A few years ago, my now eight-year-old son was looking through my closet. He found an old purse of mine — bright turquoise with colorful embroidery. It was a small purse with one long strap to wear across your body.
“I want to use this,” he said as he took my purse out of the closet.
“What for? You’ve got your old Mario backpack in your closet. And the library bag downstairs. What do you need this for?”
“I like it. And you’re not using it any more.”
He was right. I wasn’t using the purse. I didn’t need the purse. But boys don’t use purses.
When I was pregnant, I was often told that it would be easier to raise a boy than a girl. There are no expectations for boys to grow up and look a certain way, apparently. Society doesn’t pressure boys the same way as girls, apparently. There are no doors closed to boys, apparently.
Except that there are.
When my son was in kindergarten, his class observed a “color of the day.” Each day, kids were supposed to come to school wearing an item of clothing in that day’s designated color. Most days it wasn’t an issue. We found blue, orange, black, white, red, green, and yellow. We even had purple (in a gray-and-purple striped shirt). But we were stumped when it came time for pink day. My son didn’t own one item of pink clothing (he still doesn’t). Not even a t-shirt with a little bit of pink in it. We finally found a pink plastic necklace that said “Graduate,” a gift from a fellow former preschooler. And that’s what my son wore for pink day, because as I explained to him, boys don’t usually wear pink.
“Why not?” my son had asked.
“I’m not sure who decided that,” I told him.
I didn’t know how to explain it to him then, and I don’t know how to explain it to him now.
There are a lot of girls in our neighborhood. Girls who play tag and basketball. Girls who play dress-up with their Disney Princess gowns. They ride bikes and scooters. They polish their nails and carry purses.
Girls can carry backpacks or purses or nothing at all. Girls can wear pants or dresses or shorts or skirts. No matter what a girl does, it’s okay for her to do. It’s encouraged, celebrated, and praised.
But it doesn’t work that way for boys.
I have a difficult time trying to balance my son’s attempts to explore and his innate curiosity with my mama-bear instinct to protect him from any sort of ridicule or teasing.
I’ve always told my son that he can be anything he wants. But do I really mean it? Or am I really saying he can be anything he wants, and do anything he wants, as long as those things are boy-ish?
I don’t want to censor him, and yet I fear that I am — in the clothes that I buy for him (no pink colored items); by not letting my son wear my purse out of our house; by steering him away from the peachy-colored tennis shoes he eyed at the shoe store (telling him they’d get dirty quickly and he should probably consider a darker pair).
I wasn’t one of those mothers who instinctively knew I was pregnant with a son. In fact, I thought I was having a girl. I had a name in mind and was surprised when we looked at the ultrasound monitor and the doctor said, “You don’t need to be a doctor to know what that is.”
We were having a boy. And I’ve learned about being a boy. Boys have a convenience and ease when using a public restroom that girls don’t. My boy has non-stop energy and enjoys inventive games like “squish” (our family’s version of wrestling and tickling).
And I’m learning that, while in many respects boys and men have had it easier than girls and women, no one has an easy pass in life.
Raising my boy is teaching me that.