This is the first in a four-part series.
Liam wanted to wear toenail polish at about eighteen months old. For being one of the easiest children ever, cutting Liam’s toenails was a NIGHTMARE, but putting Liam in the highchair so one couldn’t see their feet allowed me to cut toenails, then I’d slip on some green toenail polish and Liam had no idea the clippers were ever out. I usually removed the polish before sending Liam to XN’s house, but didn’t bother one time and got a nasty series of text messages about “my son will not…” and “don’t you ever…”
At age two Liam would play house with the babies that had piled up: stuffed sharks, Cabbage Patch kids, Fillmore (the VW bus from “Cars”) would all be tucked in, fed, read to, and even taken to the potty. The latter made Liam especially proud.
I like to think that I have been a fairly gender-neutral parent. I’ve tried to steer clear from boy or girl toys, buying lots of primary colors. The nursery was decorated with Dr. Seuss’s ABCs in browns and primaries. I taught Liam how to throw a ball when there still wasn’t any official hair growth and we went to our first dance concert at twenty months. We had more trains than we knew what to do with, but we also had baby dolls and ponies.
Despite the toys, activities, and stories leaning towards neutrality there was one thing I never budged on: clothes. I always veered directly to the “boys” section when it came to clothing and shoes. At one point I even bought a tee-shirt that said: “Boys will be boys.” (Yes, I know. It was on super clearance but today if I found it I’d cross out the second “boys” and write “held accountable.”)
I vividly remember shopping for shoes in April of 2015 when Liam was four. Liam and I went into Stride Rite and I headed straight to the far wall where the boys preschool sizes were located. We spent more time than either of us wanted to trying on sneakers and left with two pairs that I wasn’t completely in love with but that fit and were on sale. On the way out, Liam stopped in front of a section of “Frozen” shoes, sparkly pink and purple with snowflakes, and asked, “can we get these, Mommy?” I sighed and said, “no we already got shoes.” Later that afternoon I felt guilty. I’d had an opportunity to set aside societal expectations of what my child should wear and failed miserably.
Liam year later we were shopping at Costco and Liam saw skirts with big frills of tulle on them. Sad eyes and pleading got me to say “yes” to the skirt. There were two different prints: one was pink and purple and the other was red, white, and blue with stars and stripes. While Liam wanted the pink and purple one, I was convincing in my argument for the red, white, and blue. The pink and purple just seemed like too much. Liam wore the skirt to our rehearsal that night and rarely took it off. We’d let Liam wear the skirt to events at our congregation or faith gatherings (we’re Unitarian Universalists so it all flies). We, of course, didn’t let XN know about this. Liam had taken a My Little Pony toy in for show-and-tell at school and had been told by XN that those toys were only for girls. He confiscated the toy and that was the end of that. I wasn’t about to ask if it would be ok if Liam wore a “tutu” over.
That fall Liam wanted to wear the tutu to a school dance. I initially said “no.” My gut said, “protect this child from ridicule and harm.” My head finally said, “it is a skirt that is being worn with a Star Wars tee-shirt and sneakers.” Now in kindergarten, Liam was in the youngest class in school with lots of older kids and I was concerned when Liam wanted to wear nail polish to school. It was early in the year and the teacher was still coming to the door in the morning to line everyone up to bring into class. While in the middle of the line, Liam raised a hand and confidently stated “I’m wearing nail polish,” showing off the colorful fingers. The teacher said, “that’s awesome.” While practicing our gratitude at dinner that night Liam said, “I’m grateful that I taught Alex that boys can wear nail polish.”