It’s okay, he can wear a dress…

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if a dress is good enough for president roosevelt, it’s good enough for my son!

My son loves playing dress up. He’s almost 2 and his imaginativeness is shining through. He loves wearing hats of all sorts (included plastic buckets, and baskets, and wigs (as we’ve seen before in pictures), capes (made from scarves or other bits of fabric), and sunglasses. I haven’t yet gotten him many other dress-up items, but I think since it’s Halloween time, we will head on over to Value Village soon and pick up a few other play options.

Today, at daycare, when I picked him up, there were many kids digging in the pretend play box. And one little girl had put on this fancy princess dress and was wearing it around. Potamus was so glad to see me, and we did a quick 30 second snuggle, and as I was asking the teachers about his day, one said to me “he wants to wear that dress,” pointing toward the little girl. “He’s always asking to wear it.”

And my response was, “oh, let him wear it. That’s totally fine. He’s at such a sweet age, and playing pretend is good for him. He’s not old enough to be made fun of for wearing a dress, yet.” And they nodded their heads and laughed along with me, since my tone was light and cheery.

But I meant it.

And I have so many swirling thoughts about it all.

The first, is, that this is a phase. That my child loves all things dress up, and I want him to have the full range of exploration imaginable. And my second thought was horrified, not that he would be wearing a dress, but that he had been asking to wear a dress and they hadn’t let him. My baby, unable to play pretend in a way that he has wanted. Which makes me question the underlying foundation of the daycare (which is otherwise doing great), because I’ve been not teaching hard-line male gender stereotypes, and would hate if he was being subtly or not-so-subtly pushed into a certain way of play, at such a tender age. Also, it wasn’t that long ago in history where little boys (up until age 6 even) were dressed in dresses to keep them ‘sexless’ and innocent for as long as possible. Or for fashion or other reasons, like practicality when not wearing a diaper!

But then my thoughts flicked toward the longer term future, at the unknown of what Potamus’s true gender identity will be. Perhaps he’ll embrace traditional male gender stereotypes, or perhaps he’ll be a “boy who loves girl things” like CJ at Raising My Rainbow, or perhaps he’ll tell me that he is actually a she, or that he loves boys, or that he wants to wear rubber boots to school everyday (true story, my friend’s son did that for a good long time). I don’t know, but I will love him no matter, and will encourage him to be who he is, no matter what.

I hadn’t thought about him being pegged into a gender role so soon, and hope that the conversation with his teachers, for the minute, allowed a little more freedom for him to get to experience pretend play as his sweet little toddler self, without the teachers worrying that they might get in trouble for letting him wear a dress. Because, I could see that some parents may ┬ánot want their kid to play dress up that way, but I don’t mind. He can wear a dress if he wants to. Or fairy wings. Or a crown. Or a pirate costume. Or a basket on his head.

HELP! Would you have done anything differently in addressing his teachers? How do you handle the play-pretend issue as far as gender norms are concerned? Any experiences having to give teachers instructions on how to interact with your child?

I bought my son a baby doll…and it’s rocking my own sense of identity

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he picked dolly out and wouldn’t let her go

My hunt for weather-appropriate clothes (on sale) at Fred Meyer left me wandering dejectedly through the toy aisles. I thought that I might come across something fun to add to the collection (because Scrummy has chewed up a few of the play foods that I bought most recently), and Potamus got really excited in the cart and pointed at the dollies. I picked one up and asked, “do you want this?” and his response was a very definitive “YEAH,” and he hugged her tight (yes, I’m associating a female gender to the doll because she’s dressed in pink. Sue me). Fortunately Dolly was only $2.99 because some dolls are really expensive and I didn’t feel like shelling out $20 for an experimental toy (not knowing if his definitive ‘yeah’ meant ‘YEAH’ or he was just excited in the moment, like he does with snack-time). But Dolly, as we’ve named her, has been a permanent fixture in our house for 30 hours now.

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I know the psychological benefits of boys playing pretend with dolls and other ‘typical girl’ toys like play food and stuffed animals. I read blogs where boys have long hair, or play with dolls, or wear skirts to Home Depot with their dads. I loved that he picked this toy on his own, and has been so lovingly attentive to her. He’s pretended to feed her, wants help wrapping her in a swaddle, and has laid her in a little box for a bed. He snuggled with her all last night, even when he came into our bed. I think it’s so sweet to see him holding her so lovingly while watching TV or eating dinner.

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So, with all of this sweet happiness that I’m feeling in my gut when I look at this innocent little boy with his dolly, do I feel a little twang or twinge after today’s outing to KidsQuest? While nothing was said overtly, I did notice that people noticed…if that makes sense. Most of the moms I encountered seemed to have a wistful ‘awe, how sweet’ look on their face. And dads seemed to be thinking ‘is that a boy carrying a doll?’ though I wouldn’t say their looks were judgmental or hostile, but more…surprised? And then there was the older restuarant worker who almost fell over his own feet staring at Potamus and Dolly while getting back to his shift. He was smiling, but also seemed…perplexed?

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Now, I don’t want to be over-analyzing every little experience we have in the future. Because I can’t read minds, and these people could certainly just have been admiring my adorable son, rather than thinking about the fact that he’s carrying a baby doll. After all, if I notice this, then maybe it’s because I feel uncomfortable? Why am I letting my son carry a doll? Is it some political statement? Is it my way of rebelling and giving the gender stereotype marketing a big eff-you finger? Or is it because he so sweetly asked for it and seems to love it more than he’s loved any other toy?

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Potamus and Dolly eating some lunch at Panera.

Have you let your son/daughter play with ‘opposite gender’ toys? How did it make you feel? How did it make you feel in public when your child wasn’t ‘gender conforming’ for any reason?