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.
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?
- Most young girls are already oozing with love and affection, thank you very much. Like, they just wanna hug you, allthetime.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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?”
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.