My youngest child does not go anywhere without a Barbie doll or (preferably) a Rapunzel doll in tow. This may not sound unique. Until I point that he's a boy. And quite honestly, I don't care a fig that he loves all things Barbie, Rapunzel, pink, purple or sparkly. But I think other people do. I can't tell you the number of times that we've received sidelong glances, overheard snickering or watched as people pointed and giggled. Quite honestly, this doesn't upset me - yet - mainly because Eli isn't old enough to notice. I do, however, feel a sense of shame on behalf of the type of person who would make fun of a three-year-old.
On the other hand, there are a fair share of people who tell me how impressed they are with me and Adam because we let Eli be exactly who he is. I don't see this attribute as noteworthy or impressive at all. I see it as my responsibility as a loving parent. After all, I don't think twice when Ethan, my oldest son, asks to buy a Lego set. In fact, I take pride in his creativity and enjoy watching him build complex and elaborate structures. Why should I treat Eli's passions any differently? (See photos of Barbie's adventures. Barbie goes camping, Barbie goes to Hershey World and Barbie goes to the first day of school. Barbie gets around.)
Eli, who had a year-long fling with Thomas the Train, has never embraced cars, tractors, trucks or other toys commonly perceived to be "traditional" boy toys. His Barbie obsession began when he was hospitalized with Salmonella poisoning. We were laying in his bed watching t.v., both of us feeling pretty miserable for very different reasons. A commercial for a Barbie doll came on and Eli sat up and clapped, smiled brightly and said "I want that!". Who in their right mind would say no to something that produced such a joyful and honest reaction? And thus, his love for Barbie began. (Or as he bluntly says it, "I just like girl toys!")
At first, Ethan had no comment. But as Eli's collection began to grow and once we were no longer able to leave the house without at least one blond beauty tagging along, Ethan began to say things typical of an older brother such as "EW! Barbie! Disgusting!!!! (Insert gag noise here)." I did my best to put a swift and solid stop to this kind of teasing. "How would you like it if we made fun of you for playing Legos? It's unacceptable. Period." That pretty much quieted the peanut gallery. Every now and again, Ethan will offer some sort of choice comment, but after reading the book Princess Boy to both kids, Ethan has really stepped in as Eli's ambassador to Barbie and all things pink and sparkly. In fact, he chose to gift Eli with a purple, glittery plush unicorn. And just the other day, I overheard him ask Eli if he wanted help taking off Rapunzel's dress so Eli could make her swim in the bathtub. Sigh...be still my heart...it seems I am doing at least one tiny thing right (for now).
However, most recently, Ethan told me that he would be really mad if someone made fun of Eli's Halloween costume this year....because Eli will be sporting a long blond wig and lovely purple dress and going as Rapunzel (that, or a witch, but am pretty sure Rapunzel is eeking ahead as the top contender). I have to admit, I think Eli will be the absolutely most adorable and perfect Rapunzel hitting the neighborhoods this year. Is this unconventional? Maybe some people think so. Do I care? Not a lick. Does this sound familiar? It should. This post by Sarah Hoffman on her popular blog, Nerdy Apple Bottom, has been all over the media.
Mothers like Hoffman know what I know. We can't make or unmake our sons gay. And we don't want to. Being gay - or even just being interested in toys that seem non-traditional for a certain gender - is irrelevant when it concerns the deep and unabashed love we have for our children. Eli is who he is. Just like Ethan is who he is. The love I have for them is fierce, tremendous and tender. I love them without boundaries and without conditions. And my job as their mother, in addition to teaching them kindness, acceptance and responsibility, is to be their biggest supporter. My job is to empower my children be who they are, not hold them back (especially if it's out of fear of what someone else might think or say).
As far as Halloween goes, I figure two things will happen. One is that when Eli is older and I show him a picture of him in his Rapunzel costume, his cheeks will burn at the memory and he'll say "Moooooom! Why did you let me wear a dress?". Or, second, the photo of him in a dress will be unremarkable and dismissed without comment. Either way, Eli will remember that his mother never admonished him for his preferences, openly supported him in his choices and loved him unconditionally.
By the way, Ethan wants to be the freaky Scream guy for Halloween, which quite frankly concerns me a heck of a lot more than the Rapunzel costume.