The Play Kitchen

 See? It fits just swell in that little corner. Charlotte has lots of space to play, but it's still off to the side.

Pretend drinking, which actually is good cup practice. Go figure.

Putting away the dishes.

I don’t hesitate to call myself a feminist. I majored in women’s studies. I have read more gender theory and feminist theory than can be quantified.

But I bought my daughter a play kitchen.

A few months ago, we went to a birthday party, and Charlotte had so much fun playing with her friend’s kitchen. I had thought we’d buy her one for Christmas at the end of the year, but after seeing how well it, um, OCCUPIED her, Chris and I thought that maybe we should get her one earlier. (In our defense, she actually doesn’t have that many toys. She has more than enough to play with at school, and at home a stack of newspaper entertains her marvelously. So getting her the play kitchen is quite a big deal.)

Now, back to gender roles. As a young feminist, I swore that I’d never, ever buy my little girl a play kitchen. But, as luck would have it, I married a man who . . .  cooks. Almost every meal. Sure, I’ll pinch hit if he needs to work after we get home, but Chris is the cook in our family. The kitchen was HIS design. I have a single drawer for baking stuff (and I insisted on the second dishwasher), and the rest is all Chris.

So, I reasoned, if Charlotte’s only household role model of a cook is her daddy, then would buying her a play kitchen be reinforcing gender roles? As far as she knows, it’s not a wife/mother/woman thing at all. To boot, we have the Food Network and Cooking Channel on ALL THE TIME during weekends, and she watches (with Daddy) Jaime Oliver, Alton Brown, Tyler Florence, Bobby Flay, and Michael Chiarello—all men—cook all sorts of stuff.

And really? Little boys love play kitchens just as much (or more) than little girls. When I got mine, my brother played with it, too. Granted, it might have been used as a war bunker during the occasional Nerf battle, but I also remember him pretend-answering the yellow phone and pretend-writing down messages, then shoving me out of the way to pretend-cook an order.

Chris was all for buying Charlotte a play kitchen, but he had one requirement: The stove must have a hood. That narrowed our options to ONE kitchen.

And then the manufacturer discontinued it.

DISCONTINUED it. Lesson learned: Do not waste time running play kitchen purchases by spouse. His opinion isn't THAT important.

My one requirement? It could not have girly colors or pastels. Yes, Charlotte’s wardrobe contains more pink than a bottle of Pepto Bismol, but there’s something about a “girl” kitchen that is so blatantly “a-woman’s-place-is-in-the-kitchen” that I just can’t stomach it. Other requirements? It had to have lots of things to open and close, compartments had to be big enough to store fake food (you'd be surprised how many play kitchens fall short there), and it had to be under $100.

So we got this one. Nothing fancy, but Charlotte loves it. And hey, the marketing photo had a girl AND a boy playing together with it, which warmed my men-can-handle-household-crap-too heart.

So, it was with a clean conscience that I bought Charlotte’s kitchen. And of course, she adores opening and shutting the various doors, putting things in and out, and so on. I assume she views it as a nifty toy with lots of parts to explore, not a miniature kitchen, and that’s totally fine.

The point is, the kitchen occupies her, keeps her out of trouble, and, most importantly, brings her joy.

And who knows? Maybe she’ll grow up to be a professional chef! Or at least manage to cook for Mommy when Daddy goes out of town.


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