Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Happy Birthday, Dude

"The old believe everything; the middle aged suspect everything: the young know everything." Oscar Wilde

Today is our son's 22nd birthday. Where does the time go? Kids grow up so fast, their childhood seems gone in a blink. But the memories remain, engraved in our minds and hearts.

Everybody has stories of funny, touching moments in their children's lives. I've been telling this one for years. With the movie Brokeback Mountain so much in the news, it's more relevant than ever.

And a vivid reminder that no matter how tolerant we believe ourselves to be, we've all got a long way to go.

Mike was a happy kid, adept at games and sports, a natural athlete. He was, as the saying goes, "all boy." He had lots of friends, including girls, especially Rachel. She was the closest he had to a sister.

One day when Mike was about 6, he returned from playing at Rachel's house and announced, "Mom, I want a Barbie."


This was the late 80's, my husband and I are Boomers, raised on feminism and finding your bliss, on accepting people for who they are and not judging anyone by color, creed or personal choices.

But still. Our son? A Barbie? Whew. Tough call.

This could be a good thing, I told myself. It could put him even more in touch with his inner nurturer.

My husband's initial reaction was less, shall we say, accepting. "A Barbie?? No #@*%ing way!"

Then his rational, more evolved side took over. The one who'd taken ballet in college (required for competitive gymnasts, but also, he discovered, a great way to meet girls). The one who liked to cook, preferred the History Channel to ESPN. The one who had gay friends.

Still. Knee-jerk Dad couldn't put his money where his mouth was.

I reasoned with him. Where does it say boys can't play with dolls? It's not about gender, it's about universal curiosity and parents not imposing outdated stereotypes and rigid sexist rules from the 1950s.

We discussed, we agonized, we debated. Finally we agreed I would get Mike a Barbie. But I'd find one that showed her empowered, liberated. Baseball Barbie. Hard Hat Barbie. Something like that.

I'm not altogether proud of this, but the next day before heading for Toys R Us, I decided to take one more shot. "Dude, I'll get you a Barbie," I said, "but wouldn't you'd rather have Ken?"

"No Mom," he answered earnestly, "I'm Ken!"

There you go. The simple truth we'd overlooked. As always, kids go straight to the heart of the matter. Adults get so busy interpreting, internalizing and imposing their own issues, we lose sight of the real goal.

Give them guidance, values, appropriate discipline and most of all love. But let each child be himself, or herself. And stay out of their heads.

Oh, there's one more punch line to my story.

I brought home Astronaut Barbie, complete with space helmet, lazer guns and jet pack. Did Mike play with any of that? Nope.

He immediately stripped her naked, examined her carefully, got some crayons and drew on nipples and pubic hair. Then he went outside to ride his bike.

Dad's reaction? You got it. "That's my boy!"

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Anonymous Jay said...

You know Ken is supposedly gay, right? Not that there's anything wrong with that.

4:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah but the kid didn't know he was gay. Dad's right, he sounds all boy.

6:15 PM  

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