Guest Blogger Rebecca Barry: Not too long ago, I bought our son Liam a pair of tights. It was the end of the week and he doesn't go to daycare on Fridays and so he and I spent the day together. I took him to the gym, and then to the co-op to get groceries, and then we went to The Cat's Pajamas, which is a children's clothing store that has a "Thomas the Tank Engine" table which can occupy Liam for hours. So Liam played and I bought three pairs of very cute, colorful socks and two pairs of tights.
When I came home and showed my purchases to my husband, he pointed out that it wasn't really cost-effective to forgo daycare ($35 a day) if I come home with $50 worth of hosiery for a boy. He didn't think the tights were a good idea.
I did. Here's why. I am always cold. My acupuncturist says it's because I have a "damp constitution" and eat too many "damp foods" (coffee, wheat, dairy ... yes, I consider coffee a food). Whatever the reason, I spend the winter freezing and wear tights under my jeans all season long. I assumed that Liam -- who my acupuncturist also at one time also pronounced "damp," and who has no body fat -- is also always cold. So I thought tights would be good for him. I also bought the tights because I feel fairly strongly that children should grow up surrounded by color. They should make colorful things, wear colorful clothes, be exposed to rich, strong colors all the time. I think it's good for their brains, but if you have boys this is hard to do. All the boy clothes are dark browns and greens and totally boring, unless you want to spend a lot of money on Petit Bateau sweaters (which I would if I could). So I am always looking for colorful items for the boys, and these tights were a nice purple-, green- and blue-striped pair, which I thought would look like a very cute pair of socks.
"They're colorful," I said. "All it takes for a kid to look well-dressed is a pair of great socks and a pair of cool shoes."
"You just think he's cold because you're cold," said my husband, who is not "damp". "He's going to die of heatstroke. He doesn't need tights."
"You're just saying that because you're always hot," I said.
What my husband did not say is that he doesn't really want Liam to wear tights because he knows that although I love my boys to death I was kind of hoping for a girl, and he thinks I keep trying to dress my boys like girls. But it's not that I want to dress them like girls; it's that I don't see why they have to be dressed one way or the other. Which brings me to the question of the week: Does the way we dress our children matter?
Later, in the car on the way back from a nature hike, I asked Liam if he liked his new tights. (He had just come out of the public restroom and said, "I have two things: a bottom and a penis.") "I love them," he said happily.
"Why do you love them so much?" I asked. "Was it because they kept you so warm and cozy on our walk?"
"No," he said. "Because I look like Maggie." I could feel my husband's smugness radiating from the driver's side of the car. "Maggie wears tights, and skirts and dresses, and I want to wear skirts and dresses."
"But don't you like pants?" I said.
"Not really. When am I going to lose my penis and be a girl?"
"Oh, that old chestnut," I sighed.
"That's not usually what happens," said my husband, Tommy.
"Well, well, well," said Liam. "When are you going to start being a boy, Mommy?"
"I'm working on it," I said.
In a way, though, he's on to something. I've always been interested in what Virginia Woolf called that "man-womanliness, woman-manliness" that exists in all of us. On the one hand, boys and girls are wired differently, there's no question, but on the other, it seems that we are mostly just human, and tend to exhibit more masculine and feminine qualities at different points of our lives. Women after the age of 30 grow much more aggressive, confident and independent, in my experience. (And after 50, watch out.) Men after the age of 50 are completely sentimental. They just start crying. I think it's all of those years of pretending they don't feel anything.
So maybe my son just sees what we've all forgotten, which is that gender, like morality, like happiness, can be a fairly fluid thing, and that maybe the truth is that we're all women waiting to be men, and men waiting to be women. Which is so fundamentally human -- sitting around, doing the best you can, while waiting to be someone else.
Also, girls' clothes are a lot more fun than boys' clothes.
Either way, we're keeping the tights. And Liam's penis. At least for the time being.