When I was younger I played baseball and collected hockey cards. My favorite top was a Dallas Cowboys football jersey. I hated dolls but had a huge stuffed animal collection. I was the first born, a girl without any big brothers to influence me in any way. I just liked what I liked, pink or blue. And, being a child of the free-spirited ’70’s, it was no big deal.
When I had my first son, Leo, in 2003, my mom bought him a blue shirt. Boyish, right? My husband thought not. Maybe because of the small white “L” embroidered on the chest, making it less Lenny the Mechanic and more Laverne (as in, Laverne & Shirley). I loved it. It was adorable and hilarious, and I dressed Leo in it every chance I had.
My husband, however, hated it. “It’s for girls,” he declared.
My man’s no Philistine. He doesn’t believe in rigid gender assignments. He’s a modern, open, tolerant guy. Except when it came to his firstborn son being too “girly,” that is.
Soon an uneasy understanding grew between us: Anything too ladylike was simply labeled “Laverne.” It drove me nuts. So much so that I started seeking out toys that were more and more feminine. It started with the shirt, but by the time Leo grew out of it at 18 months, we were in full-on battle of the sexes: toy style.
Leo wanted a kitchen. He got a mini-workbench.
He loved cooking utensils. He got a tool kit.
He obsessed over a friend’s dollhouse. He got a Diego exploration station.
He never had the opportunity to test drive Barbies, but he was obsessed with superhero action figures. (Batman. Barbie. Are they really that different? Same boots, different boobs, if you ask me.)
What was the big deal? After all, we’re talking about a tiny kid. My guy couldn’t really understand it himself. It was just an irrational, inexplicable fear that had him wanting his son to fit in. With the other boys? Maybe. But they probably wanted to channel their inner Martha Stewart, too. Maybe their dads wouldn’t let them.
Was it the old nature vs. nurture conundrum? The book Pink Brain, Blue Brain, by Dr. Lise Eliot, claims tiny differences are exaggerated by parents and peers, and that ultimately girl brains and boy brains aren’t that different. Then again, a study concluded that female monkeys prefer dolls and their male counterparts like trucks. Trucks. For the non-driving simians.
For my little monkey, I didn’t care what he played with – as long as it was safe and age-appropriate, and that he actually enjoyed it. After all, he was going to be whoever he was going to be. As we got more used to be parents, my guy mellowed in the macho baby department.
Our second son had a beauty products fetish. And my man bought him lip balm. He encouraged him to hang out in the kitchen… in an apron. And when my second son became obsessed with jewelry, it was the husband doing up the clasps. The “Laverne factor” never came into play.
Now, my youngest son carries a purse. He likes to accessorize his hair. Ladies shoes – preferably wedges or platforms – are his passion. My husband thinks it’s a riot. (Laverne who?)
As for the T-shirt, I wanted to save it. Instead, we handed it down to a friend whose “L”-monikered daughter rarely wore it. After all, it was blue.
Carolyn Drebin lives in Toronto with her three sons, two male pets and one husband. She can be found ranting and raving on her website: www.motherofallmavens.com.