Pretty Binary (#267)

My son got a ton of hand-me-downs from his older girl cousins before he was even born. My Chinese-American husband’s frugality warred with his old-fashioned views on gender when those boxes first arrived.

“You’re not gonna dress him in pink, are you?” he asked.

“I dunno,” I said with a shrug. “We’ll see what fits in which season. Would you rather he wear pink or we save money?”

I let Andy wrestle with this dilemma for a while—because I am cruel like that—before telling him he wouldn’t have to choose.

“Judgmental Genius Doctor Sister was a baby clothes Momzilla with all of us before First Niece was born—especially her mother-in-law,” I explained. “The MIL is from Georgia. The MIL had two sons and no daughters. Judgmental Genius Sister knew that she would be inundated with pink frilly everything if she didn’t set some rules. So she sent out the directive ‘No pink ANYTHING!’ before First Niece was born.”

“And she never changed it?”

“Oh, she added a few modifiers, like ‘no dresses EVER,’ and ‘no fucking purple’ and ‘no goddamned hair bows.’

“Really?”

First Niece modeling her Christmas present.

“Why do you think I always give First Niece and Third Niece shiny blue track suits or books for Christmas?” I asked.

“Didn’t we give them drums last year?”

“Yeah, and a really loud talking school bus and their stay-at-home-dad told us we were going to hell. Good times.”

As I unpacked the boxes, Andy and I marveled at the infinite array of yellow and green clothes. There was no pink or purple anywhere. Even the car seats were in primary colored plaids. My sister’s Georgia MIL had been well and truly cowed. (As my relationship with my Chinese-American in-laws had recently devolved into a skirmish that ended in me brandishing a screwdriver, I was beyond envious.)

Our Baby D was born big and beautiful a few months later. Dressed in his neutral clothing, strangers rarely got pronouns right when commenting on his appearance.

“She’s adorable!”

“She—or is it a he?—is super cute!”

“Hapa girls are the prettiest!”

Unlike the moms who insisted on sticking pink bows in their infant daughters’ three hairs, I didn’t care whether Baby D was identified as a him or a her. I just smiled and thanked people. With one exception. When I saw my OB six weeks after delivery with Baby D in tow, she exclaimed, “Oh, wow, she’s so pretty!”

I replied, “She’s a boy!”

“Really? With those lips and eyelashes?!”

“You CIRCUMCISED him!”

Andy, on the other hand, bristled every time his son was called a girl. Once Baby D was old enough to be identified as a boy by haircut and outfit, he relaxed. Only to bristle yet again when friends, relatives, and strangers would insist on saying, “But he’s so, so pretty!”

Through gritted teeth, Andy would say, “No, he’s handsome!”

Later, when the person was out of earshot, I would say, “Oh, honey. It doesn’t matter. ‘Pretty?’ ‘Handsome?’ The gendered connotations are all societal constructs. Stop giving our boy a complex.”

“But—”

“No. Just stop. We have no idea who he’s going to be. Maybe he’ll like pretty, frilly things. He should be able to have a pink bike if he wants. Maybe he make friends who aren’t cisgendered or like pretty things. He should learn that that’s okay. Boys can be pretty. Girls can be handsome. Everything doesn’t have to fit into binary box from the fifties. It is NOT okay for you to insist he be stereotypically masculine.”

Andy sulked for a while and finally ground out, “Fine.”

“And besides, our boy IS pretty,” I told him. “There’s no getting around it.”

Andy glared, but stopped bristling—or at least arguing—with people who called his son pretty.

*****

Living in Southern California, we never bothered with winter clothes. When Baby D was two, however, we went to Utah for Christmas with my father. Rather than buy expensive snow pants for one trip, I borrowed some from a Mom friend with daughters.

“They’re pink, though,” she told me dubiously. “You sure that’s okay?”

“Absolutely fine,” I assured her.

Andy didn’t say a word as we outfitted Baby D in his borrowed snow gear. After he was dressed, Baby D ran his hands down the pink bib and delightedly announced, “I look pretty!”

Without missing a beat, Andy said, “Yes. Yes, you do.”

Hand-Me-Downs & Halloween (#266)

There were two great things about being taller than my older sister by age five.

  • She couldn’t beat me up anymore.
  • I didn’t have to wear her hand-me-downs.

Instead, I got a new dress for the first day of kindergarten. My parents actually asked what color I wanted. I wore that dress at least twice a week until my growth spurts made it into a crop top. Continue reading

The Hard Way: East & West Parenting Manual (#265)

When Baby D was an infant, my husband thought he was the easiest baby. Baby D was content to nap on Andy’s chest while Andy lay on the couch and watched TV. Entire seasons were binge watched during his family leave.

Once Baby D figured out how to move, it was a different ballgame. Baby D learned to crawl–solely for the purpose of cat-chasing.

Baby D learned to walk at 10 months. For five seconds. After his first three steps, he ran.

This was a rough learning curve for Andy. His once-lazy weekends were now about chasing his son, usually with food or band-aids. When Baby D wasn’t running, he was probably arguing. Continue reading

Fun Dad (#264)

I was primary caregiver to our son. This meant that I was also primary disciplinarian, Sayer of “No,” Destroyer of Fun.

It’s no picnic parenting a headstrong, contrary child. Ideally a parent can redirect a toddler to a non-destructive activity. But sometimes, you just gotta say no. Then you have to back it up with consequences. Otherwise, you’re raising a privileged monster who flouts the rule of law and does whatever the hell he wants. (You know, your basic born affluent white man.) Continue reading

Parental Expectations: East vs. West (#263)

My husband had Chinese-American parents. Mine were white, uptight, and Anglo-Saxon Protestant/ Atheist.

Andy was expected to obey his parents without question. If his parents said his curfew was 10 PM, Andy was home at 10 PM. If Andy’s father wanted to sit on the couch and watch TV, Andy could forget about participating in Little League or any other sport.

I was expected to obey, but not without question. My mom was an attorney. Dinner table discussions in her house ranged from abortion to capital punishment. Everyone was encouraged to express their own opinions and defend them. If I could present a good argument for a curfew change or pierced ears, these items might be considered. (Lost on curfew, won on pierced ears.) Continue reading