Buying a Baby for the Birthday Boy

As you know, my son E turned four this month. As usual, he had at least four different celebrations, and so many amazing presents, it’s mind-boggling.

SO MUCH LEGO. He was totally stoked, and he’s getting much better at working with it – not long ago, his motor skills were not ready for the little pieces. Here’s something cute he decided to make, all on his own (some of these torsos are from Daddy’s voluminous Star Wars Lego collection). He called them “ponies”, but then Daddy taught him the word “centaur”, which is pretty cool.

My Li’l Lego Centaurs. The next big thing.

He’s also been thrilled at other gifts, from cars to books to puzzles to stickers to a handmade huggable parrot to a set of three Angry Birds toothbrushes that he’s now obsessed with.

This year, I was really excited about our present for him. Prior to the big day, Sean told me that E had mentioned he would like a “baby” with clothes he could change. I was ALL OVER THAT. I’ll be honest: I like the vehicles and other so-called “boy stuff” more than I expected, but this was a present I could really relate to. I remember my heartfelt attachment to my doll Jules, and my deep yearning for a Cabbage Patch Kid (which I got for Christmas – Gilbertina Jill, born October 1st), and a similar passion for a newborn-style baby doll a few years later. My dolls were very important to me.

So I happily went shopping for a doll for my son. I wanted it to be a good one, and one generic enough that he could decide whether it was a boy or girl baby.

I went to the local Toys R Us Express and was severely disappointed. I got a doll stroller, because I knew he’d want that. But the doll itself was another matter.

First of all, there was ONE kind of doll in the boys’ section, a Vanellope doll (from Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph). That hardly counts. This was already a shame, in my mind. In the 80s, it was okay for boys to have Cabbage Patch Kids. Some of us had listened carefully (a jillion times) to “William Wants a Doll.” Have we actually regressed since then, in terms of sex role stereotypes?

And in the girls’ section, there was not a lot of choice of babyish babies either. (Probably because little girls are known for playing with their dolls’ hair, so the dolls must be “old” enough to have luscious locks.) And there was nothing unisex about these dolls: they were all girls, categorically. And for girls.

From the Toys R Us website: “Young girls will love taking care of their precious bundles while pretending to be a mommy or a caring friend.” Sooo… boys will not love that. I guess.

On a package for a You&Me doll that makes happy sounds when you’re nice to it, I read something like, “Made to encourage young girls to express love and affection.” Maybe I was just grumpy, but does that not seem effed-up to you?

  1. Most young girls are already oozing with love and affection, thank you very much. Like, they just wanna hug you, allthetime.
  2. If they’re having trouble in the love-and-affection department, is a doll with recorded baby sounds really going to help? I’m thinking they’ll need some actual hugs. From actual people.
  3. What about the boys??? Well folks, it turns out love and affection are for girls only. Get your boy a soccer ball to encourage kicking and running.

(Don’t get me wrong. I think soccer and kicking and running are awesome. But you know.)

And I swear, every baby in there DOES SOMETHING. Giggles when you touch it. Burps when you pat it. Drinks from a bottle and wets its diaper. Magically gets a messy face that magically comes clean when you wipe it. (No actual mess involved.) I mean, is it so much to ask for a simple baby doll??

Yes, apparently. Yes.

So I went to our local non-chain toy store, having visited their website and read this: “With their personality and charm, dolls captivate little girls’ and boys’ attentions and hearts. Superior quality and design provide a lifetime of love.”


And it was still really tough shopping, because there were so many, and it was still hard to find one that wasn’t obviously supposed to be a boy or a girl. But I ended up (falling in love) with this one.

My mom says it looks like one of my babies, so no wonder.
Look at its teeny hands!

On the birthday morning, after our requested birthday breakfast of croissants, I brought it out in the stroller, with a blanket over the whole thing.

As we unveiled it, all excited, he smiled tentatively. I think we were making such a big deal that he expected it to be something a little crazier. (“Like a car with tracks or something,” he said.) Maybe he was a little confused, at first. After all, he doesn’t fully get the wider context of gender roles and how great we think it is that he wants to love a baby doll.

But evidence since then indicates that this baby is special to him. Some presents he loves fanatically for a bit and then forgets about, but I have hopes that this baby-love will endure.

And interestingly, he automatically made his baby a girl. He named her after his real baby sister.

At the mall with baby. And a little bear and Carrot Head purple guy.

People smile when they see him strolling along with his baby. I wish this could be true forever. I wish the world and all the little boys in it could see my boy and his baby as the most natural thing in the world – the precursor to loving and affectionate fatherhood – for as long as he wants to bring his baby with him. But I fear it will be more complicated than that, and soon.

E also mentioned, just prior to his birthday, that his favourite colour was purple. Of course, his favourite colour changes often, but I was excited about the purple because there have been times when he told me in no uncertain terms that it was a “girl colour”. I told my parents about it, and they got him a purple shirt that was clearly not a girl shirt. He loves it, although he does insist it’s blue (he eventually conceded to indigo).

Then there’s the gymnastics ribbon. He adored the one he played with at Auntie A and Uncle R’s house at Easter, and miraculously, my mom knew where my old ribbon was, so now it’s his. He calls it his dagger: “Mommy, can I go outside so I can swing my dagger?”

IMG_4213 IMG_4215 IMG_4221 IMG_4217 IMG_4225 IMG_4223

Ah, my love, my sweet birthday boy. I don’t know how long all these things will be socially acceptable to you and your peers. Lately, you have started saying that certain things are “too pretty” for you. Things I know you are attracted to, things you might want to wear or use but somehow, in your developing social mind, you think they’re not appropriate. For instance, you love the fairy window craft Auntie Em gave you, but you think it might be too pretty.

The other day, you visited the dentist in your Spiderman shirt, Spiderman sunglasses, and Spiderman hat – and your golden beads. After your appointment, you started to choose a flamey mini-skateboard from the prize basket, but shyly changed your mind to select a set of red beads that matched your gold beads AND brought out the ruby tones in Spiderman’s outfit. (The administrative assistant got a kick out of that.)

E, in our home, you will always be safe to enjoy whatever YOU love. You can be as pretty or not-pretty as you want. I’m happy that for now, you get to delight in whatever toys and colours and themes you like, but when you get older and it gets complicated, just know this: I LOVE ALL YOUR AFFINITIES. I love that you dig cars and beads and dinosaurs and babies and and shovels and teasets and red and green and pink and brown and orange and purple all at once. And Daddy feels the same – he’s with you all the way. All of us are.

Stay you, wonderful boy. We love you forever and ever. Happy Being Four.



18 thoughts on “Buying a Baby for the Birthday Boy

  1. mama lola says:

    oh mama, i hear ya and i completely agree. my boys have had dolls, have a bright pink princess stroller and love pink, sparkly things that are geared towards girls. since my 5YO bear has been in school, his dialogue about what is meant for boys and what is meant for girls has become much more pronounced. it breaks my heart, and we continue to encourage him to play or wear what he wants, instead of caving to societal expectations. but school friends say a lot of things without thinking or realizing the larger context or impact. and, peer pressure even in JK is a powerful force.

    enjoy 4, mama! my lion will be 3 in about a week… man, time flies!
    mama lola recently cottage vacation in june!My Profile

    • dilovelyadmin says:

      Our boys should hang out together! They can be as sparkly as they want. I have loved seeing pictures of your boys wearing what they want, but you’re absolutely right – it’s amazing how fast societal expectations crash in when the social circle expands. And you’re right that kids say things without thinking… it’s scary to hear some things kids say and realize they are taking the words directly from their parents’ mouths. It’s brutal how early some parents start to curtail and mold their children’s natural interests – particularly dads telling their boys that they have to look a certain way. We are so lucky our boys have the dads they do.

  2. Yerpa says:

    Oh, jeez. There’s evidence that a child’s peers have more influence over her/his social development than do his parents. All I can think of by way of comfort is: I was warped by my peers, and did shameful things under their warpage, but eventually I got better.

  3. emerge says:

    Here’s a story from facebook that came from the comments under the photo linked to below:

    Back in October my 7yo Son broke his arm. When the doctor asked him what color cast he wanted , my son proudly pointed to the hot pink one. The Doctor was like are you sure? Pink is a girl color… My little guy looked at the Doc and said “There are no girl colors or boy colors, I want a PINK cast because it’s Breast Cancer Month” The Doc turned red. the Nurse gave my son a kiss and I puffed out like a proud Mama bird.
    -Tonya K.

    Some kids manage to mold themselves to not-the-mainstream ideas about gender roles. There is hope!!

  4. Auntie CL says:

    what a great post. brings back my issues on the very same topics some decades back. my little boychick was helped greatly by his Raggedy Ann doll, with whom he could discuss things and to whom he could confess things, and who was always there for him, and of whom he took great tender care. in kindergarten (there were only 4 boys in the class) there was a day when the children were invited to bring their teddies, or whatever similar toy they liked, and Raggedy Ann went proudly to school with him. the other boys asked, “Is that a doll? What do you do with it?” He answered. he never seemed to be concerned about gender stereotypes, though he was passionately fond of cars and trucks and other things with wheels. he took a dance class at the age of 3 – the only student not in a pink tutu – and chose a pink corduroy coat for his winter coat at 3 1/2. he has worn his hair long a lot of his life, though hardly anyone has ever mistaken him for a girl, even as a baby. (certainly not now.) i, too, thought cabbage patch kids would finally liberate little boys to play dolls and be daddies – what happened with that?? but it looks to me like your boy is definitely doing a gender-role thing with that baby – he has a really great daddy and is playing at being one himself. wayyyyyy to go, E-boy, you rock!

    • dilovelyadmin says:

      I love that your boychick was so supported in his choices by both his parents, and that he had such a good relationship with Raggedy Ann. If only there were some way to teach the not-caring-what-people-think skill. I think he was rare in his childhood ability not to take comments/questions personally.

      You’re right, E has such a great example in his daddy… I’m hoping that’s the one that sticks with him the most. 🙂

  5. Sue says:

    I always tell our boys that toys are for kids. Not boy toys or girl toys, they are all kid toys. Looking through Toysrus and other department stores, all of the play things are so much more segregated than needed. Even basic toys like stacking rings can be found in primary colours or a variety of pinks. We start so young to narrow their ability to just be kids. 🙁

    • dilovelyadmin says:

      Sue, I love that “kids’ toys” concept. You’re absolutely right that toy stores are segregated, and that the girls’ side is so PINK it’s ridiculous. (Not that I have anything against pink. But people seem to forget that girls can like lots of colours too.) It’s like we’re setting boys and girls up NOT to relate to each other.

  6. Helen says:

    I remember one of my favorite Christmases was when I got a set of trucks and my brother got a doll. We were both delighted by that switcheroo, and I treasured those trucks.
    There’s something wholly nefarious about the doll thing. Even as a child, I noticed not only that I always got dolls and my brother always got trucks (except for that one magical day), but that I always got blonde Caucasian dolls, my red-headed cousin got red-headed (or auburn-haired) Caucasian dolls, and my brunette cousin got brown-haired Caucasian dolls. All my blonde dolls had the same name (Heather). Every once in a while, someone (usually my parents) would break that mold, and so I had one doll of African heritage, one doll of possibly Asian or Latino heritage, and one boy doll. They had different names, and I played with them a lot, because they added variety to all the blonde Heathers. So what I’m trying to illustrate here is that it’s bigger than gender roles that are being foisted upon children. It’s race and even a sense of “belonging” to your hair color (think back to TV shows from the ’60s, the swinging bachelors always have a preference for young ladies with one particular hair color, some gentlemen like brunettes, some blondes, some redheads, but no one ever claims to like them all equally, or -gasp- be willing to date someone of another race). I commend your efforts to try to incorporate diversity into your children’s playtime (centaurs are very diverse :))

    • dilovelyadmin says:

      Aww. I love to think of teeny Helen with her trucks, and teeny John with his doll. I am curious about all the Heathers – did they come with that name, or did you name them all Heather?

      It’s amazing how complex this whole issue is. I remember Beth and I had dolls we loved that were identical except hers had brown hair and mine was blond. My friend Natalie, who’s half-Asian, had mostly white dolls, at least one black doll… but no Asian dolls. I’m pretty sure all my dolls were white. (I remember playing with Ponies more, though.) Have you seen the black doll/white doll experiment? We don’t even know which things we do will have insidious detrimental effects sometimes…

      I do enjoy the rainbow colours of the centaurs, and their differently-abled character. And I’ve been thinking about Lego guys and how they’re ALL yellow. Is that good?

      • Helen says:

        I named them all Heather, I don’t remember why, but I intuitively understood what the movie “Heathers” was saying about the name. I would love to see a study of children’s/adults’ interpretations of race for creatures like Legos, the Simpsons, the Muppets, all of which are not hued like humans.

        • dilovelyadmin says:

          That reminds me of a discussion Sean and I had about the centaurs (non-Lego variety) in Fantasia – all different colours, but not exactly raceless…

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