When my kids were born, I had this great fantasy that I would raise them in a gender-neutral household, in which girls could play with Legos and boys could play with dolls, and that we would be the ultimate, nurture over nature family.
I’ll never forget the day when my son was playing with a Barbie that someone had given my daughter…and he looked up and spotted the Barbie dream car that I’d stashed on the top shelf of her closet. He couldn’t even talk yet, but he was pointing at it and making grunty noises and threw a huge fit until I pulled it out and handed it to him. At which point my fantasy was shattered, as it was all cars and trucks, all the time, from that day forward. (Except for the blue, twirly dress that he wore until he was three. But that’s a different post.)
And yet…I still tried to maintain the idea that my children didn’t have to be put into stereotypical gender boxes. I bought my son fake brooms and vacuums, and encouraged him to push his Hot Wheels around the pretend kitchen. I bought my daughter a tee-ball set and taught her how to take a cut. On the weekends, my husband and I would take them to various places around town; the Natural History Museum, where we looked at disgusting bugs and at pretty rocks; the Peterson Automotive Museum; a local production of Cinderella.
But as my kids got older, our weekends were gradually overtaken with games, practices, religious school, birthday parties and playdates, and my kids became more vocal about where they did and didn’t want to go. Suddenly, it was hard to find things to do with both a boy and a girl; if we wanted to spend time together as a family, our only options were gender-neutral places like the beach, the zoo and the park.
Now that my kids are even older, however, it’s really becoming a problem. We’ve outgrown the zoo, and the park, and so it seems like all of our activities are broken straight down traditional gender lines. My husband and my son go to the batting cage, or to a Kings game, or they go watch a baseball game at UCLA, or they go to the baseball card store. My daughter and I, meanwhile, go shopping, or get manicures, or bake, or catch up on episodes of Project Runway.
It’s upsetting, really, because it’s not the kind of thing I’ve ever wanted to model for my kids, but somehow, it’s just happened. My son doesn’t want to go to the batting cage with me because I can’t give him tips on his swing the way my husband can. And I need to get manicures, but my son has no interest in coming with me to do that, unless I bring a video game for him to play while he waits. My daughter, meanwhile, would rather walk across hot coals than go to a hockey game, and she doesn’t want my husband to take her shopping because he doesn’t know what looks good.
I suppose I could educate myself on the finer points of baseball swings, and my husband could spend some time looking through fashion magazines, but a) when are we doing this, and b) I think my kids would quickly figure out that it’s a forced effort. The bottom line is, my daughter and I prefer to do things that are “girly,” and my husband and son prefer the guy stuff. The only common ground we have anymore is going to the movies. Thank goodness my daughter likes action films. So, yeah, that’s it. We’re that family, the kind I never wanted to be. Congratulations, nature. You win.