One of my earliest memories of shopping with my mother is a memory of looking for what we called "footie" pyjamas -- PJs with the feet attached. I must have had the same habit my son now has, of toeing off socks during the night and waking up with ice-cold feet! I don't remember where we were shopping; it was probably one of the department stores at the local mall in my hometown.
I remember the saleswoman searching the racks with us for my size, and then telling my mother regretfully that the only footie PJs she had were "B-O-Y-S' pyjamas." I'm reliably informed that I learned to read early, and I was small for my age, so I'm sure it never occurred to her that I could spell. Without missing a beat, I chirped, "That's fine, I don't mind wearing boys' pyjamas!" As I remember the story going, the saleslady almost fainted in surprise.
Over this past weekend, as our family was strolling the aisles of our local Target in search of a few necessaries, our son fell in love with a pair of truly adorable pyjamas. They feature hearts on the leggings, and Dora the Explorer and her companion monkey Boots on the shirt, along with some fetching pink and purple ruffles. (They're not exactly the ones depicted here, but they're similar.) "Look, Dora PJs," he enthused, with visible excitement. "Can I have these Dora ones? Pleeeeease?"
I remembered the oft-retold family tale of how I startled the saleswoman with my ability to intpret "B-O-Y-S," the subtext of which has always been that I was not only precocious but also flexible, because it was assumed even then that a girl would naturally prefer something marketed to girls. (And I remembered the story which was circulating online not long ago, about a German dad who wears skirts because his son likes to do so.) I thought about how lucky we are to live in a community where no one would bat an eyelash at a little boy wearing pink and purple or proudly displaying his love of Dora and Kai-Lan.
We've wanted, from the start, to rear a kid who doesn't feel constricted by society's expectations of what "boys do" or "girls do." We both grew up on Free to Be You and Me. At the end of our seder each year, we fervently sing the musical setting of Judy Chicago's Merger Poem. We're pretty classic twenty-first-century feminist parents. And yet we've been amused (and sometimes surprised) by the way our guy gravitates to many of the things which our culture says are "boy things." He seems to have an innate love of things which go, especially contstruction equipment. Kids receive all kinds of subtle social cues about this stuff, no matter how hard we try to eschew any sense that certain things -- activities, colors, clothes -- are relegated to one gender or the other.
I can't tell how conscious he is of any of this. But it's interesting, for me, to watch him navigate his path -- a path which, so far, features both a love of excavators and a love of sparkly pink. (You should see his delight at the Hello Kitty temporary tattoos we picked up in the dollar bin.) Of course, it wasn't so long ago that pink was considered a boys' color (See When Did Girls Start Wearing Pink? | Smithsonian Magazine.) Still, I like to hope that as our guy grows up, he'll learn that he can love whatever he loves, regardless of whether or not society says it's "appropriate." Sports or ballet, pink or blue -- or both! For now, those Dora pyjamas are pretty darn cute. And I'm happy to encourage his joy in all of the things he likes best.