Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Boys Will Be Boys

Excuse me for a moment while I get on my high horse. *HUFT* Ok, I'm up.

So for the past couple of months, I've been going to a speech class for Emerson on Friday mornings in addition to his Early Intervention 2x a week. Emerson goes into a room with the other toddlers (interestingly, all boys) to play while the parents sit in an adjoining room and take a class on how to encourage our children to speak more. So far it has been less than revolutionary, but at this point I'll try anything.

A few sessions ago, the teacher was stressing the importance of pretend play and she gave the example of giving your child a baby doll so they could pretend to take care of it. Suddenly, this woman started bellowing, "Whoa! My child is a BOY and his father will NOT allow him to play with dolls!"

The teacher gave her a pinched smile and said, "Could he have a teddy bear or other stuffed animal?" The woman looked doubtful. "He pretends to feed and take care of his trains - does that work?"

The teacher thought about this for a moment and then said, "No, I think it needs to be something a little more....lifelike. Something they would actually feed and take care of."

At this point, another woman chimed in: "My husband won't let my boys play with dolls either, so we use those plastic Little People instead. It's hard because they're so small, but you can make it work."

The teacher nodded in agreement and moved on to the next subject, but I was left biting my feminist tongue until it bled. The lesser side of me wanted to scream out, "First of all, YOU are the stay-at-home parents, so get a spine, buy a baby doll and tell your husband to stuff it if he complains. Second of all, heaven forbid we should let our sons learn how to be good parents and nurture their babies! We should ban all dolls from our house - at least until they come out with 'Beer Gut Bob' or a life-size 'Chauvinist Charley.'"

I mean, the poor kid is pretending to feed trains for pity sake, it's not going to suck all the testosterone out of him the moment he picks up a fake baby. Every toddler I know is in or has been through a stage where they want to take care of a baby doll. The girls tend (key word being tend) to continue playing with dolls long after, while the boys tend to lose interest after a few months and move on to something else. Those who don't move on on their own are usually forced to by the men in their lives and by the messages they receive from our culture.

In some ways I'm frustrated with these women because they're the same ones I hear complaining about how little their husbands help around the house and with parenting, yet here they are perpetuating the cycle with their own sons. However, I am sympathetic with how hard it is to buck the general culture when all you want is for your child to fit in and make things "easy" for them.

I had big plans during pregnancy for all the avant garde things I was going to do with my future children - all the ways I was going to parent that gave the middle finger to restrictive social norms. When the boys were born with such a physically apparent genetic condition, though, I found myself tempering my own agenda with a need to help them fit in. Maybe it goes back to some animal nature when blending in with the pack kept our children from being eaten by the lion, but I do recognize it's a normal parent instinct.

That being said, we're not being chased by lions anymore and some norms are just plain damaging in this femi-nazi's opinion.

Few days go by that I don't think about how much I miss the fantasy daughter that never was - the little girl I dreamed of having since I was a little girl. I mourn that I will never show her all the different definitions of femininity and help her feel empowered by who she is. I mourn that I will never teach her about Amelia Earhart or Queen Elizabeth or Alice Paul. I mourn that I will never help her through her first period, go with her to pick out prom dresses (or pant suits if she leans that way), and I will never be able to help her through her own pregnancies and births.

But sitting in that class listening to a discussion on baby dolls did remind me of all that I can do with my sons. I can't wait to teach them how to cook (well, maybe Robbie will take that one), clean the house thoroughly, write thank you notes, pick out thoughtful gifts, talk about their emotions, cry when they need to cry, change a baby's diaper, say "excuse me" after emitting bodily noises (I've given up on trying to prevent the bodily noises in the first place), dance all the basic ballroom steps, make romantic gestures for their future spouses, appreciate (or at least tolerate) the arts, and fight against social injustices of all kinds.

I'm sure I'll fail in some areas, but I have to at least try. And I'm lucky to have a husband who is secure enough in his own masculinity to help me. He's the kind of man who can rebuild a car engine and then play "peek a boo" - the kind of guy who can barbecue large amounts of meat and then go antique shopping.

Between the two of us, with all our faults and strengths, hopefully we can produce two secure, well-rounded men who don't feel like they have to fit some hyper-masculine ideal to fit in. If their future spouses never utter the words, "Didn't your mother ever teach you..." my life's mission will be fulfilled.

For now, I love that Emerson will occasionally pick up his baby doll and carry it around the house patting its back like he sees us doing with Fionn 23 hours a day. I love that he is fascinated with cooking and frequently feeds me his latest pretend creation. And I love that when his brother cries, he puts his pacifier in his mouth, plays peek-a-boo with him, or even gives him a kiss. And so far, his man parts have yet to fall off as a result.

Ok, I'm done ranting now and will dismount my horse. *THWUMP* I'm down.

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