Today I had a battle at Nordstrom's.Not with the very nice, timid, bespectacled sales woman. Not with my curious, friendly, excited 2 1/2 year old. Not with my wallet and self control. But with myself, my feminism, my fears, and my lifelong conditioning regarding gender appropriate things.
Last year I bought Hawk a pair of nice brown Crocs (and don't even get me started on how ugly I think they are, but as far as practical shoes go for 100+ degree weather and the ease with which they slip on they are simply magical). I deliberately chose brown because it's a neutral color as far as fashion goes, as well as gender.
I've always avoided traditional "boy clothing." I never buy things with footballs, baseballs, or fishing lines on them, or pithy little sayings on the front about his "manliness" or "masculinity." (Likewise, I will never dress my little girl in anything that says something about her "perfection" or "princess-like" qualities so long as I'm in charge of making the fashion decisions.) I buy pink shirts whenever available and I also buy him dolls and kitchen sets and we watch The Little Mermaid on demand (ad nauseum).
His room is yellow with a nature/kitschy look. I don't think anyone would necessarily walk into his room and think, "A little boy lives here." They would certainly know a child occupied it, but that's about it. There's a cheetah with an eye patch, an etched dove, artwork by my sister, and felt birds on the walls. A heart pillow on the wooden rocking chair and baskets full of stuffed animals, blocks, and books round out the look.
I also encourage him to be sensitive, thoughtful, careful, and loving. I applaud his efforts at making friends by being gentle, friendly, and curious. I let him explore our world by "applying" makeup with my big fluffy brushes and stomping around with my stilettos on his chubby toddler feet. I am patient with him when he balks at slides and high jumping points and I always listen to him and stop when he says, "No" to tickling, playing, kissing, whatever.
However, despite all my efforts, this time of omnipotent control over what goes on Hawk's body is coming to a close and I am being faced with my own misgivings. He is developing strong preferences for certain things. Like the shirt with the tractors all over it that his Granddad sent him. Or the shirt with the airplane on it that his Nana mailed for his birthday. He has little to no interest in things with animals on the front, it's all gears, vehicles, "robots" (whatever he thinks looks like a robot).
So while I'm not crazy about all these "typically" masculine things I feel pretty ok with it. I think to myself, "Well, he's coming by it honestly at least" and I go about my day. But today when given the choice of color of Crocs Hawk went straight for the hot pink ones.
Let me set the scene a little bit more. I gather up 7 pairs of Crocs (that's right, SEVEN) and lay them all out on the floor: two navy blue and one each of bright blue, kelly green, glowing orange, lavender, and hot, hawt pink. I'm thinking to myself that I'm really cool with whatever he picks. I mean, hey! I'm laying out pink ones, right? I'm an evolved mother!
So when he dives for those pink ones immediately I am suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of embarrassment. First at the idea of him running around for the next year in pink shoes, then at myself for being embarrassed in the first place. What difference does it make? Ever?? Not just now at 2, but even at 12 or 17? If the kid wants to wear pick effing shoes, then he should wear pink effing shoes.
But I know Hawk and he's only been able to pick colors lately (he usually has no preference). I ask him again if he really wants the pink ones. He tosses them aside and picks up the bright blue ones. I instantly feel relieved and then guilty. My guilt makes me ask him yet AGAIN if those are the shoes he really wants. He puts the blue ones down and oohs and ahhs over the ghastly orange ones. Now I'm screwed. I've completely confused him and I'm still unable to get him to pick the shoes that would make mommy most comfortable (that'd be the more fashion-neutral navy blue ones, by the way).
I've read about other parents struggling with this issue (like Dad Who Writes and Annie @ PhD in Parenting) and I have friends who talk about working on the balance between their children's desires and their own adult biases. The bottom line is that yes, we know the implied gender difference between a pair of pink shoes and blue, but children at this age do not. Yes, they might get harassed at the playground, but is it really our job to shelter them from the impact of their decisions? Good or bad?
And why am I feeling so strongly about pink shoes on my son? I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, I wouldn't feel anything like this regarding a daughter wanting to wear camouflaged Crocs.
Did I mention that I'm evolved?? Hahaha!
There will come a time when fitting in is paramount and I'm sure I'll be cringing then, too, as Hawk acts rough and tough and says and does ridiculous things to "prove" his boyness to other boys (and girls). Then it will eventually level out in late adolescence as he becomes more comfortable with himself and he finds the right balance within who he is and wants to be (whatever that may be). At least this is what I hope happens.
But for now, I am going to go to great lengths to let him enjoy the full spectrum of his rainbow, no matter which color or object it might be made of. If it includes robots, trucks, tractors, and pink shoes, then so be it.
And so, in the end, Hawk got his pink shoes.
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