I have been commenting a bit less on blogs these days. I am still reading, I promise, but y’all are writing an awful lot and if I commented on all those posts, well, I’d never see my kids. And then what would I write about?
Benjamin, as I have mentioned before, is strongly anti-mitten. Mittens, in his opinion, are designed for the sole purpose of restricting his tactile involvement with the world. He has, however, lately softened his approach, demonstrating a willingness to wear gloves, at least, on what I refer to as “Bronte Days” here in London. (These are the days I picture meeting Heathcliff on the moors in winds so fierce they could shear your nipples right off.)
He seems to have recognized that my efforts to encourage mitten-usage are maternal concern, not maniacal, controlling, and creative attempts at torturing him. He does not always consent to wear the gloves, but he has become less offended by the mere suggestion.
So it was that, one recent weekend afternoon, we went out for a walk and I tucked his gloves into my pocket. Our “walks” lately do not get very far. Zach is on his scooter, but he gets awfully frustrated, because Benjamin is moving on his own agenda. Pushing the doll’s carriage. We make quite a sight on the streets of Southwest London, where gender stereotypes for babies and toddlers are all the rage. Ben is very tall for his age and all torso, built like a brick outhouse with limbs, and he is also the only eighteen-month-old boy in a two mile radius to be seen plodding down the road behind his baby. If the doll slumps over, he stops, looks at me, and says “baby,” while attempting to straighten it up. He refuses to proceed until his progeny is comfortable once again. Sometimes, he ditches the stroller and carries the doll instead. He’s a new-age kind of parent, and he has taken a page from William and Martha Sears. He is all about baby-wearing.
It surprises me how many smiles he gets, how many people actually comment on how cute it is. This is a neighborhood where little girls wear dresses every single day in the summer and many days in the winter, even just to climb the monkey bars at the playground. When Zach wanted pink shorts, it was very hard to find them, because the boys don’t wear pink and the girls don’t wear shorts. Since ours is the house where once-upon-a-time Zachary breastfed his panda bear, a pink doll’s house rises up between the large bin of vehicles and the toy farm, and it is a toss-up whether the play kitchen or the train set is the favorite plaything, we often stand out in a society that embraces gender stereotypes so fully. Yet, people love to see my little guy charging down the street, stopping now and then to kiss his baby doll.
Zachary can only wait patiently though so much of this, and on the day in question, when Benjamin stopped two doors away from our house to pull out his baby and carry it the rest of the way, his older brother scooted on ahead and knocked for his father to let him in. Ben, however, had more immediate concerns. He held his baby. He examined its little hands. He looked up at me.
“Baby,” he said. “Cole.”
“The baby is cold?” I asked.
“Baby… cole… mitten.” He looked up, brown eyes wide and serious, as he gently fingered the bare doll hands. “Baby… baby… cole… mitten… baby… cole.”
“You want to put mittens on the baby?”
Ben learned the word “no” long ago. “Yes” is a different story. Instead of saying it, his whole face acts it out, lighting up with a mischievous smile and enthusiastic head-nodding, often accompanied by a full-throttle laugh. And so it was that, ten feet from our front door, we found ourselves pulling out the gloves I had brought along, just in case my baby needed them, and fitting them onto his baby’s little hands, instead.