When C. came into the world, he had a dark mullet that reached down to his neck. That mullet has turned into golden curls, longer in the back. So, occasionally, he gets mistaken as a girl.
Last weekend, A. took C. to a cafe after spending the morning feeding carrots to wild horses.
“I sat C. facing two older women, because, you know, they love babies,” he told me later. “And they did love it, but one of them — who was honestly probably 90 — kept referring to C. as a girl.”
A. looked at me like the woman had lost her bananas.
“I mean, look at him.”
“He looks nothing like a girl.”
Yesterday, I stopped in at Stater Brothers to pick up some pork chops for dinner, and C. insisted on carrying my purse: “Mama, purse?” I offered to help as he struggled, and he said, “No, no,” in a panicky voice, like I was trying to de-pants him in public.
As he stumbled like a drunkard near the flower section, a woman in her 70s with curly gray hair and thick glasses stopped her cart.
“Aw,” she said. “How old is she?”
“Oh, he’s 17 months,” I said, correcting her. “He’s a boy.”
And then, later, I thought to myself, “Why does it matter? Who cares if they call him a girl?”
C. is starting to catch on to the concept of female and male.
Last week, he said to me, “Mama, penis?”
“No, no, honey,” I said. “Mama doesn’t have a penis. You and papa have penises.”
Later that day, he pulled a bra from my drawer.
“Mama, bra?” he said, pointing to my breasts. “Yes,” I said. “Mama wears a bra. Papa doesn’t wear a bra.”
(Though, with A.’s sense of humor, C.’s bound to be confused.)
Yesterday, at the playground, C. watched a 5-year-old climb on the structure. It was his first time assigning a gender to another kid when he said: “Girl, up, steps.” He watched her, captivated, and when she said, “Boo!” at him, he giggled hysterically. “Nen, nen,” he said [“again, again”]. It was almost as if he had his first crush, his eyes danced with happiness watching her run around.
Now that he’s noticing the differences, I’m becoming more and aware of what A. and I — and society — communicate to C. about gender.
C. has innate “boy” in him: He’s fascinated with trucks and cars and lawn mowers and planes. He’ll hear a jet and get quiet and say with wide eyes, “Plane, up, sky.”
But he shows signs of nurturing, too. I took him to Red Rock Books, and he wandered to the kids’ play area and found a beat-up baby doll. “Baby!” he said, and hugged the baby tight. He put the baby in a stroller and pushed it all over the store. I peeked around from the kids’ books section and smiled to myself.
It’s important to me that C. doesn’t grow up with an inflated sense of manliness. That if he’s gay, he’ll be open and comfortable with it. That if he’s not, he’ll be comfortable with and accepting of those who are.
I know that A. is a probably C.’s biggest role model. And I’m glad about that. A. plays ice hockey, climbs rocks and used to have a motorcycle — and he also cooks and cleans and crochets and cries. He’s good at talking about his feelings. And he has always been a serial monogamist and respects women.
I’m also acutely aware that I’m falling into a traditional gender role: I stay home with C., make dinner most nights, do the grocery shopping and laundry, clean the kitchen floor once a week and make bread from scratch. But I plan to work again — I’m starting to get the itch — even if it’s from home.
C. is only 17 months, but as he’s starting to notice the difference between men and women, I’m starting to get more intentional about raising a boy who turns into a good man. One who respects women and treats them well. One who respects female athletes (having been a collegiate soccer player myself). One who respects women in leadership roles.
And — even more importantly — one who I would have no reservations setting up with my close friends’ daughters.
I want to raise a boy who is comfortable with his curls. And one who is comfortable enough with himself, that if someone calls him a girl, he won’t care. Because being called a girl isn’t — and shouldn’t be — an insult.