Recently, my 4-year-old son pulled out Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site, by Tom Lichtenheld, from his book shelf, a title we had not read in many months. The book tells the story of various construction vehicles winding down after a hard day at work and ultimately all falling asleep. My son went through a pretty big truck phase a couple of years ago and he’s an incredibly active child, so he enjoys listening to how the rough and tumble vehicles literally shut off their engines and go to sleep. It’s a cute book in many ways.
As I read the story that night, however, I remembered all of the construction vehicles were boys. I quickly flipped through the remainder of the pages and confirmed every single character in the book was assigned male pronouns. Disappointed, I brought this up to my son.
“Hmmm. I see all the trucks and vehicles in this book are boys. I don’t like that there aren’t any girl characters. What do you think?” I asked him.
“Well, this is a silly book because construction vehicles aren’t like people. They don’t have eyes and mouths in real life,” he responded.
“That’s a good point and you’re right! Trucks don’t have feelings or go to sleep like we do,” I said. “So why do you think the author made all of the characters boys, especially since it’s a make-believe world where cars and trucks are like people?”
“I don’t know. Maybe because some people think only boys like trucks or cars?” he questioned. He quickly added, “But that’s not true.”
“I agree,” I said. “Your sister loves trucks and construction sites!”
“Yea, she really does,” he laughed. “We could change some of the characters to girls if you want,” he suggested.
“I love that idea!” I said. “Let’s get a pen and make a few of the vehicles girls. You can pick which ones.”
My son went on to select the excavator and dump truck to transform into girl trucks. I was so proud of him for coming up with a proactive solution for how to change the narrative of the story into one that was inclusive of girls.
After we made the changes, I said “Some people think that certain toys or books or clothes are just for girls or just for boys. We don’t believe that in this house. You and all kids should get to decide for yourselves what you like, no matter if you’re a girl or a boy.” My son nodded and snuggled up to hear the rest of the story.
There are many actions, big and small, I can and must take in order to effectively resist all that is happening in our country’s political climate. Critically examining Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site with my son feels like a small interaction, but it reminded me parenting is a form of activism. The work I do in my family matters, but I must slow down and take the time to be intentional.
So often, I rush through books or turn on the television so I can make dinner or multi-task. While I cannot expect myself to be fully engaged with my kids at all times, helping them identify and question problematic imagery or story lines in the media they consume is really important work. Right now, my kids rely on my voice more than any other to help them interpret and understand the world around them.
My son surprised me by how quickly he was able to synthesize and examine why girls were not included in Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site. After I heard my friend Beth-Ann say this phrase, I find myself using it all the time because it bears repeating: parenting is the ultimate grassroots organizing. Raising my children to question how media is presented to them and advocate for how to create more inclusive messaging is slow work, but worthy of my full attention.
Read, question, challenge, repeat. Bedtime can be radical, y’all.