Dressing a Baby for a Lifetime

By Isabel Cristina  (El Toque)

Photo: Jorge Ricardo

HAVANA TIMES – While it might seem like an exaggeration, I know people who have bought entire baby baskets and then not used them because the ultrasound confused the sex of the baby. “Just imagine, I bought everything in blue because they told me it was going to be a boy, and it was a girl.”

Sometimes, not even precarious times can shake that whole business of “pink is for girls, and blue is for boys.” This simple distinction between colors gets worse and more complex, until we hear terrible things like: “Men don’t cry”; “that’s what butch women do”; “how many girlfriends does this boy have?”; “girls don’t play with cars”; “boys don’t play with dolls.”

When Diego was little and we used to watch a movie together, he would always identify with the masculine hero in the story, whether it was a human or animal. So, he was Ashitaka, Elpidio Valdes and Simba. I could choose who I wanted to be out of the feminine and masculine characters, the funniest one. I almost always like the villains the most, so I painted moustaches on my face, changed my voice and would shout with a plastic sword in hand: “I’ll kill you, you rascal!”.

At four and something years old, Diego started day care. His relationships with other children and a space outside of home changed the way he saw the world. He didn’t really like me being the only mother with short hair anymore. He would shout and even cry when I wanted to be Captain Hook and not Wendy.

Over time, my son has been learning and unlearning, always with the premise that he shouldn’t judge other children. He no longer gets annoyed when I say I want to be Obi-Wan Kenobi in Galaxy of Adventures. He knows that everybody cries, it doesn’t matter whether if they’re a man, woman, boy or girl. He knows how to play house and his cousins know how to play superheroes. In their games, they have created a parallel universe where Mr. Incredible can wear skirts, with no problem.

Diego knows that people have lots of preconceptions and, when they ask him how many girlfriends he has, he says none, even though he sits next to the prettiest girl in class. He likes this girl so much that he forces himself to look at the board from the table at the back, in spite of his short-sightedness, so he doesn’t have to change his seat. But he never says that she is his girlfriend, because she is his friend.

My son likes baseball and he likes flowers. He likes to help his grandmother water plants and his brother’s father to fix the bike. He has seen his grandfather make lunch, and his grandmother do some electrical work. He knows that chores around the house are the same for men and women, although stereotypes are still very strong and there are other ideas everywhere that get to him.

My son is quite healthy, he has created an image of life where tension between family beliefs and those of the outside world are missing. This is why he says things to me sometimes, without thinking too much, like: “If you had a willy, it would be more comfortable for you because you could wee standing up.” Then, I explain and he understands, but then he watches a movie or talks to his friends, or listens to adult conversations and it’s inevitable that preconceptions and the most well-known barbarities aren’t absorbed by his brain that is a sponge.

However, Diego’s not the only one who has to carry on unlearning: I do too. When we had Oliver, my second son, all popular theories seemed to indicate that a girl was on the way. The tarot cards said it was a girl and the fortune teller said: Girl! The scissors said: Girl! My round and perfect belly said: Girl! My mother said: Girl! I bought colorful bloomers two weeks into my pregnancy. The old fortune-telling women said:Girl! My youth and glow said: Girl!

When the doctor said “It’s a boy” during the ultrasound, I was on the verge of passing out. I cried, I kicked and cursed the mother of tomatoes. I didn’t keep the old baby basket and I didn’t care about dressing a boy in flowy, lace clothes.

My reaction was maybe out of social pressure and people’s beliefs: “you have to have the pair”, “girls end up better than boys”, “girls look after you in old age”, “two boys is too much”, “you’ll set up a baseball team.”

As if girls don’t play baseball, as if there weren’t plenty of boys who look after and care for their parents when they grow old; as if a pair couldn’t have opposite sexes; as if being a girl or boy defines whether we are better or worse with our parents or our children.

While I am far-removed from the crudest machista view and sometimes think I don’t have any prejudice, it isn’t true. I also repeat certain negative standards, at times. The worst thing is that I passively receive others, without realizing the insult they hold. There will always be tension between your inside and outside world, between what we learn at home and what we hear out on the street. I believe that real growth and mutual learning between children and their parents lies in this inevitable tension.

Luckily, there is more time than life to unlearn, to imitate the innocence of our youngest children, to dress a baby up in flowers and butterflies, with stars and boats, in blue and pink, without worrying about the sex that comes up in an ultrasound.

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