Ben Franklin said there are only two things in this world of which one can be certain: death and taxes. I’d add a third: if I have put Mardi Gras beads on my son, Eddie, he will no longer be wearing them once my husband gets home.
“He can choke,” my husband, Bruce, will say.
“They’re not even real beads. It’s all one piece,” I’ll say.
“He can hang himself,” he’ll say, intimating the child might walk by some random hook or knob and be left hanging in mid-air by the hair-thin strand of beads. I suppose that’s true on some planet where spaghetti can lift meatballs or thread can carry clothing, but there are hundreds more likely dangerous scenarios in which our son will find himself in our home, such as pulling a lamp off of a table or eating one of the various coins my husband leaves all over the house.
Okay, so putting beads on my son is not going to earn me mother of the year, but I certainly wouldn’t be the first. If you search on Amazon under baby and necklace, you get 13,000 hits. Babies wear necklaces, and people don’t call child services when they see one. But none of this matters because the real reason my husband doesn’t want Eddie wearing beads is not about safety. It’s about gender.
“No son of mine is going to wear a necklace,” he’ll say. “People will think he’s a girl.”
“That’s stupid,” I’ll say.
It isn’t the first time Bruce has contested Eddie’s attire. A friend gave us two beautifully knit yellow sweaters. One fits like a little jacket and has buttons down the front. The other flairs out a bit like an angel’s wings, but instead of having buttons, it has two little strings on top to tie it closed, like a cape. Bruce didn’t like either, because of their color – yellow is for girls — but he found the sweater with the strings particularly offensive (I would put it on Eddie when Bruce was at work).
One night, we went out to a local restaurant and wheeled Eddie over in his stroller wearing the yellow sweater with the buttons. As we waited for a table, Bruce went to the bathroom. Just then, our old neighbor, Theresa, who is a waitress there, saw me and came running over and peeked into the carriage.
“What’s her name again?” she said.
“Shshsh,” I said. “It’s a ‘He.’ “
“Oh, sorry,” she said, whispering.
When Bruce returned from the bathroom, another waitress came over to say our table was ready. As she walked us to our table, she looked down at the carriage and said, “She’s so cute! Look at that sweater!”
Bruce looked over at me.
People break gender rules all the time. Our babysitter said she bought her grandson a kitchen set, and he loves it.
“You bought a kitchen set for your grandson, the one whose father is a cop?”
“Sure. Why not?” she said.
“And the father didn’t say anything?”
“Why should he say anything?” she asked. “He has to learn how to cook, especially if he winds up with a wife like me.”
It’s not that Bruce is homophobic. As the saying goes, some of our best friends are gay. It’s that Eddie’s a boy, and Bruce wants to make sure the child – and everyone else — is aware of that. And boys wear blue and girls wear pink and never the twain shall meet.
Since Eddie was born, we’ve been playing him the album, “Free to be You and Me,” – Marlo Thomas’ 1970s anthem to individuality – and I cry every time I hear the song, “William’s Doll.” It’s about a young boy who wants a doll more than anything, a desire for which he’s mocked and ridiculed by everyone around him. His father tries to gently guide him away from his desire by buying him a basketball, a badminton set, marbles and a baseball glove. William is good at all of those activities and actually enjoys them but when he’s finished playing, he turns to his father and says, “Can I please have a doll now?”
His father doesn’t buy him one, but his grandmother does, when she comes to visit and sees just how much he wants one. When the father frowns, the grandmother explains:
“William wants a doll,
so when he has a baby someday,
He’ll know how to dress it,
put diapers on double
And gently caress it
to bring up a bubble
And care for his baby
as every good father
should learn to do.
William has a doll
William has a doll
‘Cause someday, he is going to be a fa-ther, too.”
I don’t know what it is about the song that makes me weep — whether it’s the notion that my son may one day be ridiculed for being different, or it’s that I was. And mine were such small infractions: wearing Wrangler jeans instead of Faded Glories, or wearing navy blue stockings with white shoes. I think the larger infraction was in my head, a feeling that no matter what I did, it was wrong, simply because I was the one doing it.
In some ways, Bruce is more sensitive to Eddie’s needs. When we used to use wet washcloths instead of wipes to clean him during diaper changes, Bruce would dry off Eddie’s bottom or let it air dry before putting on the new diaper because he thought the baby would be uncomfortable if he were damp. Bruce still warms up Eddie’s milk bottles, even though we no longer have to. When he draws Eddie’s bath, he keeps it shallow – while I make it deep – because he’s seen the child feels steadier when there’s less water.
But if Eddie ever wants a tutu or an easy-bake-oven or a grocery cart that’s pinker than pink, he need only say one word: Mom?