This is for all of you who have so thoughtfully commented this week, and specifically for Sara, whose son feels the same way. By the way, Sara, tomorrow is pajama day at school. I know what your child would be wearing.
After journeying with Peter Pan and screaming with Mr. Toad, it was time to fly with Dumbo, a ride that is non-threatening both because it involves pastel elephants and because the kids can tell from the outside exactly what they are in for. Even though we were one of the last families to load, Zachary managed to score a pink elephant with his father, while Benjamin and I giggled just in front in a lovely purple pachyderm.
Afterwards, the verdict was split: one child wanted the merry-go-round, the other the roller coaster. We compromised and Zachary went to pee while his brother squealed “PONY!” for the entire length of the carousel ride. And, because lines were mysteriously short, even for off-season, Zach and I managed to slip onto the teacups before Ben and J caught up with us.
I get uncomfortably dizzy even when I am not pregnant, so suffice it to say our teacup was one of the more gently spinning ones. “From now on,” I declared upon our exit, “the teacups are a Daddy ride.” I went to recover in line for a boat ride through miniature storybook land, a line that moved so quickly that J and the boys almost didn’t manage to get to the front to join me before I boarded.
And then, Zach got his long-awaited roller coaster, if you can really call the little acorn ride in Mickey’s Toontown a roller coaster. Benjamin and I, meanwhile, went out to stalk Minnie Mouse. He had hugged her on the last visit and was completely smitten. Sadly, all we managed was second-runner-up Mickey, but the toddler was pretty much cooked by this point. It was time to take the train to Frontierland, sit in the air conditioning with baskets of chicken fingers (while Zachary gingerly lunched on apple slices), and listen to a fantastic banjo show in the Golden Horseshoe.
It had been a hell of a morning in Disneyland. And, because we like to spoil ourselves our children, we stopped off for ice cream on Main Street. By now, everyone’s goose was totally fried, and we decided to pick up the promised mouse ears on our way to the exit, giving the kids a chance to sleep it off in the car before a rousing game of “visit prospective houses” in the afternoon.
And that’s how we ended up in a store, Zachary trying on ears while I chased his little brother. Then, Benjamin stopped in his tracks. There, in front of him, were rows and rows of stuffed animals. Mickey Mouse stuffed animals, to be precise. He grabbed one and clutched it. “Mi-Mouse!”
I sighed. We want less crap, not more. We are trying to minimize our impact on the planet by buying only things we really will use, and the ears themselves were enough of a compromise for the day. But, I also know when I am beaten. “Go show it to Daddy,” I told him, and Benjamin ran off. It was clear we would either be buying the animal or surgically removing it from his grasp. And, because we did not want to deal with the tantrum were trying to be fair, I pulled a pink Mickey bracelet off the shelf for Zachary, whose entire face lit up when we handed it to him.
Now, appropriately product-laden, we headed across the street to the right place for ears, the Mad Hatter’s shop. “Which color do you want?” I asked Zachary, using my ever-widening body to block the sparkly pink ears with a bow. He scanned about, looking over the rainbow of ears, seeking the color we all knew he would choose.
“Pink,” he declared, and I subtly guided him to the plain pink ears that were much less likely to occasion teasing among his peers. While we have long grown used to his monochromania, we try to help him find the pinks that are less ostentatious. He does not want girly things; he wants pink things. He just cannot tell the difference, and we have tried to shield him from the stereotype that boys don’t wear pink. We prefer he not even know that there are pig-heads out there who believe that only girls can like such lovely colors. Frankly, however, it is hard to find a whole lot of manly pink shorts. We guide the process so he can be handsome in pink.
I asked the saleslady for help fitting the proper ears. “He’d like these pink ones,” I said.
“Boys can wear pink, you know,” he declared, and inside I suddenly felt like lettuce that has unexpectedly found itself left out in the hot sun. He knew, then. He knew the stereotype well enough to take a preemptive strike against it. Had people said things to him? At three-and-a-half, were they already trying to take away his joy and his favorite color? And was he already having to defend his individuality?
We bought the ears: pink for him and red for his brother (he looks beautiful in red), and made a serendipitous Minnie-sighting as we headed for the exit. Two hugs and one picture later, we were finally out the gate, Benjamin in the stroller and Zachary perched on J’s shoulders, pink ears, pink shorts, and pink bracelet gleaming in the sun.
And that’s when I heard it. A girl behind me, older than my children but still young enough to sound like a child. “Do you see that boy? He’s a boy and he’s wearing pink.”
I wanted to spin around, confront her parents for allowing her to sink into the mud of gender stereotypes, point out that my son loves trains and busses and building along with stickers and coloring and cranes and construction sites and flowers. But that would be playing right into the bigotry that is so inherent in our society that a preschooler cannot dress how he chooses without feeling the need to defend himself.
And so, without even turning around, I shot back, “Boys can like pink.” At least he knows I am defending right alongside him.
I promise tomorrow’s post is not about gender! But it is an important one, so please do stop by.