On Sunday, as we meandered Goodwill waiting for the baby to fall asleep so we could go eat Mothers' Day lunch, I asked George if he was in the market for anything in particular. He said he wanted a new baby, so to the baby section we headed. Lest you think he was trying to trade in his sister, he did mean a doll; Baby Tony, his little vanilla-smelly Corolle doll, needed a friend, he told me. On the way to the toys we stopped off at the shoe section, because once I spotted a thrashed pair of Wall-E sneakers there and hope to someday find another, wearable pair because I believe in dreaming impossible dreams. I picked up a pair of sandals -- teva-ish numbers in brown and hot pink -- and asked George what he thought.
"Those for girls."
What?! "Silly mama, those for girls!" he repeated.
Okay. I can say with absolute certainty that neither I nor Nathan have ever told him that something was "for girls" or anyone of any gender, for that matter. He owns and regularly chooses to wear hot pink (and purple, and sparkly unicorn-emblazoned) clothes. He doesn't even have a great grasp of who in his life IS a girl (according to him, everyone but his sister is a "guy"). And yet, there he was, poo-pooing the pink sandals.
There have been a few moments in recent times where I've felt like a contestant on some sort of mean-spirited game show: one where your kid does something, asks a question, makes a comment that requires you to be the perfect parent in response. In this game show, you make the right call and life goes on sort of tenuously as you wait for the next terrifying opportunity to turn your child into a sexist, racist homophobe who eats only simple carbs. An incorrect response, however, is met with a flash forward to your derelict 40 year old son catcalling women on the bus or something. This was one of those moments. I had to stop and suppress the urge to be like what in the hell? I took a deep breath and said,
"There are no boy or girl shoes, just different shoes that different people like for different reasons." Yes, that ought to do it, I thought. I may have even peered around to see if anyone heard me pull off that expert move. George looked satisfied, even appeared to rethink his dismissal of the hot pink shoes (until he spied a pair of black and red crocs). Feeling like I'd dodged a bullet, or even like I stood my ground and dirty-looked the bullet until it turned around in disgrace, I steered us down the toy aisle in search of a baby doll. Before we made it to the sad pile of naked dolls with one eye permanently stuck open and sharpie stained heads, George got distracted by cars. Something Batmobile-esque caught his eye, but an oversized purple VW Bug with working seatbelts seemed more his speed. I held it up. Then.
"Mama, this car for GIRLS! I want to hold that one! The scary one!" Good lord. What the crap? I thought we had just settled this!
"George." I said, "This car is for boys or girls! It's purple; you like purple. Papa has a purple shirt, right?" He looked at me warily. "The black car is for bigger kids." "For bigger GUYS," he insisted. "No," I told him, "bigger kids. Any kids. Any bigger kids." Things were taking a...less articulate turn. I scanned the microfiche in my mind for some relevant article or text on feminism or gender studies and how not to reinforce stereotypical expectations of gender presentation and allow for free expression while supporting your child's own gender identity and and and...
"I want to hold THAT." Huh? "That baby! Oh, so cute! I want to hold that baby! I love it." He was shoving the purple car back at me and pointing excitedly at a half-lidded, cloth bodied doll with limbs akimbo. I took it off the shelf and he snatched it up, cooing at and rocking it like he sees me do with Zelda. He planted a big kiss on its plastic hair. "Is that the toy you choose?" I asked him, and he nodded emphatically. At the cash register, he tried to garner compliments for his new baby by repeating to the cashier, "so cute! Aww, so cute!"
He didn't notice that the woman behind us was buying a black and metallic blue remote control car, and I didn't point it out. It seemed that, despite all my reading, despite my anxiety over the right way to correct him -- gently, factually, without overloading or shaming him -- he figured it out. You know, I'm sure some real a-holes wear pink shoes, but it takes a pretty nice "guy" to fawn over a lazy-eyed, misshapen baby.