Dr. Michelle Golland: I recently got a lesson in gender politics from a 9-year-old.
Our son, Asher, has recently started to play baseball in a local league. He is 9 years old, and this is a big deal because my son was never interested in sports -- to his father's pain. You see, Michael (my husband) was a big baseball player. He had dreams of going to the major leagues, and probably could have -- if his parents had been more directive after high school, instead of allowing him to simply party it up in Margate, New Jersey. If only they had forced him to go to the Philadelphia Phillies' Triple-A league that summer, like he was offered ...! There have been a few therapy sessions about that, I can tell you.
OK, so you can see that having a son who is mostly a science and chess kid was somewhat of a shock (but of course totally OK, because Michael is a wonderful and flexible father). The last few years have been filled with science fairs and chess tournaments (which by the way are very exciting). My son and husband have proudly displayed Asher's chess trophies in our home, and they wore the chess-tourney T-shirts around town!
So when our son came home last fall saying he wanted to play baseball, we were pleasantly surprised -- and a little worried. Worried because we had gone down the T-ball road before (when Asher was 4), and it didn't go well. Many tears had been shed -- by both my husband and son. You see, shortly after his tear- and rage-filled first season, Asher was diagnosed with sensory motor issues.
When the neuropsychologist asked what sports, if any, Asher played, and we said T-ball, she shook her head and said, "I bet it didn't go so well, did it?" We told her about Asher's angry outbursts and his struggle to stay on the field -- which she explained was not surprising, because the experience would be a real sensory overload for a kid like him. Sensory motor problems cause stress, frustration and tension -- which in a 4-year-old can be expressed in anger and tears. This was information that would have been good to know before Michael had to literally carry Asher off the field at his last game (only halfway through the season). Now there were tears all around. (Believe me, I have shed many myself around my son.)
This year, baseball has been going very well so far. Asher enjoys it and loves playing with his friends from school. Of course, I do hold my breath around the baseball diamond (still waiting for the other cleat to drop), but so far so good. But when Asher's glove was left behind in my husband's car the day of practice, we had a dilemma: Asher could either use his sister Tova's bright, bubble-gum-pink glove (which fit him), or a brown one (which was a little big). Asher was insisting on using the pink one, because it fit better. Being a very good negotiator, he was explaining to me that there are no "girl colors" and "boy colors" -- and it shouldn't matter if he uses a pink glove.
I pride myself on being a feminist and an egalitarian mom, so I was confused when my quick reaction was, "NO WAY!" OK, I didn't shout it at Asher. But I honestly didn't think that using the pink glove was a good idea. My sister, Kelly, was over, and she was so proud of Asher's ability to look beyond conventional constraints that she, too, tried to convince me that he should just use the pink glove. My sister's child, Avalon, is the classic only child; she is polite, quiet and has never had her "red card" pulled at school. What I mean is, my sister has not dealt with the emotional trauma of a kid who is sensitive and has struggled with getting along with others and fitting in! I shut her down quickly -- it just took that sister look of "you don't get boys, and you don't get this!"
I was concerned because I didn't want Asher to get teased by the other boys on the team. Asher was so great about it; he was trying to convince me he didn't care that the glove was pink, and that if he was teased, he would just tell them it hurt his feelings and to stop. OK, how egalitarian, mature and fabulous of him ... but I couldn't help but feel like the fallout could be more than he could handle or even understand. I called Michael to get his opinion. He insisted that Asher bring the brown glove. He was concerned that once Asher brought the bubble-gum-pink glove, the boys on the team might NEVER forget it.
I sat Asher down and explained that we are so proud that he realizes that there are no "boy" and "girl" colors, and that he knows how to stand up for himself if teased -- but that sometimes mommies and daddies just know what is best, and he needed to bring the brown glove. His response was classic. "OK, Mom, whatever you think," he said. "It's really no big deal to me." He happily walked to the car holding the brown glove. I wondered if I had done the right thing in the situation. Should I have empowered Asher to bring the pink glove and stand up to the other boys if they teased him? Would the boys on the team even have noticed the pink glove, or cared (after all, Asher didn't)? Or had I just helped him dodge the pink bullet of social suicide? I guess we will never really know.
What would you have done??