Today I took my two year old into the dollar store, armed with one dollar and just enough change for one item with tax and told him he could choose anything he wanted. He looked halfheartedly at the flip flops and the craft supplies, but eventually found his way to the toys. I had to remind him periodically that he only had one dollar to spend and could only get one item. At one point he had about ten items in the cart I was pushing, and we talked about how many items there were, how many we needed to put back to get to one, and what it means to make choices. After putting all of the other items back, among which were a plastic toy horse, wooden alphabet magnets, and a headband with long blonde hair and tinsel attached (baby’s first weave?), we were left with the item my son chose. It was a generic Barbie doll, complete with platinum blonde hair and pink stilettos. The only difference between this doll and the real Barbie is that this one seems to have slightly slimmer limbs.
I recommitted myself to letting my son choose what he wanted and not influencing him in any way, and we headed up to the cash register. Surprisingly the young man at the checkout didn’t bat an eye as my son handed over the plastic doll and his one dollar bill.
When we got into the car, my son immediately wanted to open the doll and asked so politely “Regan, open please?” I opened the doll for him and sat for a few minutes in the car watching what he did with it.
He was immediately enthralled with the way her tiny shoes can come on and off, and spent the drive to the grocery store experimenting with her shoes. Would either shoe go on either foot? Could they go on backwards? I could see his fine motor skills getting a workout over and over as he struggled to get the shoes back on after ripping them off. He was giggling in the back seat and talking to his dolly.
When I went to get him out of the car he said “Regan, look Dolly!” My gut response was “I see your pretty Dolly!” But I squelched that message as one that I didn’t really want to send to my son- that being pretty was her best quality. So instead I said “Yes, I see your Dolly! She looks really smart and artistic! Does your dolly like to paint? Or ride horses?”
He said “YEAH! Dolly finger paint!”
Then he made her “walk” all the way to the store by bending over and bouncing her feet along the ground and even told me “Dolly walking!” in case I had missed his intention.
Once we were in the store he made her sit in the cart next to him and started practicing dressing and undressing the doll, proudly announcing “NAKED!” every time she was undressed. I should mention that I often dress my son in gender neutral outfits and he has very little hair. Apparently adding a doll into the mix was enough for people to assume he was a girl. In the store two people asked me how old “she” was and told Zach how pretty his doll was. So much for not sending that message. I suppose I’ll just have to be twice as vigilant as emphasizing other qualities. Both people were elderly and seemed embarrassed by the mistake.
To be honest, I don’t really mind that my son plays with dolls. This isn’t his first doll- he has waldorf dolls that I have made for him, and stuffed animals too. He has often brought me one of his waldorf dolls while he nurses and asked me to “nurse” the doll at the same time. He’s even pretended to nurse his dolls himself before. That’s not to say he’s always sweet and nurturing- I’ve seen his dolls fly across the room and be smashed down to fit into a kitchen drawer before too. They’ve also been used as weapons, swung by the feet with the head as a mallet. He sometimes also feeds, sings to and changes his dolls' diapers. By letting him play with the dolls as he sees fit, providing him with the opportunity to experiment and learn, I feel like he will be a better spouse and father someday. People often remark on how mild, empathetic and sweet he is. While I think that genetics plays a role in his temperament, I feel like praising the times when he plays gently with his dolls helps him to learn social skills. And dressing and undressing is certainly easier on a doll than on oneself-really to me letting him play with dolls has had a lot of benefits.
I feel like not limiting his toys based on gender, or even on any preconceived ideas I have about toys and how they should be used, gives him an opportunity to explore and learn and become who he was meant to be.
A long time ago, before Zach was even a twinkle in my eye, I was in the middle of a roomful of people who were arguing with my husband that playing with dolls would make a boy turn homosexual. My husband is of the mind that playing with dolls helps social development and that people are either born heterosexual or not. The other people in the room adamantly would not let their little boy play with “girl toys” which included a tea set and some small figurines that the little boy had discovered in an old toy box. I felt sorry for the little boy and I totally agree with my husband that playing with a certain kind of toy won’t change who you are. It may make it easier to accept who you are and find out earlier and with less of a struggle than being “forbidden” or shamed into ignoring a whole aspect of your character because our strict gender biases restrict a certain type of play.
That being said I have to remind myself that I was trying to teach my son that money isn’t unlimited, and we have to make choices about what to buy every day. We have to really think about things that we purchase. And I suppose I was teaching myself a lesson too- letting go. If it had been my choice we would have gotten the wooden magnet letters for the fridge, because even though I don’t object to the fact that he got a doll, I would have much preferred not to get something made from phthalate containing plastic that has unrealistic proportions.
So yes, my son DOES play with dolls, and no I don’t mind. I love him and accept him just the way he is- every aspect of him. It’s so much fun to discover who he is a little more every day and see his silly, sweet, compassionate nature shine through the typical two year old drama. Even as I write this, he is pushing his dolly around in a dump truck. He is so perfect, and happy and oblivious to the judgments of others- hopefully I can keep it that way a little longer!