Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails

I wasn't surprised when my 20 week scan revealed I was having a boy. Despite having a sister, being brought up in an all-female household and having selected a name for my 'daughter' a clear 10 years before meeting a man I'd even consider allowing to become her father, as soon as that second line came up on the pregnancy test I knew we were expecting a son. We travelled to New York when I was 8 weeks pregnant, a long-booked trip for our first wedding anniversary, a break I'd have enjoyed much more without hideous morning sickness and spending much of the week knee-deep in sludge, or clambering over snow drifts baked solid at every curb. We sheltered in shops to avoid the cold, it would have been rude not to, and bought baby items that even at this early stage were obviously for a boy. In the shop at the Museum of Modern Art my husband selected a purple dragon with a rattle and mirrors, a toy that vibrated, the spines on its back lighting up when its neck was stretched away from its body. I just couldn't picture it having a female owner, so it was good that in the early hours of a September morning just over a year ago, T appeared, just as we predicted.

There are so many generalisations about boys though. When I told some people that my bump was hiding my son, they asked 'whether I'd be hoping for a girl next time'. Yes, before my first baby was even born. Whenever he cried well-meaning relatives murmered that boys are 'always difficult', and don't even get me started on the midwife who was surprised we experienced difficulties trying to establish breastfeeding because 'everyone knows men like breasts'.

If you go into a clothes store, or even browse the rails at one of the large supermarkets, you'll notice something in the boys section. Not only are all the items grey, blue or brown but there's a massive amount of camoflage and the slogans, oh the slogans! I'm A Little Monkey, I'm Little But Loud, I Don't Want Anything Except My Own Way, Naughty But Nice. What hope do little boys have to be anything else if this is the message on their chests? And it works, everyone had an opinion on boys and how, in some small way, they're not quite as good as girls. One of the workers at the local Children's Centre told me their play room is closed to all over-4s because 'although the girls are still happy to come and play, by this age the boys just run around breaking things and hitting each other'. I realise it is just as preposterous to lump all little girls in the 'well behaved' category, but at least their generalisation is a positive one. Faced with expectations that he'll be a 'little terror' how could T fail to be anything else? Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy?

This is an issue I might have a teensy bee in my bonnet about, as you might have noticed. Luckily, T is still obliging my peccadillo. He doesn't mind that his clothes are definitely of the plain primary coloured variety, or even that when I noticed Next were selling a pink jumper in their baby boys' section, I immediately snapped one up for him. My husband is worried I am trying to 'emasculate' T though, and trying to 'turn him into a girl', or even worse 'gay'. Once I had picked myself up from the floor and expressed shock that I had managed to marry anyone quite so ignorant, I did reassure him that a pink jumper didn't immediately indicate he wouldn't one day be a grandfather in the traditional way. When I suggested we buy T a toy buggy to push along, based on the fact he loves the one at the Children's Centre, and indeed using his own buggy as a walker, he refused point blank as buggies are 'for girls'. During last weekend's mammoth trip to the Trafford Centre though, and seeing his son's look of glee when he got his hands on a mini pushchair and took a toy car for a walk around the Early Learning Centre, he relented. Agreeing that perhaps, just a little bit, I might have been right. Being a good wife of course I seized on this admission of guilt and ran with it, managing to bag T a toy washing machine too, based on how much he loves the real one, previously something else that would have been out of bounds as a 'girls toy'.

I'm painting my husband as a real neanderthal here, but he's genuinely not. He does do the washing, using the machine, and I assume one day he'll show T how to put his own clothes in there and magically make them clean. I just really believe that the line that 'divides' boys and girls, blue and pink, dinosaurs and fairies, is so deeply entrenched it can take real effort to step back and see that actually, it's not a real line, just one hovering in the air, imagined by people who probably don't have a lot of imagination! Our friend Lily, two, loves T's purple vibrating dinosaur, and her mum has requested Thomas the Tank Engine presents for her birthday. The three year old twin boys we know have a beautiful wooden toy kitchen, and spend hours making their mum cups of 'tea' as she reclines on the sofa (well, as much as you can sit down at all when you have three year old boys to keep an eye on).

The pushchair and washer have been sent to the attic until Christmas. I can't wait to get them out!

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