Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Big Bird can be a girl.

Calvin and I are playing Sesame Street Memory, and I turn over two cards.  “Grover, Grover!  Match!”  I declare, collecting my wins.

“No, Mommy,” Calvin says with authority.  “Grover is a boy, so I get that match.  You’re a girl, so you can have the girls.”

I’m slightly confused by this version of the rules, but I’m even more perplexed by Calvin’s knowledge that Grover identifies himself as male.  “How do you know Grover is a boy?” I ask.  You see, we’ve been talking a lot lately in our house about boys and girls and what makes them different, so when Calvin declared the naked but penisless furry monster as boy, I had to investigate further.  (Come to think of it, how do I know the boys from girls?  How does anyone?)  “So how do you know Grover is a boy?”  I ask again as Calvin stacks his Grovers one on top of the other in a neat little tower.

 “I don’t know!” he replies shrugging his shoulders up to his ears.

“Well,” I continue, “is Zoey a girl or a boy?”

“Girl,” Calvin answers proudly.

“How do you know?” I ask, sure that he will say something about the skirt she’s wearing in the picture.

“I don’t know!” he says cheerfully.

We continue on like this through each Sesame Street character, and the only one that (briefly) stumps him is Big Bird.  “A girl…No, a boy!” he decides.  

I tell him at the end of the game that we can play again if I get the boys this time.  He can have the girls.  He nods in agreement; it is a satisfactory plan. 

Calvin has identified himself as a boy for a while now, probably since he turned two.  He understands that boys have penises and girls have vaginas, which he never fails to point out should the visual opportunity present itself.  We’ve been working hard to teach him that he is the owner and boss of his body discussing what that means in different situations.   Something is happening in his little brain, and I find it fascinating and devastating all at once.  He is starting to become more aware of stereotypical gender roles as are his peers.  After wearing a sparkly beaded necklace to school one day, he got in the car and said to Angus, “So-and-so told me that necklaces are only for girls.”  He tilted his head to the side as if to ask Angus, is that really true?  Luckily the teacher heard this exchange and made right this sticky little wrong, and then Angus finished the job.  “Yes, some girls wear necklaces, but a lot of boys wear necklaces too, buddy.  I’d wear that necklace.  It’s awesome.”  Calvin seemed satisfied enough with this response and continues to wear his necklaces when the mood strikes.

It’s been the same with his recent interest (obsession?) with princesses.  After seeing Frozen, his first movie in the theater, he has been singing, imagining, and playing princess non-stop whether at school or at home.  He wants to make his blankies into capes like Elsa’s and even tried to rob my lingerie drawer because he thought the skimpy silk nighties were princess dresses.  (I thought about letting him go for it since they’ve long been replaced by sweatpants and hoodies, but something about seeing my 3 ½ year old saunter around in lacy undergarments didn’t seem appropriate.  We opted for bridesmaids’ dresses instead.)  When at his friend Abi’s house, he always chooses the mermaid costume and wears it with pride.  Recently we went to the Elf and Fairy Tulip Parade our town holds every spring, and upon seeing the sparkly fairy wings and wands, Calvin was mesmerized.  We walked the street, and I caught him eyeing the vendors selling wings in a rainbow of colors and glitter.  Did my son want to have anything to do with being an elf?  Hell, no!  He wanted to be a fairy, so of course, I let him pick out some wings and wear them.  The smile on his face when he showed Angus once we got home was priceless, that big toothy one where his eyes crinkle on the sides because his chubby cheeks squish them.

These are the moments when I feel such surges of love for him and the innocence of childhood.  I am happy that he believes the magic of fairytales and that he’s beginning to understand the power of a story and the role he can play in reenacting it (although at school he’s mostly assigned by his peers to play Olaf the Snowman).  What’s more, is that I am proud of us for allowing him to have free exploration over his imagination.  It can lead only to goodness, this open space we’ve allowed for him walk through, play around in, and come to his own decisions about.  Of course we’re here to guide him as we are with everything, but something about seeing Calvin pick for himself that cape or mermaid costume makes my heart soar.  He might not always choose so freely, but at least he was able to at one point in his life.  There is something to be said for that.  I love that he has the confidence now to be so certain about engaging in make-believe even if it is stereotypically associated with girls.  But at the same time my heart aches for what is coming.  It aches for the “necklaces are only for girls” comments and the day when he may be scared to admit his favorite color as purple.  It aches for the many children in the world, in our own community, grappling with gender identity in an environment that isn’t yet completely supportive of them.  It seems so obvious to let our children be who they are, who they want to be, but why do so many of us struggle?  No one is perfect, that is for sure.  When Calvin was choosing fairy wings, I will admit, I prompted him to pick green instead of pink.  Why?  What is that little piece of us that begs to be heard, when really it just needs to shut the hell up?  I think, as with everything, awareness and openness go a long way.  I am prepared to answer Calvin’s questions, feel good about letting him venture into any territory whether stereotypically “boy” or “girl,” and understand that this parenting thing is a work in progress.  No one will help to create a masterpiece, but what we can aim to help create is a really colorful, original work of art that will feel good about its place in the world. 

We are at the kitchen table making cards for the grandmas for Mother’s Day.  Calvin starts to draw hair on the stick people he’s created.  “Boys have short hair, and girls have long hair, so we need to make Moppy and Ama have long hair.”

“But Moppy has short hair,” I remind him.

He looks puzzled as if the little connectors in his brain are firing this-way-and-that at too rapid of a pace.  “But…” he begins then trails off. 

I give him some time to consider this predicament and then say, “Moppy has short hair, and she’s a girl.”

“Yeah! Yeah, she does!” he agrees wholeheartedly.  He takes his blue marker and swipes a single line over Moppy’s head on the card.  “Girls can have short hair too,” he says feeling his own head.  “But I like my short hair, and I don’t want long hair, OK?”

“OK, buddy,” I say smiling.  “It’s your choice.”

1 comment:

  1. Great post. We've been talking a lot about gender in our house too, and I'm glad to see other parents approaching it without judgement or arbitrary (at least in modern society) social norms.