and she's chosen to believe in the hymns her mother sings; sunday pulls its children from their piles of fallen leaves

One of Ethan's favorite things to do is get a temporary tattoo at our local Sanrio store. If you've never been in a Sanrio store, let me set the scene for you: flashy chandeliers that twinkle up high on an iridescent ceiling, shelves and displays filled with bright colored art supplies, accessories and an abundance of beyond adorable stuffed critters with big-eyes and sweet sewn-on smiles. There is glitter and sparkle and, of course, Hello Kitty. "Kee-tee," as Ethan joyfully declares upon spotting one of the many (...many) stuffed Hello Kitty dolls sitting atop a shelf or embellished onto a sequined tank-top. To a child, I imagine a set-up like this can only be described as magical, a sensory overload of things that glitter and shine and basically scream out "snuggle me! Cuddle me! Keep me for always!" Yet it seems each time we step foot in the store, there is some onlooker who, with well intentions, finds something awry with the situation. This past time, it was a grandmother whispering to her next-in-line granddaughter that the little boy isn't going to be getting a glitter tattoo because he was a boy, meant in assurance that she was next and we were merely on line to ask a question. I didn't say a word when Ethan's turn came, when he stuck out his arm and chose blue and black glitter to make up his Hello Kitty tattoo.

Perhaps it's just me, but I fail to see the correlation between strangeness and a child who enjoys glitz and glitter and fuzzy stuffed animals. After all, this gender stereotyping is all learned behavior taught by adults with their own flawed ideals of normalcy. And, really, as the mother of a boy, this hurts me. It hurts, overwhelms and frustrates me that my boy is supposed to be numb to the magic of flashing lights and stuffed animals, that he's supposed to only take an interest in dogs -- but not cats, the very animals who he spends his days with at his home -- or that he must be told no to something he truly does enjoy because it's for girls. Because certain animals are for boys and others are for girls. Because brushing glitter onto a child's arm in the shape of their favorite character is somehow only meant for girls, a sentence that confuses me as much to type because I just can't bring myself to understand the lack of logic behind it's formation. Really, it doesn't make sense. Boy things and girl things are ideas that adults have come up with in their heads and, really, are oppressive to the imagination and innocence that exists in the heart of a child. Of my child.

When I found out I was pregnant with a boy, I was hammered with questions about my readiness to immerse myself in sports and skinned knees and sweat and dirt and pick-up trucks. I couldn't understand the logic then, but my innocent enough retorts were shot down with a blanket "you'll see when he gets here" or "that's what you think, just wait." If we're being honest, regardless of if Ethan was a boy or a girl, I was nervous about having a child who was interested in playing sports. After all, there's nothing that says girls can't be athletes or spend their days in gym shorts and rolling in mud, right? This fear of athleticism was frightening to me because I am not an athlete, because I am a poetic, old soul who would have no idea how to align my heart in it's entirely with someone who was so immersed in athletics. My mother and my sister have this bond that I will never share with my mother, as much as she loves me and as much as I love her, because they are so very alike in a place deep inside their souls that I have never been close to aligning with. I have feared that I would feel lost and unsure of how to understand my child should we be wired so very differently. It wasn't a selfish fear that they would like something that I wouldn't, but a helpless fear of not wanting to isolate them and bring them to loneliness when I just couldn't push my heart to understand them in the way they deserved to be understood, in the way I'd only hoped as a teenager that my mother could understand me (and sometimes even now, as an adult). This wasn't a fear limited to having a boy, I'd explain, but this was no use against a just wait and see.

So I waited. And I saw. I waited and saw my sweet, sensitive boy with a heart for music and a love for art deeper than I could have ever understood a toddler having. He doesn't play rough with the other boys, he doesn't toss balls or run and fall in the dirt, but he cautiously sits and plays quietly, sweetly, gently. And while I am not writing off his personality as it is at almost two years to his permanent adult state, I can say that as of right now, my son is not an athlete. He is not a contender for toddler soccer or t-ball or a competitive sport setting. And that's okay.

But what amazes, confuses and horrifies me most is how to most people, it seems to not be okay. There seems to be some unspoken cultural rule where having a boy means he must play sports and love it, dirt on his face and blood on his knees, roughhousing with the other boys after a rigorous game of play. The general public, they refuse to accept otherwise. It's a stigma in American culture that I cannot stand more than, well, I've ever not been able to stand something. "Music lessons? What's wrong with sports?" People will ask me this and I will silently wonder if they have never heard a male musician before or seen the work of a male artist or watched a film with a male actor in the lead role. I will wonder if they've never hurt or cried or heard a song that touched them to the very core of their soul. And maybe they haven't -- and for that, it's them that I pity.

My husband played football in high school until he quit the team to play bass guitar in a band. "But he's so big," people would say then, as if his size overruled what was in his heart, as if he was more valuable miserable on a football field than in his element on stage with his band. Having dated my husband since we were fifteen, I hold no memories of him as a football player. My teenage memories in their entirety are wrapped around his years as a musician, the years that made me fall in love with his sensitivity and soul. When people ask me what my husband thinks, not enlisting Ethan into any sports activities or "letting him" sit and create beautiful art for hours on end, I laugh. What does my husband think? That our son is a beautiful, sweet, smart boy who deserves every last bit of happiness that this world has to offer and that he will feel whole and he will feel complete because it is our job as his parents to make him feel that way. My husband thinks what I do: that no adult has the right to steal the magic of youth and innocence away from a child over something so silly as a cat painted in glitter that washes away after five days, that our son has a beautiful heart capable of so much good and so much beauty. That our son is who he is and we will love him, every bit of him, for who he is and who he becomes. Regardless of if he plays sports or wins a Grammy. Regardless of if he joins the baseball team or directs his first independent film in high school.

These are the same wishes we share for any future children, regardless of if they're boys or girls. Regardless of if they love athletics or art or the novel concept that they could be capable of liking both. It is the same wish and want that I can't imagine any parent not wanting for their own children: a wish for happiness, for complacency, for understanding that they have no limits in this vast world. Perhaps it's idealistic for me to believe that as adults, we should encourage our children to explore the deepest depths of their hearts rather than to limit themselves to fit absolutely irrational, insane societal norms, but I've never been afraid of idealism. Something about having hope that maybe, just maybe, children can be children without a struggle.


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  2. Thank you for this post and thank you for raising your son the way you're raising him. You're doing it perfectly.

  3. Yes! What a great post! I have tried to raise my daughters with no gender specifications. My oldest daughter loves cars and playing dress up. I hate it when people want to only give her "girly" toys. You are doing a great job with him, and I think his glitter Hello Kitty tattoo is awesome.

  4. I was so distraught when I went shopping for clothes for B after I found out I was having a boy, I literally wrote an essay on it for college. I walked into the baby section at Kohl's, only to find "boys" and "girls" separated from birth on; to find only blues, greens, and yellows in one, pinks, purples, and reds in the other; to find onesies imprinted with "i like trucks, dirt and baseball" in one, and "i like dolls, princesses, and dancing" in the other... LITERALLY. I will never forget that eye-opening experience of how desperately society wanted boys to grow up one way, and girls to grow up another.

    Though I am a firm believer in raising them to explore for themselves, I have also learned, by raising one of each gender, that there is only so much you can do with nurture vs. nature. S grew up never having seen sparkles or princesses until the day we walked into Disneyworld when she was two. The moment she saw them, she fell in love. She still loves rolling around in the dirt... in her princess dress. She still loves playing power rangers with her brother... but she has to be the pink power ranger. We've never imposed gender stereotypes... but she is drawn to liking certain things, and that I would not want to change for the world.

    Sorry for the novel :)

  5. Just beautiful, Lindsay! Very well said, and your pictures are gorgeous. I love his big eyes and chubby little hands! Just keep on loving that sweet little soul the way you are, you are an amazing mama!

  6. Love your blog ! it's the same with little girls. had someone tell me the other day I need to discourage my daughter building things, and start reading her princess books

  7. Wonderful post. My husband and I are definitely very arts-oriented and not too athletic, so I, like you, am a little nervous to see whether our two boys turn out to be athletes.

    Funny, I was looking at the pictures of Ethan and thinking, "Wow, what an absolutely stunning child, and it took me several minutes to even realize he had a Hello Kitty tattoo on. I think that's how it should be!


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