his three favorite movies ever. Part of that is me saying, “okay you can sword fight, but NOT NEAR THE EYES.”

That’s good parenting, right?

So when she asked last week, I let Thalia search for Tolkien posters on the internet for her room. I figured, eh, better than Justin Bieber. She settled on these by Jamesey , and I have to say, I’m pretty taken with her taste.

Jamesy minimalist Lord of the Rings posters

I don’t think a parent would question those posters in a boy’s room for a minute. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a parent question a five year-old boy wearing a Darth Vader hoodie. I’ve never seen an invisible sword fight between boys regarded with anything but approval at the adorableness of it all (a few rare freaked-out helicopter moms not withstanding). But we’re all–me included–still working on the girls who want to play at sword-fighting fantasy too.

In my defense, I’ve come a long way since I stood paralyzed in the CVS aisle, wondering what would happen if Sage chose the Buzz Lightyear Pull-Ups marked BOY.

You know what happened? Nothing bad.

And nothing bad is happening now.

In fact, good is happening. I don’t think Thalia was ever so proud as she was last Sunday, when she spent an afternoon assembling the Lord of the Rings Shelob Attacks LEGO set all by herself. Every bit of it.

conquering the spider!

Recently Thalia asked me if she was a tomboy. I told her not to worry about labels or about things that she thinks that boys do and things that she thinks that girls do.

“Just be you.”

She seemed perfectly satisfied with that answer. Which makes me love her more.


44 thoughts on “I’ll be Frodo, you be Sam”

  1. I guess now is the point where I can willingly admit that I’m gunning for the Battle of Helm’s Deep set from the Lego store? For me (of course). I’ve been in love since I first picked up The Hobbit when I was 11.

    I grew up playing with my brother’s Star Wars toys and playing Dungeons and Dragons with him and all of his other 14 year old friends (I was 7) and I turned out…well…mostly normal. I also played with my sister’s Barbies and my own Strawberry Shortcake dolls. My daughter has a How to Train Your Dragon toy set and my son has a Tinkerbell tote bag and has been begging for a Barbie of his own. They both run around the house playing Avengers and X-Men…and playing princesses (I have an ADORABLE pic of my son in his sister’s Cinderella dress). I just love that they have these wildly vivid imaginations. As far as I know, Amelia has never been teased for her varied tastes. Neither has Merrick. Hopefully that lasts because, like you, I just want them to be themselves.

    1. They sound wonderful! I can’t think of a cooler thing than kids with multiple interests. Whatever they may be.

  2. Oh please bring the girls to Austin soon….Harry and his 7 girl cousins are happiest playing Lord of the Rings all the day long.

  3. My son wanted Dora Pull-Ups. He likes Diego, but he loves Dora. I remember my middle daughter asking if it was ok that he plays with their “girl” toys. I told her it was fine; he’s simply doing what he sees just like when he carries my purse and goes grocery shopping in the kitchen with his cart or puts on daddy’s gloves to cut the grass. I was more concerned with why she, then only 7, thought there was something wrong with his play or that others would judge him (us?) for that play.

    I’m glad you are letting your girls like what they like (even if you, like me, still cringe when they flip too high or take a corner in the house too quickly THE STAIRS! OMIGOD SHE’S GOING TO FLY DOWN THE DAMN STAIRS! I love the posters and yes, YES, they most definitely beat Bieber.

    We’ve watched The Goonies and recently watched Stand By Me. While it’s not action-packed, it is pretty boy-themed. As my husband and I debated about allowing it (it’s rated R and my girls are 11 and 9), we couldn’t remember why it has an R rating? Is it beause it was in the 80s before cursing and body parts and ooh baby, give it to me good scenes were normal on regular tv? “There’s a body, right? They find a body. Do they show the body? WHY CAN’T I REMEMBER, IT WAS ONLY 25 YEARS AGO.” So, thank you for the movie rating site; I need that.

    1. Yes on Goonies! I was more freaked out that all the kids were saying shit every four seconds than anything else. And that they made fun of the fat kid and I had to explain that.

      Funny how priorities change.

      1. I imagine the part about “mom’s favorite piece!” on the David statue was a fun conversation, too. 🙂

        1. We kind of uh…skipped that bit. I’m sure it will come up at some unsuspecting moment. Like damn, they were listening after all!

          1. Love those Goonies! I got to explain to a seven year old what Mouth was saying to the housekeeper in Spanish…she couldn’t read the subtitles fast enough…it took a while for my innocent kid to understand why he would tell her that there were drugs in the house when there weren’t. I quickly segued into how cool Data’s inventions were. 🙂

            1. Ha, I took some liberties with that. I think it was “he’s telling her that the mother is realllly crazy so now the housekeeper is scared to work there.”

  4. And my first thought on that opening scenario was that you were exactly describing your daughters. And in a way I get why they enjoy that type of play. When I was younger (back when Star Wars was new), I wanted to be the female version of Luke Skywalker — I wanted to fly through space and save the day.

    And yet, I understand your side, too. I have a son (he’s 8) and a daughter (she’s 4), and my daughter loves to roughhouse with her brother (she has no fear and will take him down if given the opportunity) and she often likes to do whatever he does. I try to keep quiet when they are playing unless it looks like things are getting too out of control. And when I’m watching my daughter at the playground sometimes I have to take a deep breath so that I don’t tell her to stop trying something (though it’s also tricky because I’m short and have a hard time helping her if she gets stuck somewhere up high on the equipment). It’s about me trying to balance my need to protect her and her need to explore and just be her. And I do my best not to let my need overwhelm hers. (Though to be perfectly honest, I sorta felt the same way with my son — though it has gotten easier as he has gotten older.)

    And I LOVE those posters. Your daughter has good taste, indeed.

  5. My girls recently discovered pokemon (and I’m sure will soon discover The Lord of the Rings because they are my husband’s favorite, favorite thing ever — books, movies, etc. I may have to get those posters for him). My son (who is all of 21 months) wears blue and slips my bracelets on his arms when he comes across them. I think imaginative and active play are important, regardless if my son is cooking me dessert in the play kitchen or my girls are chasing each other across the yard having a pokemon battle.

    My brother has four sons, and a bunch of “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” books for them. The books are galleries of the grotesque, and my 7yo daughter was *fascinated* by them. (The 5yo was grossed out and afraid of having nightmares.) My mom commented about “how boys like that stuff”, and I interrupted her with, “Yes, but Flora thinks it’s pretty interesting too.” Like you, I don’t want my kids to be channeled into the pink and blue camp. And all the people who do a double take over what kids play need to chill.

  6. My toddler daughter (coincidentally her middle name is Sage) has been obsessed with Buzz Lightyear from day 1. But she’s also just found princesses.

    Me: “Who do you want to be this time?”
    Her: “Um. Um. Um. I’m thinking.”

    Choosing between Buzz and Princesses is starting to seem a little like Sophie’s Choice. So far, the only themed clothing we’ve bought her is a pair of Buzz Lightyear Pajamas. I’m avoiding Princess dresses as long as I can.

  7. I used to have a pet turtle and make space ships with my best friend to take us to space and I would play Star Wars and do all sorts of ‘boy’ things when I was growing up… I also had an awesome Barbie collection and would dance to the Mini-Pops and wear cute earrings. I think it’s totally normal and healthy and wonderful for girls to be into (stereotypical) boy things, and especially BOOKS. And awesome movies like LOTR. My boys have watched (some, not all) of these movies, and I’m the one who still freaks when I see Smiegel.
    My four year old wants to be Harley Quinn (The Joker’s girlfriend) for Halloween. THIS, I am having a bit of a hard time with, but today he said he wants to be The Penguin or Batman. If he really wants to be Harley Quinn… why do I have a problem with this? Otherwise, anything ‘girlie’ my boys want to do, is more than okay with me, from pink plasma cars to playing with dolls and strollers and kitchens, etc.

    1. I agree it’s a challenge. I wrote before that Sage wanting to wear Toy Story pull-ups is probably less of a societal challenge than the boy who wants to wear the Dora ones. You’re doing good, Loulou!

  8. Let me know when they’re ready for real wooden swords. My kids are level 10 sword fighters by now.

    Anybody who has a problem with any of it has no sense of adventure left.

  9. My eight year old wants the LOTR Lego sets. We already have most of the Harry Potter sets and a few Star Wars ones. My girls will wear twirly skirts while running around outside being whatever strikes their fancy that day.

    I think it’s a good balance. Our kids like what they like, without caring if it’s labeled a girl or boy thing. This is what I wanted for all of my kids.

    1. Mine are the same way. I just want to make sure they don’t think of it as a boy thing or a girl thing. They shouldn’t feel like they’re crossing some line to be able to play with a Frodo minifig.

  10. I have to admit, the ‘boy thing’ vs the ‘girl thing’ wears me out. They’re all just things.

    But girls have it easier. I know for myself shopping for tools all the time that my status gets elevated for being involved in a profession dominated by men. I know a few girls who I suppose you could call tomboys, but the term seems outdated.

    The stereotypical gender divisions are harder on boys because they are seen as taking a step down in status when they like ‘girl things’. Thankfully that may finally be changing. My son likes to wear his sisters’ hand me downs and no one cares if he comes to school in pink shirts with sparkles. That may change as he gets older, but for now he’s happy.

    I will say, though, I find it disturbing that the default for ‘girl toys’ is usually related to beauty and for ‘boy toys’ is usually related to competition and/or violence. Regardless of what various places offer it’s still easier to get all three of my kids the same thing, no matter what the label.

    Hope your girls enjoy playing hobbits! I kind of wanted mine to opt for daleks this year for Halloween, but no dice.

  11. Of course we can’t have sword play near the eyes! I’m sure the Nave Seals moms will back us up on this.

    “Just be you” is the perfect message.

  12. When my daughter was two, she used to walk through the Barbie aisle at the store and yell “Yucky, yucky, yucky, yucky…” She liked to fish and get dirty and loved her Tonka pick up truck. She and her brother had many battles involving swords and light sabers. She is now almost 16 and is happy, well rounded (bragging), and loves hanging out with her friends. My point is, they like what they like. It all turns out all right in the end, right?

  13. I think this a wonderful thing you are ‘giving’ your girls….allowing them to feel great about liking whatever it is they like.

    I always think girls today are so lucky because it is so much more acceptable for them to do whatever it is they like – I was an agitated lanky ballerina who never quite fit in because I should have been playing volleyball but I was in ballet and tap and gymnastics – oof – because that is what girls did.

    Kudos – and tell Sage that I am rocking both Woody and Buzz mini-figures on my kitchen window sill right now (they are on loan from the basement collection and keep me company).

  14. If only we lived 3k miles closer, my girls (13 and 16) would babysit your girls and they would have a blast. We have nerf swords for battles and since Lizzi (16 yo) took fencing for 2 years, she can even teach them how to look like a pro. Becca is a pro at Star Wars Legos and is a great shot, too. A few years ago I put 4 nerf dart guns under the Christmas tree and we spent the morning at war. It was awesome.

    “Just be you” is the best feeling in the world. Let them embrace that and don’t worry about the strange looks from parents and shopkeepers. They will have to learn to live with those looks as they grow up speaking their mind, it is good to get used to it now.

    Becca was invited to one of those princess parties held at a place that puts little girls’ hair up in fancy do’s with lots of glitter and make up. The invite set my teeth on edge but Becca (who was 6 or 7 at the time) really wanted to go to the party. On party day, she didn’t want to dress like a princess, so she wore one of her old Halloween costumes and went as Jack Sparrow instead. She didn’t realize some of the parents were making comments under their breath and giggling. She never questioned the appropriateness of the outfit – just walked straight in with pride and had fun with her friends. (for the record, the kids didn’t care.)

    She stepped outside the box again last week and went against all expectations. She attends a very conservative Christian school and most of her classmates did their current events presentation about big Republican stories. She could have gone with something safe and non-controversial. But she felt strongly that she wanted her voice heard, regardless of what her classmates thought of her afterwards. So, she explained why marriage equality was a major issue for our country, backed up by a blog on the NY Times site. She closed with her hope that one day, every adult will have the chance to marry the person they love. The write up was fact based and respectful. I was incredibly proud of her.

    Is it because I let her dress as a pirate? Maybe just a little bit. That kind of confidence is a beautiful thing.


  15. I love thus because this describes my 4yo twins perfectly. They play Rapunzel and Eugene (both girls), but they also play Puss and Kitty Softpaws, dragons, and any other rough, dirty, crazy game they think up. Baby dolls and princesses have never really been their thing, which is kind of a relief, since when I found out they were girls my 1st thought was “What in the world am I supposed to do with them?”

  16. Man, there are so many little internal battles that I never expected before I had kids. I found a years-old package of my daughter’s princess pull-ups a few weeks ago and debated whether to let my son wear them since they’re the right size, and I … just couldn’t do it. It’s so stupid. They’re diapers.

    But for every one of those moments I think I have another one where I get it right (or at least better). I don’t stop my son from wearing a ponytail to school when he wants to, and I have a little talk with my daughter when she says blue is “a boy color.”

    Also? My husband would absolutely die from all the pride if my kids fell in love with Lord of the Rings. That’s awesome.

    1. I’ll let you off the hook. Girl diapers and boy diapers are actually different. Girls pee up and boys pee down, as I was taught way back when in the days when babysitters had to learn to fold cloth diapers. My household was reminded of this recently when we “borrowed” a Dora diaper for our son…might as well not have bothered. Car seat may never be the same…

  17. I think Tolkien is made for anyone with active imaginations. My son’s and his friends have very short imagination windows. They love to pull everything out, look at it then put it away. I would love it if they got into it all like your girls. Also, I know what you mean about themes in the older movies. We watched E.T.the other day. I forgot about all the kids smoking at their kitchen table. It’s funny how much has changed.

  18. I think that is just plain awesome. My daughter is six, and this year she wants to be a ninja for Halloween. “One with a black hood and a really sharp sword.” Last year it was Despereaux. She also just got her ears pierced, and is wearing the sparkliest, glittery-est headband in the universe today. She’s most definitely herself, just like your cool little chicks. Bravo!

  19. I thought the princesses would never end. Literally beating my head against a wall in vain hope. And then Star Wars came to the rescue, the original trilogy my Christmas present a couple of years ago. We moved swiftly from Star Wars to mild forms Japanese anime and we are firmly entrenched in Ninja territory at present. They have rejected pink but still lovingly intermix their American Girls with their cut out Naruto coloring pages in games that go on for days.

    I am loving the ever evolving nature of their play and how they flow in and out of stereotypes with abandon. At 8 and 10, with their 6 and 4 year old brothers also adding their voices, we have sword fighting a’plenty and I (mostly) love it. Thanks Liz. As always you’re on pitch.

  20. At my son’s Star Wars birthday party the other week, the little girls fought Darth Vader with their newly made light sabres just as fiercely as the little boys.

    At his super hero party the year before, one little girl was in tears because her goodie bag had a Pet Shop jibbitz instead of a Spiderman one.

    Both my boys are currently doing one of those stick-on mosaic kits… making sparkly pink butterflies. They plan to hang them next to their already-made dinosaur mosaics.

    I think I’ve already mentioned in a comment on a previous post that my other son has pink rain boots. His school books this year are covered in sparkly silver paper and heart stickers.

    After seeing all this and more, I really think that our notions of gender, while not completely wrong or off the mark (as I do still see more boys more inclined towards soccer and cars and more girls towards dolls and playing house (although both will happily play with the other depending on the situation)), are overly influenced by culture, where culture these days seems to be driven by toy and clothing manufacturers. How did it happen that we (mostly) intellectually banished traditional gender roles, but managed to give such gender-defining power to manufacturers ?

  21. I love this! I love your daughters. I totally pictured two girls in your story, because you just described me and my sister as kids. Except I was Legolas, thankyouverymuch. Or sometimes Aragorn. My sister was Frodo. Or sometimes Eowyn.

    We had constant sword fights. In third grade, we spent the entire year retelling the entire plot of The Lord of the Rings to our lunch table. In middle school, we went to the Rennaissance Festival. And in high school we took fencing lessons.

    Now, she’s an actress and I’m a writer. Go figure!

  22. Awesome. Some of my favorite books and movies ever. Ever!

    We have a few rules about swordfighting in the house, in case it helps: 1) You can’t attack anyone who doesn’t have his/her own sword/lightsaber. This means that if a child throws you a sword, you’d better grab it because you’re fair game now. 2) No hitting anyone in the head.

  23. Last year my son and I went to see The Wizard of Oz and got into a conversation about how anyone can wear makeup if they want to. (The witch’s face was green and I had to explain that she wasn’t bad, just wearing makeup.) He argued that only girls wear makeup and I asked if he would like it if someone told him his favorite color couldn’t be blue? He also likes to call one of our dogs (a male) a”girl” which has led to some interesting conversations about gender and how someone may not like it if you argue with them when they say they are a boy or a girl.

    All of that to say I’m very proud of him for teaching his little sister how to sword fight, and for not making fun of her for wanting to be Robin for Halloween since he wants to be Batman.

    This raising children stuff is HARD.

  24. Late to the party, but – I’m raising two little Warrior Princesses who run through the house shooting arrows and playing “war.” The almost-six wears nothing but skirt sets and dresses with her Batman backpack and her Spiderman snackbox. The almost-three can’t decide between Dora and Snow White for Halloween, but she also knows every single one of the Teen Titans, and most of the villains. My only regret? They thought “The Princess Bride” was too scary. I love them both to pieces.

  25. love this.

    i still have the transformers that i played with as a kid. the barbies were all sacrificed to the volcano god (with my brother’s help) when i was 8. and i turned out to be an engineer. it all works out.

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