Thursday, August 23, 2007

About A Boy

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?


bubandpie said...

I've been thinking about this lately too. Not so much about the pink and flowery things, but more about the culture of boyhood. We were at the park with a bunch of young hoodlums who were everything I don't want Bub to be - except in some ways he has to be that way (tough, aggressive, athletic) in order to be accepted. The things I want for him - gentleness, bookishness, a life of the mind - do not make for popularity or social acceptance.

Of course, in the end, it's not really going to be up to me. He'll be who he is. But the world of school just seems like piranha-infested waters to me right now.

jen said...

do you read susanne at creative mother thinking? this post reminds me a lot of some of her writing and she's navigated it in really awesome ways.

cinnamon gurl said...

Back before various life challenges got in the way of my blogging, I wrote about these issues a while back, inspired by susanne. I linked to her original post but she did a great follow up that I'm not sure if I linked to.

I didn't have any answers though... it's all so tricky.

kittenpie said...

Looks like you have the same tea set we do - I was about to tell you about it! To be honest, I'd think I'd try to walk a line. I think throwing a boy in the mix in pink is throwing him to the wolves, but I would consider purple or red as alternatives. I think the simpler you keep things, the easier it is to avoid the pitfalls, really. My girl wore overalls from Old Navy boys dept. for ages because I don't like how they girl up the girl ones. Why not stick with the classic plain ones? One blogger I read solved her dilemma about pink shoes by buying pink socks, so there are also those little touches, perhaps. (I wouldn't buy the girly Robeez with the princess on them, myself, so we have the fire trucks, too!) You can always go with the preppy pink polo shirt, too, if he really must have something pink!

As to the kitchen and stroller and whatnot - here's the thing. Dramatic play is good learning. Classrooms have drama centres with home-type setups because that is what kids know. Montessori is huge on this, too. Practicing adult roles from the world they see around them every day is a way of consolidating knowledge. So yes, by all means, get him a few kitchen pots and pans and some fake food. Pumpkinpie used to borrow a stroller from a boy in the park. Oh, and try the book William's Doll, also immortalized in song on Free To Be You And Me. It's a perfect explanation of why a doll is a good toy for a boy.

*steps off soapbox*

bubandpie said...

To add to what Kittenpie said, I agree that "girls' toys" have so much better value for pretend play. That's something that we've had to consciously foster with Bub, since it doesn't come naturally to him, and the fact is that toddlers don't have a whole lot of context for role-playing more macho roles like firefighter, but a plastic kitchen set allows them to act out things they see every day. I love my Little Tikes kitchen!

Beck said...

Can I be frank? Dressing your boy like a girl WILL result in him getting the crap pounded out of him in school. There's no two ways around it.

My son isn't Manly Mannington, so for me it's finding a meaningful male culture for him - and the older he gets, the more important I think it is that he finds ways to be a kind gentle guy and not a girl with a penis. But I also think that little boys NEED nuturing play - my son had a little guy doll (which he pretty much ignored, but hey) and my DAD bought him a sturdy tea set, because it is IMPORTANT to learn how to pour and practice manners. But other than that, I try not to make him feel like I am rejecting his maleness, that I find it in some way less prefereable than having girls and the culture of feminitity.

Beck said...

OH! I forgot - I saw an inexpensive toy stroller the other day - and it had a very manly cammo print on it, which I think would make it accepted by even the most conservative of parents. He could push that with confidence. (it was at Home Hardware, btw)

nomotherearth said...

Kittenpie and B&P: I totally agree with the pretend/dramatic play thing - that exactly why I want to navigate the Boy away from the constant barrage of trucks. The Boy likes trucks, but that doesn't mean that it's all he likes. Unfortunately, the relatives have all seized on the idea, and our basement looks like a parking lot most days.

I really want to get a toy kitchen, but our house is small and space is limited. Do you think it could be an outdoor toy?

Kittenpie: Free to Be is one of my all-time favourites, and I've done the show many times. (I was the "Tender Sweet Young" thing). If it were up to me it would be required theatre for all young children.

To everyone: I've never been inclined to dress the boy in pink or flowers (I personally don't like pink at all, and if I had a girl I would avoid the colour too), but it makes me kind of sad that it's so "taboo". Why is it all right for girls to wear blue, but it's not all right for boys to wear pink? That's silly.

Beck said...

Friends of our have a toy kitchen as an outside toy BUT it's been rough on it - it's faded quite a lot. A toy microwave wouldn't take up as much space... I've also seen smaller table-top toy stoves that might work.

Beck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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painted maypole said...

He appears to be adding sugar, and therefore is welcome to make me tea anyday. I do think that boys should play with whatever they want and wear whatever they want, and I always praise mothers who I see allow their boys to do this. One of my favorite pictures from MQ's preschool is when she was three years old, and she and her 2 best (boy) friends playing with dolls.

Kyla said...

I suppose we are liberal in this way. BubTar has doll strollers, a kitchen, pots and pans, ect. We've always allowed him to choose what he wishes to play with...and sure enough, peer pressure eventually taught him pink is for girls, and the rest of it. But I still make sure he knows all colors are for everyone and that he can choose to do what HE wants...not just what his friends say boys SHOULD want. He goes so far as not eating pink candies anymore. *lol* He's always dressed boyish, nothing girlie there...but I just don't feel that he should have to reject colors and candies and meaningful types of play, just because he is a boy. He is a a manly little dude, but I don't think he should be limited by it.

I do think the culture of boyhood is still very rigid, whereas girl culture isn't quite so much. I don't want him limited though...he should be just as free to find his own way in the world.

That said, he loves tea parties, and whenever we make it to Canada...we'll stop by your place to enjoy one. ;)

Alley Cat said...

I wouldn't dress a boy in hearts and flowers, unless he specifically asked to do it. I don't really like dressing my girl that way either, but the inlaws keep giving me girlie stuff for her to wear. I'd let your son guide you, and if his choices get him teased a little, let him be the one to decide if he cares.

LoryKC said...

My son already had access to a tea set--a couple, actually--as he has an older sister. He used to love Dora and his sister was the one who picked on him for liking a "girl show." ;(

My hubbie worries sometimes as my daughter will dress my son in dresses and wigs--and he goes right along with it! He is a sweet, sensitive boy but he is also a tough guy who runs (never walks) with the boys and plays hard. It is good to have a balance and let them play with what interests them, rather than them worrying that something is wrong for them. They have enough to worry about!

If a boy is ever caught by less open-minded boys playing with a Barbie doll, he always has the option of being a knight rescuing the damsel in distress or pulling her head off! ;)

Lisa b said...

I have girls but I worry about the same issues. I don't want to push my issues on them to the point where they alienate or embarass them but I don't want to reinforce sterotypes either.
My older girl plays with trucks with the boys at nursery school. I am not sure if this was encouraged by the teachers but I think it is a genuine interest. However I was shocked when having never bought her a doll 'babies' were her first toy obsession. I blamed that one on daycare but really who knows.
I try not to buy too much pink either. I suppose that all we can do is try to avoid gendered items.
Get him the kitchen though- all kids love that.
Oh and I don't think twice when I see a boy with a stroller. That is the universally loved toy.

danigirl said...

We don't really have the space for a kitchen thingee either, so we bought a set of food and dishes for my 3 yo son Simon for his birthday and turn the rubbermaid container it's stored in upside down to use as the 'stove'. Works well enough!

He also desperately wanted a doll house, so we got him one. He loves it, but as often as not the inhabitants of the house are cars or wooden trains.

Nancy at blog pourri's son wanted a Princess cake for his fourth birthday - and I love that she gave him one. There's plenty of time later on for the gender stereotyping - I think we should indulge their inner pinkness while we can.

Christine said...

in many ways it has been easier for us to let our son explore what most people consider girlie toys because we have an older daughter. the tea sets, dolls, dress up clothes, etc are already there. but here is the funny thing--he doesn't seem to care. he still wants the damn trucks, etc. but he DOES love baby dolls. a lot. and the play food and kitchen. and when my girl was born i refused pink and pastels and searched (but never found) black baby clothes. we bought her trucks and cars and "boy" toys. But in the end she WANTED the dolls and pink crap. and now her room looks like pepto. but seriously, i never would have believed that the sexes could be so different before the kids came along. in my mind it was completely a social construction. but know i am not so sure.

in the end i think we have to admit the lines we have that we won't cross. i never thought i had them, but i am not so sure now. i mean i wear earrings and skirts, right? but my husband doesn't. i wear make up, too. aren't these constructed gender identifiers? it is SO SO SO hard!

Alpha DogMa said...

I meant to post a comment a few days ago - sorry to be late to the tea party.

DangerBoy (age 3) loves all things pink. We've indulged him, because until recently we thought he was colour blind. Pink was the only colour he could consistently identify.

But we weigh the risk of (current and future) public humiliation against the joy he receives from this or any other 'girlish' item (ie he has one pink shirt - initially purchased as a gift for a female playmate - but only wears it at home).

I bought him a doll crib because he loves to tuck his various bears and dogs into bed, have them all take ill with the stomach flu and role play everyone puking all over the room. This is a nice blend of nurturing and disgusting, don't you agree?

I just need to clarify - in reference to an earlier comment - that Montessori schools stress children role play adult behaviour. This is why Montessori schools and daycenters have kitchen set ups. But these are not centers for dramatic play or imaginative play. One of the basic tenents of Montessori schools is that children are incapable of imaginative play until the age of 7. Kids can play 'kitchen' but they can not use the kitchen equipment in a game of cowboys or princesses or what have you.

Naomi (Urban Mummy) said...

Oh, I SO hear you! We did get our son a kitchen (it's small, and it's wood) for his birthday last year, and he's started using it much more now - makes me pizza and eggs all the time!

I also bought him a doll house - very gender neutral, also wood, really nice.

My father made comments on both toys.

That being said, when we go to the shoe store to get shoes, he always wants the pink ones.

Where did you find a gender neutral tea set?

It's really difficult with boys. We want them to be well rounded, but we don't want others to pick on him.

I do hear you!

Susanne said...

Hey, I'm late, but as somebody already pointed out this is indeed a pet topic of mine. So I totally understand your concerns.

My son has dolls and a doll stroller but the stroller is yellow. He doesn't play much with this. He loves his tea set (primary colors) and used to play with old pots of ours incessantly. I am more careful with clothes, as Beck says his peers at kindergarten do notice when he is wearing something pink.

If I had a girl I wouldn't want her to have all those pink things either but if she wanted them very badly I wouldn't spend as much time convincing her to take something else too.

And Bubandpie is right as much as we want our sons to be gentle caring and bookish they have to develop a tough and athletic and slightly aggressive side too. Other wise they will be flattened in school.

I go around saying to myself, "He will be okay. He is capable. He will do fine."