Gender Neutral Toys


“When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them to feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit” – Fred Rogers.

My son has a toy doll and I’m ok with it. So, why aren’t you? Toby asked for a baby doll for his second birthday. It was decided that his grandma was going to buy it for him, we chose the My First Baby Annabel’s Brother. It was the best of a bad bunch; the selection of gender neutral dolls was appalling. He came with a blue baby-grow (obviously, because baby boy’s only wear blue and baby girls only wear pink of course.) a bottle and a bib. We also got him a pram to push his baby around in. He instantly loved his baby doll and has played with it every day since. He named him ‘Baby George’ and he comes everywhere with us. The park, preschool, the supermarket. But no matter where it is that we go with Baby George and his pram, we will always get funny looks and laughs from passers-by. Mocking comments from friends/family “oh where’s your doll today Toby?” and I don’t get it. What is it exactly that offends you so much? Nobody bats an eyelid seeing a dad walk down the high-street with a pram, so why does so much biases with toys still exist?

The diversion in toy stores is still ridiculously apparent. You either go down the trucks, tools and wrestlers isle or the dolls and barbies. Some stores are even labelled into gender-specific aisles or sections. But, what about if your child enjoys playing with both? The division does nothing but give the child a complex. So much so, that recently I’ve heard a few comments from the horse’s mouth along the lines of “you can’t play with this, because you’re a girl”. I can only imagine he is picking up on what he hears from others or what is constantly thrown at him by society, because it’s certainly not an opinion of mine. Of course, I reassure him that toys are for everybody. (After I’ve finished calling him a sexist arsehole and playing who run the world by Beyoncé on repeat). I understand not everybody shares my views, but I can’t help feeling riled by the fact other people’s views are affecting his decisions and thoughts. Why can toys not just be toys. “Boys toys” are often marketed to promote aggression and competition (I’m sure all other boy mama’s will agree with me, this comes very naturally and needs no encouragement!) and “girls toys” are marketed in promotion of nurturing and relationship building. But don’t we all need all these qualities regardless of gender to become a well-rounded adult? Girls need to be taught to be strong and independent and have the freedom to explore their interests, whether that be dolls or dumper trucks. And as for boys, (I know mine in particular) are so emotional. They also need to learn to feel confident and comfortable expressing their emotions, they need to learn to feel compassion and empathy and what is so damaging about teaching them to care? Play is so important in encouraging them to learn, build confidence and important life skills that restricting or categorising any aspect of play completely defies all logic.

I do think that due to more and more people raising children with a positive feminist viewpoint and the rise of women in typically male careers that there has been movement in the “girls toys” section. You can now buy pink Lego and all typically male cartoons these days will always feature a girl character who is just as ballsy and brave as her fellow male companions. And rightly so. But I can’t help but notice the movement in “boys toys” is still lacking. No matter how many variations and colour choices of certain toys are produced there are still too many people who feel uncomfortable seeing a little boy with a baby doll in a pram. The same as they do seeing a little boy dressed in a princess costume. Toby enjoys playing with his cars and tools just as much as he does his doll and his toy kitchen. I might not be able to change the biased opinion of many, I can’t force people to be comfortable with something that they’re not, I can only make sure that Toby knows my views are neutral, allow him to express his creativity in any which way he desires and make sure he see’s that I do not agree with the mainstream message of gender stereotyping.

Below I have listed some of our favourite gender-neutral toys that we enjoy playing with.  I tend to opt for toys that are open-ended, that he can use his imagination to use in multiple different ways and have longevity. As I mentioned he has played with his baby doll and toy kitchen for years and they are still his favourite’s, but these are some of the other things we have and enjoy.

Of course, at the top of the list. A baby doll, as I mentioned above the only real options in stores are a blue or pink doll, but what we do is have a small box of old baby clothes for ‘Baby George’ or if you don’t have any saved, get some really cheap new-born clothes from a charity shop or supermarket that way they can change them into whatever they want to. Toby will spend hours getting his doll undressed and dressed again into different outfits.

Ikea Duktig Play Kitchen – we have the metal baking set, utensils and cookware set to go with this. When I was looking for a kitchen for Toby, again I struggled to find one that wasn’t either pink or blue until I came across the Ikea one. He has had this for years and plays with it every-day with his Melissa and Doug Wooden food. He makes meals for us, he creates tea-parties and birthday parties for his toys. And the best bit it completely fits in with my décor.

Wooden Dolls House, these are great for imaginative play. We actually got our (Viga Wooden Dollhouse Villa) from a car-boot sale and it was the best tenner I’ve ever spent. Again, this took me a really long time to find something that wasn’t obviously feminine. I still haven’t found any on the high-street, but I do know that Scandiborn do a beautiful wooden one. It’s quite an investment but I can guarantee you would get your money’s worth.

Animal/Dinosaur Figurines – you can get these pretty much any-where but our favourites are by Schleich, in comparison to some of the cheap ones you can get your hands on they really stand the test of time. There is no end for the amounts of things you can do with these. Bath play, sensory bins, imaginary play, sorting into categories the list is endless. They are also a really good thing to take on days out and travelling. I always have a tiger or two shoved in my handbag!

A Doctors Kit – again there are so many variations on these that you can get. Our favourite is the My First Doctor’s Kit from Wooden Toy Shop. (You may have gathered I much prefer wooden toys over plastic). Toby received this doctor’s kit one Christmas when he was around 18 months, it’s used tirelessly over and over again on us, grandparents, his toys, the dog, you name it.

Wooden Building Blocks – These have to be my favourite. We have the Brio 50 Piece Building Block Set and a couple of Giant Jenga sets. They’re so versatile, he plays with them in a different way every time. Sometimes he builds towers and bashes them back down, other times he will spend ages laying them out specifically, counting them rearranging them, he will use them to build houses/castles/garages or various other things for his figurines and cars. And they stand the test of time.

Dressing Up Box – My sister and her partner put together a dressing up box for Toby as a gift last Christmas. It can be easy to stereotype dressing up boxes if you stick to what is available in the local toy-shops. For boys they offer superhero’s or builders and for girls’ princess’, there’s no in between. Don’t get me wrong he does have a couple of super-hero costumes, but he also has a wand and tiara, its all about balance and exploration. What I’ve found works best for imaginative play is loose parts they can create in to multiple characters and be whoever they want to be. You can get some great things from Amazon and also from fancy dress shops. Think anything from wigs, to hats, to wings, to glasses. And another bonus you can always dig something out for those impromptu dress up days nurseries and schools like to spring on us! This is always the first box to be pulled out if he has friends round.

I hope these ideas are helpful and encourage you to allow your child or children to fully express themselves in wherever their interests lie. So next time your son’s Christmas list includes a Barbie, or your daughter’s birthday wish is for a WWE Wrestler, embrace it. Forget about the opinions of others, you do you. And more importantly, let them do them. We can’t single-handedly change the mainstream message, but we can redefine the meaning for our own children. And just maybe the woman who sniggered in the street at my son’s toy pram won’t be so shocked the next time she sees it, and maybe the time after that even less, until she sees little boys everywhere doing what little boy’s do best and playing, imagining and exploring and just maybe eventually she will learn to completely mind her own business.

The flip side of funny.

Have you ever had a dream that has shaken you to the core, the kind where you wake up with tears spiking your eyes, Goosebumps all over your body but dripping with sweat, where you can’t quite figure out where you are and no matter how hard you try to convince yourself it was just a dream, you can’t shake how realistic it felt?

A few nights ago, I experienced exactly that. Only this dream is reoccurring, yet usually these thoughts and worries only occur when we are abroad on holiday and they are variations of the same subject. In general, I am a very laid-back person, and nothing really phases me, however motherhood has spiked feelings and worries within me I didn’t know existed. They always surround my worst fear, losing Toby.

There is a flip side to the hilarious, outgoing and witty personality (Toby’s not mine, but you know the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and all that 😉) as I have mentioned before, people are in awe of him. He gets so much attention everywhere we go, he will talk to anyone and everyone and he has no fear of strangers. He presumes everyone is a good person as children should and that melts my heart but petrifies me at the same time. The feelings of anxiety surrounding it only really build up whilst we are abroad. On top of his personality that people are so taken by, he has bright blonde hair (more so when he’s been in the sun for a couple of days) and blue eyes. So, this alone gets a lot of attention when we are abroad, we often get people coming over to comment on his lovely hair colour or eye colour. Under normal circumstances I of course see no problem with people being friendly and complimentary but when we are in a foreign country my mind doesn’t think rationally and images of Madeline McCann and Ben Needham flash to the front of my mind. (Dramatic and farfetched, I know). For the first two years of Toby’s life I would only go on holiday with my parents as I guess a form of comfort, I have learnt to combat these irrational feelings and fears because we love travelling and I want Toby to experience the world. We do now travel just the three of us. But sometimes those feelings come back to bite me.

This dream in particular, we were on holiday in Greece and had been there for a week. The hotel was amazing, and we were having the best time. We were in the pool all day and exploring in the evenings. The staff were so nice and couldn’t do enough for us. As everywhere that we go, within a couple of days everybody had come to know Toby by name. (He makes sure of that!) One morning the clocks had gone backwards, or forwards, something along those lines and Toby was sleeping in later than usual, we had run out of water and decided he would be absolutely fine left sleeping if we nipped out to the supermarket to get some things. (Just to clarify this is what happened in my dream and would never ever happen in real life. Even now that I know it was a dream I keep thinking why would one of you not just go?!) We came back to the room and he was gone. My worst fear realised. Its making my heart race even writing this because I can feel that feeling, you know the one where you’re in the supermarket and you go to pick up something from the shelf, turn back around and they’re gone?! That split second before you see them bounding towards you, is gut wrenching.

Anyway, back to the dream. We were running around everywhere, screaming his name, asking anyone and everyone if they had seen him. Dan ran to the reception and told them to call the police, I was screaming, frantically running up and down showing people his picture on my phone. I ran out of the complex and down the street asking everyone who I passed on my way, I ran past a Sainsburys (I know what you’re thinking, a Sainsburys in Greece?!) and I saw a glimpse of blonde spikey hair in the store walking out of the adjacent door at the opposite end of the store. I sprinted inside and screamed his name, he turned around almost in slow motion, I scooped him up in my arms sobbing. He looked at me in a daze and the first thing he said was “I’m hungry”. He had a shopping bag in his hand and had been sent in by himself to get something to eat because he kept complaining of hunger. In his bag he had a cheese sandwich and a tube of smarties. My heart hurt. He told me “the man” had come to pick him up from the hotel room and had told him he was taking him to find us. Still clutching him tighter than I ever had before, I stepped one foot outside the exit in which he was walking out to see who the man was that was waiting for him. It was the hotels pool maintenance man. Dressed in a hoody and a cap rather than his usual bright red attire. He clocked me and ran away. I threw up. I was shaking. The same pool maintenance man that had shouted “Hey Toby!” and gave him a high five every time he had walked past him all week, who had laughed along with him and us, who had told us on multiple occasions “he’s so cute”, who we presumed was harmless. I went back inside the store and rang Dan to tell him I had found him and that it was the pool maintenance man who had taken him. Dan, the police and the hotel receptionist were at the store in seconds and it was at this point I woke up.

Tears were strolling down my face and I was dripping in sweat; my hands were trembling. Toby was right next to me in bed sound asleep and safe. But I could not shake how real the dream felt. I couldn’t convince myself it wasn’t real, even though I could see him right in front of me. I think it was because I knew how easily that could happen, Toby would trust a friendly, familiar face that he recognised from the hotel (not that he would ever be left unattended abroad or at home). I walked up and down the hall way a couple of times to try and rationalise everything. I ended up having to wake Dan up at 3am, as I needed further reassurance that it was just a dream, and everything was fine.

At the point of writing this I haven’t decided whether I am going to post this or not, it’s obviously a bit deep compared to what I usually write about. Maybe it will just be something that I needed to write down to clarify my own thoughts and it will go unread. I’m not sure. The dream stuck with me for a good few days and had me questioning whether it is the right time to talk to Toby about stranger danger. I think it’s a difficult topic, I don’t want to crush his spirit or alter his innocence in any which way, but I also want him to be aware of who it is and isn’t ok to go with and ultimately to be safe. I’d love to hear your opinions on talking to your children about stranger danger and how you have dealt with this matter. Is four too young or should I have made him aware by now?

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A walk in the park.

“A walk in the park”

In my opinion, its possibly the most ironic and ridiculous saying of all. A walk in the park, like they’re referring to a spa, a yoga retreat, a farmer’s market brunch or any actually relaxing places?!

Now, I don’t know what kind of parks these people who say “it’s like a walk in the park” go to, but a trip to the park in our world is NOT even remotely relaxing. As a matter of fact, there’s no walking – merely sprinting after an over excited toddler running straight for the pre-occupied swings about to be drop-kicked in the face or lifting said seriously heavy (may I add) toddler off the pavement during an almighty tantrum over ice cream. What kind of maniac’s idea of relaxation is this?!

Unfortunately for me, we live facing one of these ‘relaxing’ parks, something that seemed such a lovely idea when we bought the house. How wrong we were. We go to the park every day. Every damn day. Come rain or shine or sleet or snow.

Of course, we have to take the bike every time too, so the what should be a two-minute journey across the road, takes twenty. I’ve lost my voice before we’ve got there because I’ve had to scream “stop at the end!!!!” thirty times already, because apparently the only time that Toby’s bike breaks don’t work are as he’s nearing the edge of the curb and a van is flying around the corner. Obviously. I swear the little old man who lives next to the doctors thinks I’m a complete lunatic and he wouldn’t be far wrong. I’ve named him Kevin, but I’ve no real idea of what his name actually is.

We get there and the usual forage of having to push him back and forth on the swings for seven hours commences. This always looks a lovely child and parent bonding activity when I observe others doing it, but not my child who is a complete adrenaline junkie and nothing less than putting every ounce of effort you’ve got into every push will do.

Then there’s the fireman poles that he insists on doing despite having prior almost knocked his teeth out on multiple occasions. There’s no warnings for those either, he just jumps your either there to catch him or you’re not. He doesn’t give a shit either way.

After that there’s usually always some kind of bike riding or running race/contest with a random kid he’s challenged on the park. God help us all if he doesn’t win. But there’s not much chance of that, because for one he’s the most competitive child I’ve ever met and two he’s fucking rapid. Usain Bolt needs to watch his back.

All of this adrenaline pinching fun is usually followed by an ice cream from the parks cafe on the way back home. We try to limit Toby’s sugar intake through the week because he’s so sensitive to it, adding sugar to an already hyperactive child is the equivalent to pouring a can of petrol over an already out of control fire. It defies any reasonable logic. So, he knows he’s only allowed “treats” at weekend. And don’t we know it. He asks us every morning what day it is and wakes us up at 6 am on a Saturday morning shouting “ITS SATURDAY, CAN I HAVE SWEETS NOW?!” So, on a weekend we’ll let him have one.

Every. Single. Time. We have this conversation “I’ll have a blue one please!” Toby you don’t like blue, you just like the colour blue but you don’t like the flavour. “No, I do, it’s my favourite, I want a blue one”. Toby, you don’t, you say this every time and you have one lick and say you don’t like it. “No, no mummy, I used to do that when I was three but now I’m four. Blue is my favourite. It is. Honest”. Ok, well I’m not getting you another one if you don’t like it. “I do honest. I love blue” ……….. “mummy I don’t like this one I want to swap it”. Cue monumental tantrum.

“The walk in the park” ends up me dragging a foaming at the mouth, screaming toddler back up the road in one arm, bike in the other, usually the dog chucked in to the mix as well to make things even more fun. That is the dog that won’t fucking walk anywhere and hates being outside, so I have to carry him everywhere. (We seriously may as well have gotten a pet Guinea pig). Back passed (Kevin) the old man who lives next to the doctors, I’ve only just realised whilst writing this how weird it is that he’s always stood outside in his front garden. I’ll give him a half eye roll/smirk in a desperate bid that he doesn’t think we’re the neighbours from hell, but I know I’m completely wasting my time.

We’ll get home and dry (there’s absolutely no doubt he will have thrown himself in a puddle of some form) and put the same episode of paw patrol on we watch every day. “The one where Ryder is dressed up as a Knight please” and a now calmed down and over ice cream palaver Toby will say “I love going to the park Mummy 😊”. ……I’d rather go to the fucking spa!

Hello, its me.

9R6A4850Hello! So, I’ve finally decided to give this blogging lark a go. I’ve been pondering over it for while but haven’t managed to find the time. I still haven’t got time lets be honest, but it’s amazing what you will do to avoid doing the washing!

I figured the best place to start is by introducing myself and a little bit about me. I’m Megan, I’m 25 and I am a mum to fourteen, I mean four, year old Toby Oliver. I had Toby when I was really young, and I’ve aged approximately 37 years since.

When I’m not being dictated to by a pint-sized Hitler I work as a Freelance Fashion & Commercial Stylist. Although you wouldn’t think it if you ever have had the pleasure of seeing the ensembles I do the school run in! The state I am comfortable leaving the house in these days continues to surprise me.

I am the mum who turns up approximately an hour and a half late every day, looking like I’ve been attacked by a flock of pigeons on the way in, my child dressed in pyjamas because he point blank refused to get ready and I didn’t have another hour to spare to try and reason with him. There’s a reason that my name is Toby Oliver & Me and not the other way around. (Insert eye roll emoji here).

I work mainly in ecommerce, basically I am the liar who makes all the outfits look amazing when you’re online shopping but when they arrive they are a pile of shit, that look like they completely skipped the product quality test. I’m sorry.  I also style campaigns, look books and magazine editorials. I really love my job, and although freelancing does have its ups and downs (this is maybe something I will write about in another post, if anyone gives a shit) it really works for me. It allows me to be flexible, pick and choose the jobs I want to do and control my own hours. I couldn’t handle a full time 9-5 job going to the same place every day, seeing the same people. It’s just not me. Every day is different, and it basically keeps me sane.

About Toby, where to even began with such a complex little individual. He is whirlwind to say the least. He is in every sense of the word, a handful! He is a stubborn as hell, hyperactive, moody, insanely intelligent, strong willed, confident beyond belief, adorable, energetic, ridiculous, amazing, somehow overly sociable and socially awkward in the same sense lunatic. Wherever we go, people are in awe of him. He has more personality than most adults I’ve met. He is magic, and I hope he never loses it. And above all else, the kid is hilarious. To the point where “Toby Stories” has become a commonly used phrase. My family, friends, colleagues even to the extent of my sister’s colleagues ask to hear “Toby Stories”.

That’s one of my main reasons for deciding to write this blog, aside from for myself as for one I enjoy writing. I find it therapeutic. And let’s be honest, what else do I do just for myself these days! But mostly, I wanted to create a diary look back on. To remember the days where he whacked the plumber who came around to fix the bath over the head with a golf club (true story) or the time he refused to wear shoes for about a month because he was a dog and “dogs don’t wear shoes”. And hopefully one day when it’s not an every-day battle to get out of the door, and life is a little less manic. I might just find them as hilarious as everyone else.

I’m not entirely sure as of yet what this blog will be about, probably a good old mix of everything from outfit ideas to day out reviews, (we do a lot of these, we cannot stay in as my child has too much energy and climbs the walls. Literally. I wish I was joking.), parenting highs and lows, running a business, home interiors, travelling, holidays, every-day life, the chaos and the stumbling blocks along the way. I don’t know, I guess we’ll figure it out as we go. A bit like everything else. I can’t promise it will always be the most interesting, inspiring, thrilling or even regular read. But, I can promise you it will be funny!

Love,

Toby Oliver & – Me.