This morning Munchkin tore out of her room waving a "Thomas the Tank Engine" shirt she wanted to wear. I said, "That's your brother's! It's too big for you." "No it's not." Monkey chimed in, "That shirt is size 2T. She can wear it!" I hesitated for a minute. The shirt was not one of my favorites. It also had short sleeves and it's chilly outside. But for some reason, I--who consider myself to be tomboyish and casual--didn't like the shirt as much because it was distinctly boyish. There wasn't a hint of femininity to it and I preferred she wear something else. However, she liked the shirt and since it was clean, there really was no objection I felt comfortable giving to the kids. Munchkin then pulled out a pair of tights so I ended up looking for a dress or skirt to wear over them. As I tugged a denim dress over her shirt, the sleeves peeked out, but Thomas and his fellow Really Useful Engines were hidden behind colorful buttons and cute cap sleeves. There, I thought, a perfect mix of femininity and boyishness. Then I thought, Here I go again. Again I was thinking that it's not okay for my little girl to just be feminine, nor just masculine, but a mix of both.
When I was little, I had thick black hair that my mother would pull into two pigtails. I remember she'd stand over me in the bathroom, wet comb in hand, insisting I sit still as she tugged and cajoled my hair into a presentable hairstyle. Fast-forward 30 years and now I'm trying to tame Munchkin's straight fine hair into something befitting a 17-month old with rosy cheeks and a big smile. After a few days of lopsided pigtails and up-dos that have Munchkin looking like Pebbles Flinstone, I can now see her sweet little face. But every time I pull Munchkin's hair into elastics, she screeches and I can't help but think that it's unfair that Munchkin's hair follicles get tortured while Monkey is free to play with his fire truck.
This thought crosses my mind not only when I comb Munchkin's hair, but when the kids dress up. Every time I dress the kids for a special event, Monkey wears nicer versions of his regular clothes, while Munchkin has tights, diaper-covering undies (what are they called?) and fancy shoes we don't want scuffed. I'm well aware that women put more effort into dressing up than men, but my discomfort with that awareness has grown now that I impose those efforts upon my children. More accurately, I am effectively teaching my children that little girls must spend more time getting ready than little boys and that feels wrong.
On the flip side are the things boys "shouldn't" do. Monkey has watched me apply eye shadow and lipstick when I'm ready to go out. He has asked me why I paint my nails and when Monkey asked to try some polish himself. I hesitated. The voice in my head said, "Boys don't wear nail polish" Then I corrected the voice and thought, "Most boys don't wear nail polish." I realized that it was perfectly natural for Monkey--and any kid--to like nail polish; they like paint, they like color, so why not wear colorful paint? Why can I paint Munchkin's nails, but not his?
I've tried these past few years to avoid saying, "Boys don't wear that," or "Girls don't play with those toys." It's been difficult sometimes, because the thoughts that linger are, "What will people think?" or "What will his father say?"
At the same time, I know I won't stop putting Munchkin's hair in pigtails or putting her in dresses, because the Latin side of me wants her to be appropriately--and femininely--dressed. There will be a time when she will be in control of the way she dresses, whether it be dressy, sporty or both. Monkey is already making some of his own judgements. For example, he told me that only girls wear dresses. I replied that most--not all--girls wear dresses and that some--not all--boys wear them too. He said he doesn't like dresses and will never wear them. That disdain made me sad because that means that even though I'm trying to avoid setting limits based on gender, the world is already teaching him what he can or cannot do.
Patricia is a part-time working mom with a 7-year-old son (Monkey) and 4-year-old daughter (Munchkin). She thinks passing judgment on other parents comes easy, so why not (politely) pass judgement on GMvBM?