This morning, like most mornings, found N___ complaining because his sister had hijacked one of his toys. "Grandma gave me that Barbie doll to use, and A___ won't give it back!" he whined.
My first reaction, of course, was to help. And by "help," I mean roll my eyes in irritation and bellow at them to "Just work it out for chrissake -- Mommy hasn't finished her coffee yet!" But just then, what he said sank in. I'm sorry ... did you just say ... doll?
Hallelujah. FINALLY, my long-held principles about raising boys and girls were bearing fruit.
I grew up in the '70s, with liberal parents. "Free to Be ... You and Me" was pretty much the gospel of my childhood. I took it on faith that parents are people, it's all right to cry, and -- preach it, Alan Alda -- William gets a doll.
But I have had fewer opportunities than I had hoped to put my enlightened views into practice with my own children. Before A___ was born, I firmly rejected gender stereotypes. I painted her room yellow; her comforter was blue. "Girls do not have to wear pink!" I naively declared.
Except ... then I told the world she was a girl. And for the next three years, until her brother was born, every item that entered my house was pink. Because every item for girls ... in every store? Pink. When N___ was born, I had an equally difficult time finding anything for him to wear that did not seem to limit his future career choices to race car driver, construction worker, or professional athelete.
Fine, I thought. I can bend on the clothing thing. But this doesn't have to affect their behavior. Surely their dad and I will treat them the same, so there won't be any difference in how they play.
With each of my kids, I had a couple of pretty good years. Baby toys are baby toys, for the most part. Exersaucers are gender-neutral. For a while, even when N___ was old enough to express a preference, his older sister's influence held sway. He played hairdresser. He wore his sister's dress-up clothes. And I ... um ... gloated.
Then, boy met world. He went to school, where his friends watched movies we didn't let him watch, played with toys we didn't let him play with, or had older brothers who did those things. In TV commercials, he watched boys playing with the toys that boys are "supposed" to want to play with. Of course I tried to counteract these messages. But bit by bit, gun by gun, superhero by superhero, I felt I was losing him to a world I did not understand and where I could not follow.
Until this morning. Because my son was heartbroken over a DOLL, people! And I'm pretty sure I broke a land-speed record getting over there to step in and make sure he got that thing back. "You go ahead and take that Barbie to your room to play, son," I said, my voice cracking with pride.
That "whoop-whoop" sound you heard? That was me, raising the self-righteous roof. Here it was, finally, living proof that I had single-handedly (OK, maybe with a little help from my husband) fought off the influence of our misogynistic, homophobic culture. Superhero? I'll show you a superhero! I was on Cloud 9.
And then ... that thump you heard? Also me. Firmly reconnecting with Earth a few minutes later, when N___ came back into the room holding a half-undressed Barbie and exclaiming, "Look, Mommy! Boobies!"
Time to dust off that "Free to Be ..." DVD we picked up a few years back. It's movie night, kids.