When I was growing up, it wasn’t uncommon in our families to dress up little baby or toddler boys in pretty clothes of a girl for a photo shoot or whim. It was partaken in complete jest, mostly an activity kids loved like a game. Of course! the pictures would be used later to embarrass the little boy in family functions, when he grows up. But it wasn’t surrounded with judgements and stereotypes. At least they hadn’t stemmed yet.
As if upholding it like a tradition, there is a picture of my husband in a violet pattu-pavadai when he was a baby, which I am sure by now, he has hidden away, where no one can find it. And so does my son, taken when he was 8 or 9 months. There is also a picture of me, probably at three years dressed in a checked shirt and pants, mushroom hair cut and hands full of bangles. The bangles are probably the only thing that say I am a girl. I look like a dressed up child in that picture. And so does my son in his with
a bow and skirt. And so does my husband in his picture. Take the gender out of the picture and see it. You will see what I am trying to say!
It seems to me, that as we grew, we as a generation bridged many gaps of economic and social statuses between men and women, but have managed to strengthen other stereotypes making them tougher to erase.We have separated them into color-codes, trucks vs dolls, books vs games; and don’t even let me get started on the “boys will be boys” and “boys don’t cry” or “don’t cry like a girl” statements.
The first year of my son’s life, we had strewn the house with toys-for-boys as gifts and purchases. There were cars and balls, trains, macho-boy-stuffed-toys of simba, mickeymouse, winnie-the-pooh. There were other neutral things like musical toys, which again were carefully color-coded in blue. If there was pink seen anywhere (like my old stuffed doll) it would be stowed deep in a pile, like it would tarnish my son’s gender in some way. Well! i am exaggerating. But you get the picture.
We were, or at least my son’s dad was preparing for a toddler, like many of our nephews we have known are car lovers (who can name the brand of every car they see by 2 years), to kick and throw ball and break everything in the house, to use the kitchen-choppu-set for anything but fake-cooking. I list it to state, our son meets none of the above expectations.
It is amazing how we forget that every child comes with a personality, that isn’t defined by standards we set as a society. The child isn’t born knowing that its color should be blue or pink. Those are but things we learn and probably unlearn as an individual as we grow. What I as a parents, am figuring, is what are the necessary things I must let him learn or figure. “Don’t wear pink” isn’t on my list. “Don’t drink and drive” and “Don’t carry a chewing gum to Singapore” are definitely on the list!
So that’s how our son reminded us of that fact. He is an animal lover. He is also a book lover. He simply doesn’t care for vehicles. At least not yet.
So still hoping for a “boy-behavior”, his dad got him a book of a truck and farm animals. My son would stop reading the book when the truck came into the picture. He would only want to read the first few pages and last few, where the animals are making their “moo, baa baa” sounds. That is what interests him and he wants to stick with it (for the time being).
It was heart warming and encouraging for me as a parent. And eventually for his dad too. We realised he loves to do what he wants to do. No tricks or force!
So someone asked me in absolute horror, watching my son, hug and kiss a little blue-eyed doll he seems to fancy now. Are you ready for this — ‘the doll wears a pink dress’ and he calls it hush-a-baby. She asked me “Aren’t you encouraging him to be gay?”. I burst out laughing. By then my son was changing the doll’s diaper and putting it to sleep. And you can well imagine how that conversation must have ended.
So today morning my little boy, who watches me brush my hair and wear my earrings in the morning, asked me yet again he wants to wear earrings too. I didn’t say “no boys don’t”, because I don’t believe that. I told him he very well can. Just that his ears are not pierced.. yet. He probably didn’t get my explanation. So I promised him (may be it was more a promise to myself) that when he was bigger to understand and communicate better and still wanted to wear earrings, I would get his ears pierced for him.
It wasn’t easy for me to say that. Not because I think boys shouldnt wear earrings. But for the challenge I will face as a parent to help my child handle the taunts and jeering that may follow. May be in a few years he might not even remember and will adopt rules of “the-normal”. But I want to always be that parent who will tell him to define his own normal if he wants to and encourage him to adopt that. I am probably a romanticist or rebel like that (depends on how you look at it).
I am not only a mother to a boy, but a mother to a child who loves dolls, animals, books, laughing and dancing. That is all there is to it!