I have a two year old. He happens to be a boy. He gets mistaken by strangers for a girl about 50 percent of the time. I correct those strangers about 10 percent of the time. It’s not always easy to tell who’s who when kids are young (and even sometimes when they’re old), and it doesn’t quite matter, does it? He has big beautiful eyes, long dark lashes, and he’s sweet and expressive and as charming as can be. He is his unique, wonderful, amazing self.
This weekend for Father’s Day, we visited a railroad town in Pennsylvania. At the end, I wanted to get our son a t-shirt to commemorate the trip. I let my husband choose the shirt he liked the best, which happened to be the one I liked the best too. It was navy blue with a train design. I asked my son if he liked it, and he said no. I asked if there was a shirt he did like, and he excitedly picked out the same design, but in light pink. My husband said no. So I tried with another shirt that was also navy but had a more colorful train design. My son said no. He said he liked the pink one, “it’s my favorite!” he insisted. My husband chuckled and said he was just fooling around saying that. I said I think he really likes the pink one, but my husband was not on board (train pun!). And to be fair, my son was jumping from I want this toy to I want that toy, overwhelmed by an exciting day and gift selection at his fingertips, so it was easy not to take him too seriously. I ultimately settled on a brighter blue version that I hoped once at home, without the allure of the pink shirt, my son would like.
He’ll be ok with it I think, maybe even grow to adore it after wearing it once or twice, but it’s been bugging me that we didn’t allow him the pink shirt that he picked. When we arrived back home, grandma was there, and my son’s first words to her were to tell her that her pink flowered shirt was “so cute.” A while later, he said to her that the next time she visits, she should wear that shirt again because it’s “my favorite.” He even told me again, just before bed, that he liked his grandma’s shirt. Which broke my heart a little, because, at least today, he was really smitten with pink!
It got me thinking, who decided what color is for who anyway? It’s so arbitrary if you think about it. It could just as easily have been reversed where pink and purple were “boy colors” and blue and green were “girl colors.” And yellow, how’d that end up neutral?
I actually did some research and apparently it started out the opposite: “a June 1918 article from the trade publication Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”* It wasn’t until the 1940’s that it switched due to clothing makers and sellers simply for no good reason deciding so. And consequently, my son didn’t get the shirt he most wanted today.
My favorite color is blue and I’m a female. My favorite color until age twelve was pink (pink everything!). Maybe my son just gets it from me? Maybe he’s just a kid who doesn’t even know what boy versus girl means and who loves his baby doll dressed in lavender equally as much as his toy fire engine. Maybe his mom wishes that at the farm we visit every week, he’d change his mind and decide to like the chinchilla more than the earthworms (seriously, why must he touch every.single.worm.). I didn’t ever tell him that his doll (two dolls actually – the other is dressed in pink!) is a girl. I didn’t ever tell him that this Lego person is a girl (because she has braids) and that one is a boy (because his hair is short). But other people along the way have felt the need to define these things that he has zero interest in being defined, and that I wish were left to being answered when he himself decides to ask.
I have a friend with a son with long ringlet hair that he’s recently colored a lovely shade of light purple. I have a friend with a son who loves my son’s play kitchen, but who dresses him in all trucks and shrugs off my suggestion that maybe he’d like a kitchen of his own. There is absolutely no way to know whose son will end up being the more masculine male; and the only thing I really want is to let my son be who he wants to be.
Maybe if I’d gotten him the pink shirt, by Tuesday, he’d be asking for the navy one, but for kids his age, today is everything; and childhood innocence is so fleeting. Can’t we just let them wear all the colors and have all the kitchens and all the trucks and all the long or short hair while it’s all the same and it’s what their heart wants?