Raising Che

che guevara onesieA scant two weeks ago, my partner brought our little boy into the world. I was shocked—not only was the baby not the dragon we’d seen on the ultrasound, but I really anticipated we’d be having a girl. I don’t have a good reason why, save to say that confirmation bias may have had something to do with it. I was more than willing to disregard any old wives’ tale that indicated boyhood, and focused instead on the ones predicting for a girl. And I promise, I didn’t and don’t have a personal preference; I’m astounded and thrilled to be a parent, at long last. I have already parented a collection of cats, hundreds of stuffed animals, my own parents at times, previous partners (never Susanne), and assorted coworkers (not the majority of you, certainly).

It could have something to do with my own frame of reference for childhood, but I think the more likely culprit is that I know the narratives I want to relay to my girl child. They’re all about empowerment, finding her voice, locating her strengths and meting those out wisely. I’d even borrow a little from the Girl Power folks, at least, I was ready to. I had braced myself for conversations about Bratz Dolls, Disney princesses, and the omnipresent pipeline of Pink Things.

As a freely bleeding heart liberal who’s been described by some as “left of Mao,” I am all ready to raise a girl in the entropy of 21st Century Earth, in the still-richest country on said planet.

But a boy presents different challenges:

  1. He’ll walk through the world of his childhood differently than I did because childhood is a gendered experience. He won’t be told, for example, that by design, he should not be good at science or math, but he will be told to stop crying by people who aren’t Susanne or myself.
  2. He’ll receive male privilege in all of its forms and not yet have the skills to unpack the ways it privileges him over others, especially as a white boy.
  3. He’ll be asked to compete, on a daily basis, with other boys in ways I am personally unfamiliar. And we’ll need to find responses to these moments as they happen. (Read: peeing contests.)

There are more difficulties, but those are the main ones that have crossed my horizon. To be sure, there are many things I’m not willing to do just in order to combat these tensions, like slapping on a layer of self-hatred for his position in the world, or reminding him at every turn of his burgeoning power.

But I want to be wary of the other side of the pendulum here—namely, turning my child into a public service announcement for sperm bank-conceived children of hopelessly liberal or radical parents. He is not a gender revolutionary just because he’s my kid. Even if he wears a tutu or a pearl necklace, or plays with Barbie and G.I. Joe dolls at the same time. He is simply a kid with an enormous glut of love, resources, and entitlement streaming at him that he will use as his foundation toward maturity.

I can’t change the late capitalist systems at play singlehandedly, but I also don’t need to proclaim any messiah tendencies on my son if or when he displays an enlightened sense of self. Kids do that all of the time, and thank goodness they do because the rest of us need to catch these glimpses of hope that the future can be better than what we’re leaving for them.

That said, I love to see boys in tutus and parents not wailing about culture wars because of it. I’ve even procured a tutu for a toddler friend who repeatedly expressed an interest in one. Several friends of mine who are raising young ones right now have exactly the style of parenting regarding letting their kids experiment with identity and I hope to follow their lead. I think it’s a good thing for boys to explore themselves in all directions, just as I’ve thought for most of my life that girls have to push these boundaries. Chances are there will be considerable regression to the mean anyway, so the more varied experiences kids encounter growing up, the better. Who couldn’t do from a broadening of perspective?

I want to dial down on the joy as a parent, however, because I also don’t want to foreclose on the possibility that my boy will be a team sports playing, rough and tumble, masculine boy. I’ve long held that the joy and strain of parenting is allowing one’s child to become themselves and not the image of the parent’s desire. To that end I aim to take a critical stance on aforementioned stream of crap that will flow Emile’s way, but I don’t want to place my critiques onto him. And I also won’t read his actions as indicative of some speed dial number to the End of Gender. Of course there will come a point when he’s old enough to talk about these preferences and experiences, and I’ll gladly encourage discussion. But while he’s an infant, a toddler, and a pre-teen, I think I’m going to let him swallow marbles, make mud pies with  girls, learn to throw a baseball, paint with glitter, and anything else we code as gendered childhood activities.

Okay, I’ll discourage the marble swallowing, don’t worry.

I think we’ve got a very interesting generation of boys coming up, ones who have played with makeup and tutus, and who see their fathers taking a much more active role in parenting and household chores than they did in my generation. I actively wonder what this means for masculinity down the road. Because truth be told, working only to loosen the ties around femininity is working on just part of the problem of gender as we know it.

I’ll do my best to raise a son who is aware of his own privilege, but I am not going to proclaim him the Che Guevara of masculinity. I’d rather he come to his ideas without any additional mythology.

 

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13 Comments on “Raising Che”

  1. Jodi
    September 22, 2011 at 5:51 am #

    Fabulous, Everett! You had me gasping for air at the marble remark, but thankfully you clarified.

    As a mother of three boys, I am in total agreement to let them explore their interests in an “open” gender environment. Andrew had a play kitchen and a tool bench. Whichever he preferred was okay with us as long as it kept him busy and out of trouble.

    All the best of luck with Emile. He is a true blessing. Shower him with love and he will bloom into whatever he will be…oh and by the way, enjoy every single minute because to say, “it goes fast” is and understatement.

    • evmaroon
      September 22, 2011 at 9:51 am #

      Out of trouble is a great plan, Jodi! Yes, I’d like to see less emphasis on gender and it’s limits, and more on learning, building relationships, and being good to self and others. And the marbles will only come out once he’s old enough to know not to eat them.

  2. September 22, 2011 at 6:20 am #

    The biggest advantage this kid had from the beginning, whether girl or boy? The presence of loving, thinking parents. I wish all kids were so lucky.

    • evmaroon
      September 22, 2011 at 9:48 am #

      I quite agree on your notion, Johsnna. I will aim to do right by him.

  3. September 22, 2011 at 8:54 am #

    Your post reminded me immediately of the moment when I realized that after fifteen years of working to raise an enlightened boychild, I had in fact been raising (unbeknownst to me) a girlchild. The flood of self-doubt which followed was numbing until I realized that most of the things which came to mind as “ways in which I would have parented her differently” came from my own subconscious gender bias and probably wouldn’t have served her any better anyway.

    Enjoy your darling boy. He is in good hands.

    • evmaroon
      September 22, 2011 at 9:47 am #

      Wow, that is wonderful. Would that the world were filled with parents like you. Thank you.

  4. September 22, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    great topic! one of the most interesting parts of parenting is encouraging your child just be who they are. oh, and FYI those gender/sex/preference/experience type conversations can pop up WAY before pre-teen…and always just as you’re walking out the door to school or an appointment. but I love those conversations…love that my kids ask great questions and we talk openly in a way my parents never did. one of my greatest parenting moments was a few years ago when my then 7 yr old Nephew wouldn’t use a pink straw in his drink so my son took it for his. my nephew says to my son “but pink is girl color!!!!” my son looked at him like he was an alien and said “there’s no such thing as a “girl color””. another great moment- same Nephew says to my son “make your mom make us a snack” my son responded ” I don’t MAKE my mom do anything, we can make our own snack”. aaaaah wonderful. we might be doing a pretty ok job at this parenting thing 🙂

    • evmaroon
      September 22, 2011 at 9:37 am #

      Smart kid! I’m always a fan of compassionate and sassy.

  5. September 22, 2011 at 9:36 am #

    What johannaharness said. Truely.

    But omg, I can totally relate to this post! I too had convinced myself that weeIrish was a girl. I grew up in a VERY female-centric environment; as far as I could see, women did all the heavy lifting, and it was the women friendships and relationships that drove our own social life, as well as the community life in our neighborhood. I was hugely intimidated by my own “I don’t know JACK about no BOYS” anxiety, and underneath that I was secretly scared shitless I wouldn’t *love* a boy as much as I would a girl.

    PHEW! it turns out that no special Boy Manual was needed (one I got the hang of not getting pee in my face!) and all my fears and anxieties were unfounded.

    I *do* worry about boundaries and empathy a lot in these times. Operating on the theory that a yes-means-yes empathetic kid will be so as a grown-up. People’s “bubbles” are a constant topice, and I’m always trying for age and stage appropriate ways to forster empathy. Like, he loves the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series, about which I am meh-to-ugh. So I encourage him to read me the parts he likes, and then talk to him about it (starting of course with a gentle interrogation of “wimpy” 😉 ). A lot of “what do you think about that?” and “how do you think that would feel, if it happened to you?”.

    BTW, have you ever checked out Arwen’s blog “Rasing My Boychick”?

    • evmaroon
      September 22, 2011 at 9:54 am #

      I have read that blog, though not in a while. Also, I like the idea of letting kids find their interests and also pushing them gently to say why they enjoy those things. Agreed on DoaWK. I had a morbid fascination with maritime disasters as a child, so who am I to talk about borderline problematic books? I think it’s great that he’s reading!

  6. Nicoline
    September 22, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    Pshaw, discouraging the ingestion of marbles is the easy part: Just don’t buy any marbles 🙂 It’s actually not that easy to get a kid to live up to your aspirations. Friends of ours, both engineers, who had kids a little older than ours earnestly tried to get their daughters to play with trains and cars and the like and they’d read them a series of famous Dutch children’s stories originally written in the 1950s in which the mom went out to work and the dad stayed home. But it did no good; the girls wanted dolls and pretend kitchen sets and doll houses and stuff. We tried to instill the notion that there actually isn’t any law that says that daddies go out to work and mommies stay home, but that was probably less impressive than it could have been, given that we ended up with a pretty traditional pattern at home… When the younger one was born, we gave the oldest a toy pram and a doll, so he could be “just like mommy.” I swear, the very first words out of his mouth when he got this present were: “Vrooom, vrooom!”

  7. September 25, 2011 at 12:11 pm #

    Late to the party as usual, that’s me innit? None the less, I did find this a good, entertaining and heart – (insert good feelly things here). In my 1st married life, I had a daughter. Her mother did most of the “heavy lifting” for the 1st twelve years of daughter’s life. Then her Mom died, so I got the teen-to-adulthood shift. I was as good at as I knew how to be(which is not saying much, but I tried). Amelia is now 30. She turned out fine, including and in spite of inheriting both her mother’s boggles and mine.

    Now, in my second married life, I have a now 7yo step-son. As far as either he or I are concerned I AM his dad. It’s a whole different world, and yet, exactly the same. I take a much more involved role in his up bringing than I did his big sister’s. It’s a whole different world than it was 25 years ago.

    He and I will both survive, and indeed probably thrive.

    The main thing I know: In the end it’ll all be ok.

    Thus endeth the Middle-Age-man unasked-for advise moment of the day. (presented with the Utmost respect & affection).

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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