I’m still wrestling with what it means to be the mother of boys. I was always a tomboy growing up, so in many ways I suspect I’m more comfortable this way. I can backpack, paddle a canoe, pitch a tent, play trumpet, program computers, role-play, curse out the pitcher, lift heavy objects, and do stuff without fear of breaking my nails. I’ve always been a bit more comfortable in the guy’s world than the girl’s world. I still don’t wear makeup or nail polish regularly. I don’t dye or style my hair. It’s not that I’m incapable of being girly: I have an extensive jewelry and wardrobe collection, delight in sparkly gel pens, and cook up a storm in the kitchen. But, well, if I were a 19th century heroine who had to cut her hair, bind her breasts and pass as one of the guys, I think I’d do fine.
I’m finally completely comfortable with my own gender and it’s expression. I am who I am, and for the most part I like who I am.
But I’m responsible for helping to raise two young men. And guess what? There is no “default gender” that happens to be male. Just because my boys are boys doesn’t mean that there aren’t gender issues. I think it just means that we’re less likely to confront them.
A few examples.
Grey came home from daycare the other day, and told me that one of the girls at daycare said he couldn’t play with her toy, because it was a girl’s toy and he was a boy. She was probably right in a strict gender-divide definition. If you flip through the 900000 toy catalogs I get this time of year you can more or less mark each page as “boy”, “girl” or “neutral”. It takes maybe a second a page to determine this. The number of neutral pages is depressingly slim. In fact, for more fun, for each page note how many toys have BOTH boys and girls playing with them. There are the blocks. And, um, the blocks. Maybe. If they’re not divided into GI Joe and Hello Kitty colors.
So he wanted to a play with a friend’s toy, and was told he couldn’t because he was a boy and this was a girl’s toy.
I’m pretty sure that if someone had told me, even at four, that I couldn’t play with a toy because it was a boy’s toy and I was a girl, I would have told them to take a long walk off a short dock and promptly spent the next 3 weeks playing with nothing but that toy. (Man, parenting me must’ve been SO MUCH FUN.) At five my favorite night gown said, “Anything boys can do girls can do better”. In fact, if you want to know the #1 reason I became an excellent trumpet player, it was because I was consistently told by the boys around me that girls couldn’t play trumpet. There was only one way to prove them wrong.
Why would I consider it acceptable to make my sons accept gender constraints that would’ve infuriated me when I was a child?
So I told Grey that different people have different opinions, but I’m his mom. And I say that he can play with any toy that’s safe and fun, and that I don’t think there are girl toys and boy toys. And if he wants Shrinky-dink jewelry or a My Little Pony, I’m happy to put Santa’s money where my mouth is.
But… but but.
For one thing, so many of the girl’s toys are absolutely atrocious. Have you LOOKED at those? Fashion designer software. Dolls in 93 outfits of the same pink. (Try to find a boy baby doll appropriate for a 2 year old next time you have time to kill in a toy store.) Bratz. Makeup kits. Hair kits. It makes me, I confess, extremely glad to have boys when I flip through those pages.
And then there’s the bit where, like all mothers, I want my son to be accepted and have friends. I want him to be liked. I want him to feel comfortable in the world he inhabits. These things are much easier when you look and act “right” for how people expect you to be.
I recently read a blog entry (wish I could find it — I can’t — please pass on the link if you read it and remember! EDITED: Here it is — elapsed time for internet audience to find the answer = time it took to go to the bathroom) about a mom struggling with her son’s sincere wish to wear a dress to preschool, even if it meant that people teased him. I admired her pragmatism and courage. I admired his sense of self and determination. I was so grateful that it wasn’t me having to make those choices. So far, at least, Grey seems very comfortable being a boy and doing boy things.
But he’s not monolithic. He loves his pair of pink kitty cat pajamas. (He asked for them, and I said yes. Because why not?) The other day he wanted to try on one of my dresses (he hasn’t asked to since). He nurtures his stuffed animals with great solicitude. And sometimes he wants to play with the girl’s toys. He’s not yet afraid to be caught doing the “wrong” stuff — having a pink toy or a brush. I don’t want him to. I want him to look and say: is this fun? Will I enjoy this? I want him to have friends who are girls and friends who are boys.
And most of all, I want two things. When Grey does encounter someone (as he almost certainly will) who does not feel comfortable with the gender expressions assigned to them, I want him to see them as the person they truly are.
And finally, I want Grey to feel free to be the person his is.