Disclaimer: This post may be considered controversial......it's about a gender-creative little boy (in other words he cross-dresses and is very effeminate). If you're not comfortable with that, you have been warned.
I have always loved children. Being the oldest of ten, I guess that makes sense. I am extra sensitive to young children being in danger, even in fictitious circumstances. I remember reading one of the Gregor the Overlander (Suzanne Collins before she wrote Hunger Games, fantastic) books at fourteen or fifteen and being so terrified for the little sister of the protagonist. Her nickname was Boots, and she was lost in a strange world. I was practically crying. To this day I associate negative feelings with Disney's Tarzan because of my first experience. The new baby at our house then was a boy, Matthew, my first little brother. You may recall the opening scene of Tarzan depicts Tarzan's mother and father being killed by a leopard, and the baby narrowly escaping death. Seeing this on the big screen at the drive-in was what I can only describe as traumatic.
As I pursue life as a single adult, I sometimes think that I could do without men entirely. But I have never been able to shake the deep need for children around, MY children around. I dislike singles wards because of the lack of children-- some days I want to find a nursery and hide there. I relate to children so much better than a lot of people my own age. I want to be a mother so badly it hurts sometimes. Children are so....good. That is obviously vastly oversimplifying them, but I can't put it into words. And seeing fathers-- young and old, especially my own dad-- with their children makes me rethink the single mother approach. I can only marry a guy that wants to be a daddy.
Since my future isn't exactly littered with marriage prospects, this craving for motherhood is frustrating. I hope that I'm more smart and savvy than your average baby-hungry BYU freshman, but who can say? The most I can do now is keep my list of baby names updated (it's historical and literary figure based and pretty dang awesome, if I do say so myself) and keep an eye out for strategies I plan on using or most definitely not. Oh, and stress myself out thinking of all the possible things that could go wrong when I have kids.
What's that, you say? You don't have that on your Preparing to be a Parent checklist? Haha, would that I could say the same. I first starting stressing out about raising kids, especially girls, soon after I became a feminist. Packaging Girlhood (by Sharon Lamb and Lyn Mikel Brown) and Cinderella Ate My Daughter (by Peggy Orenstein) were particularly helpful in pointing out that **Spoiler** our world is not particularly conducive to girls having high self-esteem. I've spent the last couple years revising my plans for raising independent girls (and independent boys who will respect independent girls) and occasionally flying into a panic when I ponder having to deal with raising daughters amid the inherent sexism of our society, both in the media and out. My mom will testify to the fact I've called her worrying about the fates of Abigail, Alice, and Anne-- who are years away from being born!
Anyway, this afternoon I sat down and read Raising My Rainbow (by Lori Duron) which alerted me to a whole 'nother set of issues I'd never considered. Suppose I have a son who naturally breaks gender roles? I've been so concerned with making sure my girls know they don't have to play with dolls I've never thought, "What if my son wants the dolls?" Raising My Rainbow tells the story of CJ, a gender creative little boy who completely stole my heart almost immediately. CJ loves Barbies, makeup, dressing up like a princess-- anything girly. He identifies (in his own words) as "a boy who likes girl stuff and wants to be treated like a girl". I greatly admire his mother for being willing to chronicle this experience (the book left him on the verge of starting kindergarten but she also writes a blog that is updated weekly).
It was hard to read about little CJ and his older brother, Chase, a very traditional boy, getting bullied because their family was different. Children should never feel ashamed of who they are or be afraid of going to school. I started thinking, "What would I do?" Would I let my son wear his Snow White costume to the school's Halloween party? Would I buy him Disney princess dolls? Would I let him have lipstick? There are hard questions here, not just for letting a child express himself, but for the consequences it may have when dealing with the outside world. Kids are not always kind, and 'hiding' and 'protection' may seem to blur into each other.
I recommend Raising My Rainbow to someone who has never thought about gender-creative children. I enjoyed it and it made me think, which is the most important thing a book can do. I'm still digesting it and trying to work out how I would deal with raising this type of child. By the way, having a gender non-conformant son is not the same as having a gay son, although gender creative children often do end up members of the LGBTQ community. In my mind, sexual orientation can't truly be defined until you hit puberty and hormones kick in. Toddlers aren't gay and they aren't straight because they aren't sexually motivated at all. Just my two cents.
What I came away from the book feeling is that no matter what issues come up with my children (and I know there WILL be issues), I want them to know that I will love them no matter what. Heck, I love them SOOO much right now, and I haven't even met them! I know that love will grow exponentially when I am actually ready to start a family, but for now just the hope of being a mother is a light for the lonely days. Anyway, I'll freak out over how I would raise and accept a gender-creative child and how I want my boys as well as my girls to know that they are unconditionally loved and that I can do anything with God's help and that home is a safe place for a week or so and then I'll move on to another issue.
I swear, my husband will have to be a saint to deal with all my fears.
www.raisingmyrainbow.com for the continuing adventures of CJ