The extreme embarrassment of Ultron

In another context, his stance might look menacing. Here, he seems mortified...

In another context, his stance might look menacing. Here, he seems mortified…

Forget about separate bathrooms; there is no more dramatic separation between the sexes than the stark contrast between the store aisles devoted to items marketed to boys and those aimed at girls.

The “boys'” aisles are filled with menacing things that shoot, crash, kick, punch or snarl, and the dominant colors are not baby boy blue, but black and brown, relieved only by blood red, ninja turtle green and sometimes alarming orange.

And the “girls'” aisles are, well, pink. That’s about all you can see at a distance, and sometimes close up. So much pink that I still feel an aversion to walking down them, like there is still a trace of Wally and the Beave in me, thinking, “Aw, Mom! Don’t make me go there! What if one of the guys sees me! He’ll give me the business!”

And anyway, we try hard to find more neutral things for our granddaughters — building sets, puzzles, games — something less frou-frou at the very least. There are such things still to be found, for girls and boys, and they are only occasionally to be found floating in the sea of pink.

And when you find something that doesn’t belong there, boy does it stick out. Like “Ultron” above, which I found amid the pink at Target, no doubt left by some kid whose parents said, “Put that down; we’re shopping for your sister.” (Or maybe the sister wanted it, and her parents preferred to buy her something more “suitable.” I don’t know…)

How did I get here? I'm not touching anything!

How did I get here? I’m not touching anything!

I like Ultron’s stance in the photo. With his shoulders hunched up toward his ears (or where ears would be if he had any) and his arms hanging in a way that suggests a reluctance to touch anything, and that mechanical grimace, he looks terribly awkward and embarrassed, as though he had accidentally gone clanking into the women’s bathroom. He seems to be thinking, “Get me outta here before the Avengers see me! They’ll give me the business!”

Well, it just serves him right for being such a testosterone-fueled bully who wants to dominate the world. Maybe in the future he’ll remember to check his privilege before barging in among all these lady dolls…

79 thoughts on “The extreme embarrassment of Ultron

  1. Barry

    My 8 year old daughter loves pink – but prefers blue. She often plays with the same things her 2 older brothers play with- and of course she has her own things.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      A nice compromise toy (by which I mean a compromise between the science kits grandparents want to buy and the things little girls want) that my granddaughter who turns 6 next week wants — one of those Lego “Friends” sets with the girl figure who runs a recording studio or veterinary clinic.

      She also wants a “Star Wars” storm trooper helmet that you can decorate with colorful markers. When she saw that and insisted she must have it, I tried to protest — I mean, storm troopers’ helmets are white, and this was already white, so the whole concept seemed pointless. (I’m trying to think what Darth Vader would say if he were reviewing the troops on the Death Star, and among all those exactly-alike white figures he found a guy with all sorts of colorful designs on his helmet drawn by a 6-year-old girl…) But she wasn’t having any of it. That’s what she wants…

      Reply
  2. Brad Warthen Post author

    It was probably a mistake to take my two youngest grandchildren to Walmart to look at toys a week ago Sunday — although I’d never have known about the coloring-the-helmet thing my granddaughter saw there and wanted.

    It was one of those grandfather things. My wife is careful to neither tempt nor spoil them. But I don’t want to leave any doubt in their little minds who the COOL grandparent is.

    I told them we weren’t going to buy, but just look. Of course, I intended all along to surprise them at the end of the trip by buying them each something small.

    But I reckoned without a 5 year old and a 3 year old ignoring the whole “We’re not here to buy” ruse entirely and begging for all sorts of things. Right away, she zeroed in on the paintable helmet; my grandson brought me a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles van with a roof shaped like a turtle shell.

    Eventually, I revealed that I would get each of them something small — by which, of course, I meant cheap (I’m cool, but not a spendthrift just before Christmas). I knew what would delight my grandson — a Hot Wheels car. They’re only 94 cents. But I didn’t know what to get for her until we found a display of pinwheels and she wanted a red one. Sounds like she got the short end of the stick, but she liked it, and it actually cost three cents more than the car.

    We all left satisfied. When we got close to their house and were going nice and slow, I rolled down her window a little so she could put her pinwheel out into the wind…

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      My wife was dismayed when she learned not only that I’d bought them something, but had intended to all along. She said it was really going to cause her problems next time she had them in a store, which is a very frequent experience for her, since she cares for the boy all day and the girl after kindergarten.

      So I explained my plan about making sure the kids knew who the cool grandparent was, and she understood completely. She showed this by crying out indignantly and punching me in the arm — but in an affectionate, “Ya big lug!” kind of way. At least, I chose to take it that way…

      Reply
  3. Kathryn Fenner

    My parents used to buy me educational toys, like a recorder (upscale Flutophone)–that came with a fingering chart, and that was it. Maybe if they’d have sat down and helped me a bit, I might have become the next Michala Petri, but I preferred my large dolls (twice Barbie’s height) that my mom sewed a lot of old-fashioned clothes for (like an early American Girl thing) and my friends and I made up stories for them. If my dad had gotten me a chemistry set, and helped me figure it out…
    Maybe you could make a “cub reporter” kit, with those steno-pad kind of notebooks, and stuff, and help them put out a newspaper!

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Yeah… there’s a bright future in THAT…

      We gave the twins a catalogue of educational toys to mark up. One of them, who is very studious and serious, went through it and circled almost everything. I’m not sure what the other one wants. She’s kind of busy being glamorous right now. She’s starring in an upcoming play (that’s her on the left in the poster below, as the troublesome Gladys), so she puts a lot of energy into practicing her poses for photographs.

      They are both so awesome…

      12249893_10207223039670849_505794306476108334_n

      Reply
      1. Kathryn Fenner

        My dad did more or less teach me and my brother to *edit* our writing, a skill that has served me and my brother (the professional editor) very well….now, my dad was just a pocket-protected technical editor salaryman, not a fancy name-brand executive….
        I imagine the kids interviewing relatives, say…reporting on the dinner…

        It’s not the toys from the catalogs. It’s the time with an adult…

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Certainly. So we don’t want to give them a science-experiments kit, for instance, unless an adult will promise to do it with them — for which I have volunteered…

          Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Well, the three eldest anyway. They have brown eyes. The two youngest (the ones I took to Walmart) have blue eyes like me.

          That’s the second generation in which we started with brown (my two eldest kids) and switched to blue (the three youngest)….

          Reply
        1. Kathryn Fenner

          My best friend growing up was an effeminate boy who grew up to be a charming gay man. We played dolls and dress up–he looked vastly better in my mom’s clothes than I, given his tall, lean figure–he later had some success as a model. His country Baptist family has always accepted him. At his mother’s funeral, recently, though it was presided over by a pair of country Baptist preachers, one of whom just had to give more of an altar call than a funeral message (and the gathering music was Baptist cocktail piano–“In the Garden” played with maximum arpeggios and flourishes, and other olde tyme hymns), but Wayne gave a deeply moving eulogy on behalf of the family. His husband was front and center. It was a beautiful thing.

          Reply
  4. Norm Ivey

    My girls never really got into the whole doll thing. One had some Barbies, but they were the characters from the Wizard of Oz, and she displayed rather played with them. One Christmas we turned a closet into a puppet theater, which they enjoyed for years. When it came to toys, they both got into Zoids. Those were cool because they (the girls) had to assemble them (the Zoids) first before they (girls) could play with them (Zoids) Then came Legos and remote control cars–even a couple of model-building events because they wanted to contribute to the train layout we had at the time. There were Furbys, Tamogotchis, and other electronic toys mixed in there somewhere, but I don’t remember them being played with much. The novelty wore off quickly.

    As parents, we didn’t buy them many things except at Christmas (books were the exception–if they wanted one, they got it). Instead, we gave them allowances which they used to buy the toys they wanted. Both saved for months to get video game systems. They each bought a different system. On the other hand, my grandkids (whenever they get here) are going to get everything they want.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      On the whole, my seven girls (three daughters, four grand) have only been moderately into dolls — Barbie mainly. But most of them have at some time been excited about princesses, mermaids and ballerinas… Of course, being into ballerinas isn’t necessarily impractical. One daughter had a brief professional career in ballet (the one who now is in the Peace Corps), one granddaughter is an accomplished amateur, and at least three others have enjoyed dabbling in it…

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      1. Norm Ivey

        Again, I don’t remember mine being into that princess stuff. There was a dinosaur interest for a while. Most of their make-believe came from cheap plastic figures (101 Dalmatians, for example) and stuffed animals. They spent a year in gymnastics, a year in T-ball, a year on a swim team, and a couple years in karate. Neither were very athletically-minded, but they always wanted to try things. Both were Girl Scouts with their Mom as their troop leader. Both were in the band in middle and high school. They kind of surprised us in high school when they both chose artistically-themed schools and careers (pastry and interior design), but both have shown a talent for their chosen fields.

        It’s curious how they develop so uniquely.

        Reply
      2. Kathryn Fenner

        Being a ballerina is seriously impractical. The worst thing that can happen is that you are good at it. You ruin your feet and joints (most older pros have hip replacements at a fairly young age), you likely develop eating disorders or a smoking habit, and then when you have to “retire,” you have only one marketable skill: ballet teacher.

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        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yes, in the same sense, it’s impractical to count on being a professional basketball player.

          But if you DO have the ability, it’s worth taking a shot, if you love it.

          For my daughter, it was worth taking the shot. In fact, when she went to USC and was in the dance program there, her teachers talked her into leaving school and turning pro. She eventually had to quit because of injuries, she got her bachelor’s degree at College of Charleston, and now she’s in Thailand.

          She loves travel, and dance has something to do with that. She has dancer friends all over the world.

          Reply
          1. Bryan Caskey

            Currently, my four year old son has the following life plan:

            1. Be a Blue Angel pilot.

            I told him he needs to be really good at math.

            Reply
      1. Norm Ivey

        They have degrees as a pastry chef and interior designer. Both are sorta working in their fields, but not entirely where they want to be. They both have a creative streak they get from their mother. I did everything I could to steer them into science, but they weren’t having it.

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        1. Pat

          Those fields are both interesting and creative; there’s a surprising amount of science in pastry. I would have liked my daughters to do math/science, too, but they did journalism and art. The journalist is in field as a tv producer. The artist actually had a 10 year career as a military officer/pilot but now is self employed with her art and graphic art and raising a family. I’m not creative, but my husband is. They’ve cut their own trail, which is good, I think. Yours have, too.

          Reply
        2. Kathryn Fenner

          I think science is very creative, but it is taught such that the creativity gets buried. I have learned a lot of science as an adult, to compensate for the lackluster/misguided teaching of my youth (in Aiken, SC, in the 70s, if you had any science chops, you worked for SRP). I am sure I could have found a groove I’d have liked, if the teaching were less about, say, calculating various moles of whatever, or dissecting smelly, disgusting dead stuff, and more like what Rudy Mancke or Neil DeGrasse Tyson do….

          Reply
          1. Pat

            Rudy Manke’s science can be pretty disgusting. During a talk, he mentioned keeping zip lock bags in his car and picking up road kill. He examined the stomach contents to see what kinds of food they were eating.
            I don’t think kids are exposed enough to the many different kinds of fields available for employment. My daughter needed to use a lot of math and science in flight training, but everything they did was relatable. Her art skills also came in handy. Math and science could be taught in a relatable way. One of her college classes was Environmental Algebra which taught algebra while solving environmental problems. No subject needs to be taught abstractly.

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            1. Norm Ivey

              I don’t think kids are exposed enough to the many different kinds of fields available for employment.

              This is the truth. When asked, kids will tell you they want to be doctors, lawyers, athletes, rappers, or teacher (or Blue Angel pilots). These are the professions they are mostly exposed to, even though most are through TV and movies. There are so many more options.

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                1. Bryan Caskey

                  My daddy always tells people: “I tried to raise him right, but he ended up a lawyer anyway.”

                  I think he’s half-kidding.

                2. Norm Ivey

                  I think they expect to become rich being a lawyer. They don’t really understand what lawyering means.

                3. Kathryn Fenner

                  I wanted to be a lawyer by the fifth grade. There were these shows with crusaders for justice like The Young Lawyers and The Storefront Lawyers and Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law, plus my, um, verbal skills meant lots of people would say, “You ought to be a lawyer” –as if glibness had much to do with it. Sylvia Westerdahl was the solicitor in Aiken in the late 60s/early 70s, so “Lady Lawyers” were a thing.

                4. Brad Warthen Post author

                  I liked “The Young Lawyers,” despite the staggeringly unimaginative title. I was older than you at the time, of course.

                  It was when Burl and I were in our senior year of HS in Hawaii. Once, when we had kinfolk visiting from the mainland, we took them to the Polynesian Cultural Center. (We only visited tourist attractions such as that when we had company from the mainland.) And who should I see walking around in an open space like he was waiting for his party to join him so he could leave, looking very grumpy because that was his tradmark mood? Lee J. Cobb.

                  So I went up to him and said, “I really enjoy ‘The Young Lawyers’.” Not, “You were amazing in ’12 Angry Men’,” or “‘On the Waterfront’ was a towering achievement.” No, I praised him for a short-lived TV show of debatable artistic merit.

                  I sounded like a total dork. You know why? Because I was being a total dork.

                  He said, as graciously as you might expect Lee J. Cobb to say it, “Thank you.” And I did him the favor of going away, and leaving him to his grumpy solitude…

            2. Kathryn Fenner

              Rudy’s disgusting is probably super popular with a certain set that also likes fart books.
              He imbues nature with a degree of wonder, while remaining clear-eyed and scientific.

              Reply
              1. Pat

                You are so right, Kathryn. Rudy is a great speaker and instinctively tailors to his audience. And I think his audience learns how science is important and useful.

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                1. Kathryn Fenner

                  and how nature is neutral. It’s not all about butterflies and bunnies. Predators and decay have their place.

                2. Bryan Caskey

                  One of my favorite expressions that Mancke uses is when one animal is eating another, he says something like: “Look, there you see an eagle turning a fish into eagle.”

          2. Norm Ivey

            Agreed. We spend too much time and energy focusing on the concepts. A love of science begins with the WOW! that leads to the WHY?

            Reply
  5. Karen Pearson

    I have a friend who has a 3 yr old boy and a 6 yr old girl. I saw the “Fart Book” (not sure of the title, but it’s close) at the zoo store and thought that the boy might like that., but not being sure what the parents might think, asked the mother about it. She said that both would love it. The parents will be glad to read it to them. I figure that, and the Seuss book about going to sleep, and I should have it covered.

    Reply
    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      My grandson would love it. The word is currently an obsession with him. Actual conversation, as well as I can recall it, from last week:

      Boy: “I can fart like a duck!”

      My wife: (Tries to ignore him.)

      Boy: “I can fart with my mouth! (Makes raspberry sound.)”

      My wife: “You’re being silly.”

      Boy: “I fart with my butt!”

      My wife: “Don’t say that! It’s not nice…”

      Boy: “I fart with my heinie!”

      And so on…

      Reply
    1. Norm Ivey

      Lego sales are high because Lego is simply an ingenious building system. My wife and I buy a large kit (1200+ pieces) for ourselves every year to assemble during our Winter break. Last year it was a VW bus. Two years ago it was the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Robie House in Chicago.

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        I’ve never liked the idea of Lego kits that are supposed to build a specific, pre-ordained thing (although I’ve seen those Frank Lloyd Wright kits, and they ARE cool.)

        To me, Legos should be the way they were when I was a kid: They were mostly red (with a few white ones) because they were supposed to be bricks. Then you built whatever you wanted, according to your own imagination.

        Also, the ones that are supposed to be Star Wars fighters and such really bug me, because fighters and spaceships are supposed to have CURVES, not all those 90-degree angles…

        Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I’ve got a thing about curves in vehicle design. They should be smooth, and rounded.

          For instance, I find the BMW Z3 really appealing, and I HATE the Z4, because the curves are modified with sharp creases that ruin the curvature…

          Reply
          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            And I prefer the hardtops to the convertibles. A convertible with its top down looks like a broken thing; the curves are ruined.

            Yeah, I know; a Freudian would have fun with this… But I’m not all that fond of Henry Moore sculptures…

            Reply
        2. Norm Ivey

          Yeah, I’ve heard that argument. I look at it this way: I’m not good at building from scratch with Legos, wood or anything else. Assembling a pre-designed Lego kit is akin to building a model from a kit, and we don’t discount that activity, and the process gives me ideas about how to create effects by joining different pieces together. In other words, I learn how to build from scratch by building a kit.

          Reply
          1. Pat

            My grandson is really into Legos. I agree that a lot is learned from building a kit. My grandson has gotten several quite complicated kits, and he reads and follows instructions as well as gotten new ideas from them. His uncle gave him the leaning Tower of Pisa and he quickly finished that. He learned a lot about Pisa in the process. He really loves Minecraft, though, and has a lot of those kits. The neat thing about Legos, though, is that I’m seeing adults in the construction fields using Lego-like solutions. Play is serious work!

            Reply
    2. Kathryn Fenner

      One of my favorite toys growing up was a hamper of miscellaneous wood blocks, unpainted, but polished smooth from use, that had been my dad’s. There were two or three sizes of cubes, rectangles, and pieces with arches cut out of them, and the arches cut from them.

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Off the top of my head, my favorite toy I got for Christmas was my BB gun. Not the Red Ryder with the compass in the stock, but the far more realistic-looking Daisy Model 1894. Total surprise, as I had always gotten the “You’ll shoot your eye out” response when I asked for one.

        Also, we were living in Guayaquil, Ecuador, at the time, so it’s not like you could run down to the store and buy one. My parents had ordered it from the exchange in Panama, the Land of the Big PX — or maybe my Dad had picked it up on a work trip there.

        Sorry to be so stereotypical, y’all. I make up for it by not liking football…

        Reply
      2. Norm Ivey

        My favorite CHRISTMAS present is easy. My sister gave me a paperback stamp album and a packet of stamps in 1972. In terms of pleasure, that simple, inexpensive gift and the hobby it introduced me to has brought me the most lasting satisfaction. I don’t actively pursue the hobby much anymore, but I still enjoy pulling out my albums and flipping through them.

        Another that stands out is, like Brad, an unexpected BB gun (Crosman Power master 760). It seems Legos were a regular occurrence. My original Legos are still sat Daddy’s house and being enjoyed by the grandchild generation, and probably by his great-grands before too long.

        It wasn’t a Christmas gift, but on my 7th birthday Daddy bought himself a Tyco HO scale train set. That hobby has also lasted me a lifetime.

        The best gifts, I suppose, are those that have the potential to grow and develop with the child.

        Reply
          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            95f7bccd8791d16b1bfde7e80148488d

            I loved all books as a kid, but I thought the most awesome book in the world, after the Bible and the Boy Scout Handbook circa 1960 edition (which I thought contained all the practical information that a guy would ever need to know), was the Sears Christmas catalog.

            I would go through the toy and sports sections over and over, and I wanted EVERYTHING. It all looked so great.

            I knew Ted Williams as the guy who endorsed all of Sears sporting goods LONG before I knew about him as a ballplayer…

            boy-scout-handbook

            Reply
          2. Kathryn Fenner

            The Wishbook.
            I loved that thing, although I seldom got the crappy things I wanted (like a cheapo doll with gazillion outfits)

            Reply
        1. Kathryn Fenner

          My dad is a serious stamp collector, and the national expert in birds on stamps. I don’t understand the appeal, although the stamps in his birds-on-stamps are beautiful.

          Reply
            1. Kathryn Fenner

              Yeah, my dad and brother know way more about geography than I do. Neither are much into external order–I’m the neat-ish freak. I guess they get it out of their system collecting stamps!

              Reply
            2. Brad Warthen Post author

              The only kind of order that appeals to me is when everyone around me does my bidding….

              Ha-ha! Just kidding! Everyone is encouraged to laugh, ha-ha!

              HEY! I didn’t get a ha-ha outta that guy…

              Reply
      3. Pat

        I wasn’t good with dolls but I liked the cooking sets. I loved my bike, played ball with the neighborhood kids, and skated with sidewalk skates. . For inside, it was coloring, the bake set, or imitating the cowboy movies by slinging whiskey down the counter. The whiskey was Coca Cola in little votive holders. We didn’t have a lot of stuff, but we enjoyed what we had. If the weather was good, we were outside.

        Reply
  6. Kiki

    I agree she has her grandmother’s eyes Kathryn! You do know what Gladys wants Dad, an electric guitar so she can play the Ramones!
    I am glad they are interested in the science kits, but need help reinforcing that they aren’t supposed to mix substances for “potions” without help. I tell them that but then find weird frothy mixtures in the bathroom. Gladys did in fact succeed in making something blow up a couple weeks ago, to her delight.

    Reply
        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          I can strum chords. I’m hoping she will quickly outstrip my limited ability, and really PLAY. I have had the pleasure of watching my children develop talents greater than my own, and look forward to it with her.

          So far, my only contribution has been to take her to lessons a few times. Just before she goes in, I tune her guitar to the best of my poor abilities. The acoustic she’s using doesn’t hold a tune, which is why she needs a new ax…

          Reply
          1. Kathryn Fenner

            You should teach her to tune. I used to struggle until I learned how to ping the overtones–way easier to match.

            Reply

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