I have spent most of my son's nearly four years on the planet scouring thrift stores and online shops for fun, colorful, and bright clothing. It's been easy to meander back and forth between boy's and girl's departments as, for the most part, a lot of the clothes could work on a boy or girl.
Granted, my son has worn his fair share of puff sleeves and rainbows, but MOST of his clothing has been boy-leaning, with a dash of glitter on a sleeve.
As he's gotten older I've increasingly struggled with finding stuff that works -– a lot of toddler and preschooler boy clothing is dominated by stripes, robots, and dinosaurs, while girl's stuff is covered up with stars, hearts, ribbons, and lace. No matter: with the right balance and stubbornness, I've been able to find stuff that we both like.
Granted, I've noticed that through the months the clothing he's wearing is more dominated by dark greens and reds instead of bright yellows and pinks, but that's cool. He's a dude, and until he declares a gender persuasion, I'm going to assume he'll fall in line with most dudes.
Before I go further, I get that a lot of people really don't care about gender-neutral clothing for kids, and I'm OK with that. My desire to dress my son in bright colors that could work for a boy or girl is half a political stance and half a frustration with how despondently boring I find most boy's clothing. It's been a kind of song and dance I've been performing: how much fun can I have?
Back to my mission. The other day I was leafing through the racks of a local Goodwill when I saw it: a bright pink sweater covered with multi-colored hearts. I swooned, smiled, and then stopped: Was this too girly?
My son is in preschool now, and even though the kids range between 3 ½ and 5, they still notice this kind of thing. A few weeks ago, my son said he wanted to have long hair, longer than mine. I told him he needed to grow out his bangs to make this dream a reality, so we pulled them back with a hair band.
Upon entering the school, he was immediately greeted by his friend, who asked, “Why is your hair like that? It's like a girl's.”
This was TOTALLY a legitimate reaction –- and one that I anticipated and told my son would probably happen –- and the kid's mom did a wonderful job of answering, “He's growing out his hair, it's not a big deal,” without missing a beat.
But this was the first time that I realized that these kids, as young as they are, are really picking up on all of the gender cues around them. No one told my son his hair was wrong, and as far as I know it wasn't a topic of conversation the rest of the day, but a few days later he said he wanted a haircut, so part of me thinks the exchange stuck with him.
That, or he just got sick of his hair in his eyes.
Ultimately, I think the whole hair discussion impacted me more than him –- a few months ago I'm not sure if I would have even batted an eye at the heart sweater. I would have just bought it and been done with it. Now I pause, and ask myself if I would want to be a little boy in a pink, heart-adorned sweater. As much as I'd love for that answer to be, “Hell yes!” I wasn't surprised when it was “Eh, probably not.”
And right now, I realize this isn't the biggest deal in the world. Right now, my kid is wearing an Angry Birds pajama shirt and owl-covered tights under plaid pants, and that outfit is awesome. It's colorful and fun, but it's also a little more boy-friendly than clothing he's donned in the past.
I suppose this is all part of realizing my kid is getting older, but there's a real part of me that mourns the loss of freedom in clothing, however temporary it may be. For all I know, he'll totally be into glitter and sparkles when he's 8, 15, or 25 –- or he won't. I will be perfectly fine either way, because it's not my call to make.
But, MAN, I'm going to miss those rainbows in the meantime.