On Gender Norms…Or Something

When Maeve was little, I preoccupied myself with worrying that she was inundated with anti feminist messages. I fretted about her exposure to Disney Princess movies, concerned about their overt gender stereotypes. I banned Barbie dolls, with their impossible body proportions, from our home. We owned and read frequently a copy of  “The Paper Bag Princess”, a charming story about a princess who outsmarts a dragon and in so doing rescues her prince. The prince incidentally turns out to be a “bum” and so she marches off into the sunset without him.

These days Maeve is a makeup obsessed diva. She prances around in belly tops and mascara, and I am constantly begging her to put on a shirt. Go figure. She of course has many wonderful attributes that leave me with little doubt she will do something spectacular with her life. But I’ll brag about those later.

Around the same time that I was feeling self-righteous about my Barbie doll ban I had a train obsessed little boy who surprised me when he asked to be a fairy for Halloween. I dressed him in a little Peter Pan type outfit  and he donned some wings and an entire can of spray glitter. I’ll never forget the squeals of delight when he checked out the finished look in the bathroom mirror. The following year he was a “Bat King” and we wrestled with cheap stick on talons all evening. And time marches on.

This time around, however, the trains rarely depart the station and the legos are only occasionally dumped out on the floor (in their entirety). Their main purpose seemingly being to lodge themselves between my toes on late night trips to the bathroom. My little bear with the chicken heart often prefers instead to raid his sisters dress up clothes and twirl around dressed as “Ana” from Frozen. I frequently have to chastise Maeve when she declines to fix his makeup along with the two younger girls, and when they all lined up to have their hair curled on New Years Eve, there was Bear bringing up the rear.

I announced to the boys last week that I would be taking them for haircuts. Bear’s face crumpled and he squeaked out between sobs “I no wanna have short hair.” Having traveled this particular road before I asked the stylist to just clean up around his ears and neck. I allowed my eldest to grow his hair out for years. It wasn’t such a big deal until he started public school at age ten. There he was ridiculed enough to finally want to cut it off…sniff.  He now has something of a hair complex which may or may not have anything to do with his previously long locks. Huey’s hair is, of course, adorable. Good call Buddy.

Thankfully the younger kids go to a progressive little school where the children, boys and girls are free to express themselves. Kids will be cruel sometimes, it’s true, but we are fortunate to have brave, compassionate, thinking teachers who can handle a multitude of quirks, and who teach the children to celebrate diversity and  honor the beauty in their differences.

However, there is a line for me. I did not, for example purchase a second Holiday party dress for Bear even though he requested one…emphatically.  I instead bought him some sweet little winter sweaters that he loves and some t shirts with Christmas illustrations, also a big hit. Of course I am more than happy to zip up his Ana dress so he can join the girls in pretend play. In fact, I find it’s less of a hassle than wrestling the plastic sword from the hands of an over zealous miniature knight.

Someday I will reflect back on this time the same way I do the Halloween spent with my forest fairy, giddy with delight at his glittering costume. Or on the times spent cuddled with my precious baby daughter reading “The Paper Bag Princess”. I won’t remember so much the second guessing and wringing of hands.  Only Bear’s hopeful little face on the drive to Granny’s house this New Year’s Eve. “Granny’s gonna think my hair is beeful,” he said quietly to me . “Yes she is sweet boy,” is all I needed to reply.