I don’t want to violate anyone’s privacy so am talking in very general terms, but something that happened at work recently kind of made me go ugh. One of my colleagues is pregnant and, about two weeks ago, a bunch of us were having lunch together and someone asked her the sex of her unborn baby and she said she didn’t yet know but was hoping it would not be a girl. Another co-worker, somewhat shocked, cried out, “why?” Pregnant colleague said she already had a two-year-old girl and she and her sister didn’t get along so well and she didn’t want to repeat that.
Shocked co-worker (whom I’ll call Alison) then said, “ohhhh, I dunno, there are some … uh, issues … with having a younger boy and older girl…”
“What do you mean?” I said.
“Well, because he’ll look up to her and want to be like her and imitate her and everything, and sometimes you just don’t know what to do…”
I must have looked really confused, so she gave an example. The other day, she said, she’d taken her kids (little girl is 7, boy is 5) shopping for beach attire for an upcoming trip to Florida. They were looking at shoes and the boy expressed a strong preference for a pair of turquoise crocs. “Turquoise!!!” she emphasized. She tried to explain to him that no, he just couldn’t have such a color, but he couldn’t understand why. So, she pointed out to him the lovely
shit brown and puke green varieties and told him how much she’d LOVE to buy him one of those beauties! His eyes started to well with tears. “He only wants what his sister has,” she said. “What could I say? I mean, he only wants to be like her; it’s just a phase!”
I was wondering why it was such a big deal to just let him wear what he wanted since he was only five, when someone else said her mother-in-law told her she should start dressing her daughter in feminine clothes so the little girl would have more “self-respect.” Fortunately, to this everyone laughed.
“But but but, I can’t buy him the turquiose shoes,” Alison went on, “I mean, I just can’t; he’d be the laughingstock … he’ll start wanting stuff like that all the time and everyone will make fun of him at school.” To this, no one said anything.
So, as I said, that was about two weeks ago. Yesterday, the kids were on spring break so Alison brought them to the office. We have a little work station outside of my office, with a couch and a little lounge area, and she thought it would be a perfect place to park them (her office is just another door down the hall, so she’s close too). She brought them into my office to introduce me, since we’d be next-door neighbors for a couple of hours.
Hehehe. SO CUTE!!! “Say hello to Tonya, you guys,” Alison said. The girl, whom I’ll call Jennifer, walked in and shyly said hi. The boy, whom I’ll call … Marcelo … no, just kidding Just kidding! I just imagine that he was a very fun little boy too … — actually the little boy looked more like Angel, who had to be the coolest little kid as well … Okay, okay I’ll call this little boy Michael.
So Michael shouts out, “Hi Tonya!!!” with an ear-to-ear grin. Alison and I giggled. “Okay, let’s go out here, guys,” she said taking them to the work station. Jennifer promptly took her pink backpack off, pulled out a Curious George book, sat on the couch, and began reading.
“Hey Tonya! I’m gonna make you some pictures, okay?” Michael yelled out, grabbing a pink highlighter and a packet of post-its.
“Shhhh, honey,” Alison said, “she’s working.”
“Oh, that’s okay, I like pictures,” I said.
A few seconds later, he was in my office posting little yellow squares bearing pink scribbly designs all over the place — on the sides and front of my desk, my computer stand, the bottom shelf of the bookcase — anywhere he could reach. “Oh, pretty,” I said, which made him scribble and post even faster.
“Oh honey!” Alison said entering my office. “No, this is, it’s a mess.”
“No no, it’s okay,” I laughed.
“Sorry,” she mouthed at me and took him back outside.
A few seconds later I heard the copy machine going crazy.
“Mommy!” Jennifer called out. I peeked outside just in time to practically collide with Michael.
“Hey Tonya! Here, I want you to have this,” he said handing me a piece of paper.
“What is that?” Alison said, running up.
“This is my dad’s office people,” he explained to me, pointing at a list of names. “Mom, I made 1,000 copies!”
“Honey, there’s personal information on there, including everyone’s passwords, we can’t just give those out to people,” she said exasperated, trying to figure out how to stop the copy machine.
“Mom, I really think that Tonya needs to have it,” he said. So cute!
I thanked him for thinking of me and walked back into my office to let her get things sorted out in the work station.
“I know, Mom, it’s just that I’m SO excited,” I overheard him say.
I peeked out my office door to see Michael now sitting at the work station computer.
“I’m working on this computer. My mom said I could!”
“Wow, that’s great!” I looked at the screen. He was playing paper dolls. There was a figure of a grown woman, not a little girl, wearing a black bra and underwear. So far, he’d given her a beautiful diaphonous light blue chiffon-looking scarf knotted around her neck. “Wow, that’s a very pretty scarf,” I said approaching him.
“She’s going to the store! She needs to put on her shoes!” he said using the cursor to drag a pair of black pumps over to her feet.
“She needs to put on more than that,” Alison said, flatly, now standing behind us. “It’s just a phase,” she whispered to me while gathering his things. “Come on, honey, let’s go back to Daddy’s office. He has a full-time secretary…”
And then he was off My little buddy! True, I would not have got a single thing done yesterday, but oh he was just so cute. I want one!!! Where do I get one!!!
Today, Alison again made a point of telling me he was just going through a phase and that he was just into whatever his sister was, she’d found the paper dolls on the internet and dressed them all the time and he was just imitating her, etc. etc. When pregnant co-worker popped into my office to chat, Alison told her the whole story of yesterday, and they both said, almost in unison, “oh it’s just a phase.”
But why does this have to be a ‘phase’? Is Jennifer just going through a ‘phase’ too? Is Jennifer’s example forcing a false construct on him and is that construct somehow more true for her? I personally would much rather my son be into wearing turquoise shoes to the beach and decorating the room with pink and yellow designs and dressing paper women in chiffon scarves than pretending to blow off his friends’ heads with toy guns. But then he might be taunted by his lovely peers… which obviously no one wants. I don’t have any kids yet, but if and when I do, I’d like to think that I can teach them to think independently, experiment with identities, and stand up to peer pressure… but maybe it’s a lot harder than I think…