One of the truly great things about parenting, I think, is that you really get to know yourself. Like, what you might do when a baby cries for ten hours practically non-stop. (I start crying myself, then hand the baby over to the husband and get the hell out of Dodge.) Or, what you do when the baby barfs all over you - and everything else - at a downtown restaurant. (Clean up the Boy, clean up myself, pay the cheque, buy the Boy a new outfit, and walk around the rest of day myself in barf-smelling clothes). Or, what your breaking point is when the kid asks the same question for the fiftieth time. (Here, I'm surprisingly patient and innovative. I just start asking him questions till he gets confused and stops asking the original one.)
You also explore layers of yourself that you never knew were there. Or never acknowledged before. My latest discovery, much to my dismay, is that although I'm very liberal-minded when it comes to gender-typing, it seems that publicly, I tow the conservative line.
Case in point, I finally bought the Boy a tea set this weekend. I've been looking for one for months, but I refused to buy the pink and purple princess sets that abound in toy stores. And buying a porcelain set is just ridiculous when your kid plays hard. So, I've been looking for a manly tea set to buy. Not surprisingly, quite difficult to find. But I kept looking because the Boy likes to make tea for people, and I'm tired of constantly playing with dumptrucks, loaders, diggers, and garbage trucks. I felt we needed to branch out, and I want to encourage any domestic leanings the Boy may have.
If I was really liberal-minded though, I don't suppose it would have mattered whether or not the tea set was pink. And, while I certainly don't hide the fact (very little embarrasses me), I also don't go around the office telling people that I played Tea Party with the Boy last night. Why? I'm not sure. I certainly have no problem with it. I encourage it. If we had a bigger house, I would also buy him a kitchen set with pots and pans. I'm already itching to go back to the toy store and get this miniature microwave that I saw (that's how mummy really cooks anyways).
But in public, sadly, I don't let this show. I buy the Robeez with the fire trucks on them, even if the Boy says he likes the one with the hearts. (Although, he likes a different slipper every other day, so it would be impossible to buy one that he likes for more than 2 seconds.) I second-guess a cute little pastel blue raincoat that I saw because it might be too baby-ish. And when I asked the Boy what sheets he wanted for his soon-to-come Big Boy Bed, and he said "Dora sheets and Boots sheets", I hesitated. I tried to steer him in a different direction. Not because I care if he has Dora sheets or not (whatever keeps him asleep in bed would be fine by me), but because it's a little well...girlie. I would like to add, though, that my main problem with Dora, in particular, is that I don't want to buy anything that is plastered with a ginormous TV brand. I like my purchases to be less obviously commercial. AND it doesn't match my theme of airplanes and clouds from Wall Candy Arts
It seems to me that parents of girls don't face this kind of conundrum. If people see a girl playing with a digger in the sandbox, they smile at her chutzpah. If a boy pushes a tiny stroller with a doll in it around that same park, though, my guess is that many parents would not be as accepting. Granted, these are not people that I want to hang around with, but nor do I want to subject the Boy to unnecessary disapproval. I've already had complete strangers reach into my stroller to pull the thumb out of the Boy's mouth. I was angry enough at that.
But I didn't think I was that...conservative. What would you do? Would you dress the Boy in hearts and flowers and send him out in the world? The reality is that my opinion is not the only one he will encounter. Eventhough he is so young still, the gender compartmentalization has already started. Eventually, one of his little friends will say that "boys don't wear pink" and laugh - it's only a matter of time. Should I knowingly subject him to potential ridicule simply because I disagree with these long-held beliefs? Maybe I should. Maybe I'm setting the wrong example by bowing to popular opinion. But, I also think that if he wants to fight against gender stereotypes, it should be by his choice and not mine. I keep thinking of poor Marcus in About a Boy who was constantly teased because his mother dresses him funny and encourages him to walk the path not taken:
Fiona: When you sing it brings sunshine and happiness into my heart.
(...and when he then wants to sing Killing Me Softly at the school talent show, to please his mum..)
Fiona: He's expressing himself!
Will: No, he's not! He's expressing YOU!
I'm sure there is some middle ground here, but I'm having trouble finding it. So, for now, we keep the manly Tea Parties on home turf. Here, at least, I hope he can find a safe place to explore things that the world still seems to frowns upon. And, while I'm not going to send out any frilly invitations, anyone who wants to join us - without judgment - is most heartily welcome.
A rather drunken looking Tea Party, to be sure, but I was going for an effect here. It didn't work out. You get the picture, though, right?