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Stop Telling My Son He Can't Wear Pearls and Pink Dresses

 

From Redbook

Earlier this week, I posted what I thought was a silly, innocent picture of my 18-month-old son Oscar to Facebook. In it, he’s wearing a red-and-white striped onesie with his cousin Claire’s pearl headband on his head. The caption: “When your cousin tells you to ‘put on hair,’ you do it and then you pose for the photo.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Amanda Shannon VerrengiaPhoto credit: Courtesy of Amanda Shannon Verrengia

Looking back at the post, I should only have felt adoration for my child. Instead, I was enraged. “Stop trying to make him look like a girl. He’s all boy,” one relative had commented. My response was simple: “Oh we wouldn’t want to ‘make’ Oscar anything other than what he is. And, really, only he can decide that.”

My husband Anthony and I don’t believe that gender is binary, which is why we’re choosing to raise Oscar in a way that allows him to make his own rules about gender identity. In order to let him explore his options, we don’t limit him to the toys and clothing others have determined are appropriate for boys. (As Anthony says, “He doesn’t need to know what’s for girls and what’s for boys. He needs to figure out what’s for Oscar.”) That’s the decision we made as his parents – it’s nobody else’s business. Yet that doesn’t stop people from pointing out that his baby doll or pink and purple Crocs, which he wanted to match Claire’s, are not “the norm.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Amanda Shannon VerrengiaPhoto credit: Courtesy of Amanda Shannon Verrengia

When Oscar was born, I promised to remind him as often as possible of the two most important rules in life: be kind, and love with your whole heart. I knew, of course, that there would be many incidents throughout his life that would test his –– and my –– resolve in those values. But I don’t know that I ever expected to have my mama bear instincts put to the test so often by people who judge the way he dresses or the toys he plays with.

The other day, I was running errands with Oscar and we took a break in an outdoor area just outside of a coffee shop. I watched as he pushed a dump truck through a patch of grass, a yellow crocheted hat tied around his head to keep him warm in the unseasonably chilly weather. A man stopped to – I thought – admire him, so I smiled in his direction. Instead he turned to me and said, “Girls aren’t supposed to play with trucks!”

I gave him a forced smile. “Well, he’s not a girl,” I replied coolly. “But that also isn’t true.” He just laughed and walked away. Pre-motherhood, I would have told him exactly where he could shove the truck, but I’ve learned to shrug off incidents like these. Not because I don’t think it’s worth it, but because I’m steeling myself for what I can only imagine is to come as Oscar gets older. For now, I’m by his side when the woman checking us out at Target tells me it’s “nice of his dad to let him have a baby doll.” But what tugs at my parental heart strings is the knowledge that someday he will venture outside of the bubble my husband and I have created –– preschool isn’t that far off, after all – and we won’t be there to protect him. All we can do is give him the tools he needs to greet people the way others don’t always greet him: with an open heart and an open mind.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Amanda Shannon VerrengiaPhoto credit: Courtesy of Amanda Shannon Verrengia

Oscar was born with male genitalia, so for now, we refer to him as “he.” But if he ever comes to us and says that doesn’t suit him, then I will be more concerned with embracing him than I will with the pronoun he chooses to use. Our hope is that our openness about all subjects, including gender and sexuality, makes that kind of conversation feel so organic that when he’s old enough, it won’t be met with fear or fanfare.

Maybe Oscar will decide pink is his favorite color. Maybe he’ll wear an all-pink ensemble while digging in the dirt. Maybe one day he’ll see a dress he wants to wear because he likes the way it sparkles. No matter the situation, I’ll tell him, “By all means, baby, go for it.” I don’t want Oscar to be defined by the shirt on his back or the baby doll tucked under his arm at night.

Recently, someone who follows me on Instagram left a comment on a photo of Oscar. She told me I was “raising a spirit who is going to change the world.” I cried when I read that because, man, that’s truly all I can ever hope to do as a parent. Who knows who my magnificent son will become? Our only job as his parents is to show him that life is full of all kinds of amazing opportunities. The rest is up to him.

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