Red Nails and Pink Legos

It started, as so many important moments do, with a question.

Eitan had been watching television, one seemingly inconsequential kids show or another, when a commercial came on for a Lego model. He said immediately that he wanted to get it and Trudy and I, without batting an eye, said that we would be happy to buy it for him. Eitan smiled broadly, pleased with his instant victory, and resumed watching. After a moment or two, though, he turned back to Trudy and me, his satisfied grin replaced by a look of confusion.

“Why didn’t the commercial show any boys playing with the Legos?” he asked.

Trudy and I glanced at each other quickly before Trudy answered.

“Why do you think there weren’t any boys?” she asked, turning his question around in typical parenting fashion.

He thought for a minute before answering.

“Because it’s pink and they think only girls should play with pink toys?”

“You’re probably right,” Trudy answered. “What do you think about that?”

“I think that’s not fair,” Eitan said. “Boys and girls should be able to play with whatever toys they want. It doesn’t matter what color they are.”

Now Trudy and I were the ones smiling broadly.

img_3352I wasn’t the least bit shocked when Eitan asked for the Lego model; he is always looking for more Legos and Cinderella’s Castle was right up his alley.1 Plus, this wasn’t the first time we’d had a conversation like this with Eitan. Eitan has never been shy about enjoying so-called “girls toys,” including dressing up in Disney princess costumes, singing along with Mary Poppins and playing with tea sets. We’ve encouraged him to play however he wants and with whichever toys he wants, regardless of their colors or industry-dictated target audience. We don’t care if he’s crashing monster trucks or wearing a blonde Elsa wig – or doing both at the same time – as long as he’s enjoying himself.

Eitan’s so-called “feminine” interests aren’t limited to toys either. He’s been asking to have his nails painted for a year or two already and he’s gone with Trudy on a number of occasions to get manicures. Plus, last week, Trudy told Eitan that she would be going shopping for new clothes for him and she asked if he had any requests. He answered, without any hesitation, that he wanted some pink and purple clothes.

“I like those colors,” he had said.

I continue to feel a thrill anytime Eitan talks about bending conventional gender norms. “Because I like it” is reason enough for me to encourage him to pursue his interests, regardless of where they might fall on the gender spectrum. More importantly, though, there have been many incidents recently in which toxic masculinity has led young men to commit horrible acts of violence. I want to be a part of rewriting the narrative of how boys and young men are “supposed to act” and I love the idea of working together with my family toward that goal.

I’ll admit, however, that I sometimes feel nervous when Eitan says he wants to go to school with painted nails or wearing a pink shirt. Our home is a safe place for him to express himself however he would like but I’ve seen enough of the world to know that not everyone else has the same sentiments about gender expression that Trudy and I do. I’m pleased to say that the feedback Eitan has received from adults about his nails, at least, has been quite positive. Adults have told Eitan, “I love your nails!” and “That’s awesome that you got to spend time with your mom!” Other children, though, have told Eitan that “wearing nail polish is for girls,” for example, and I would hate for ignorant comments like that to make Eitan hesitate to express himself in public.

I can acknowledge why some people are uncomfortable with the idea of a boy painting his nails or wearing pink clothing. We’re taught as children that there are definitions attached to a person’s sex that extends to their interests, their clothes and their choice in a mate. When people go through years of that indoctrination and then become faced with a person who does not fit into one of the boxes they have constructed in their minds, they struggle to reconcile the two. And, while that discomfort might be understandable, that should not give people the right to force others to conform to their ideals.

Our society has become more accepting of non-traditional expressions of identity since I was a child but we have a lot of work left to do. We need to analyze why we cling to our views of “proper” behavior, especially when the definitions of proper are assigned based on a person’s sex. We need to help our children feel comfortable playing with whichever toys or wearing whichever clothes strike their fancy. If we have any hope of preventing future incidents of toxic masculinity leading young adults to committing acts of violence, we need to redefine masculinity in the first place.

1. I was a bit shocked when he finished building it in under three hours with almost no help (he’s five and a half!), but that’s a different story.

Earning My Stripes

Yesterday, my wife went to the gym for some much needed (and deserved) time to herself. Before she left, she prepared some food for our son’s breakfast so all I really had to do was feed him and clean him up afterwards.* Once he was finished, I took him out of his high chair and put him down with his toys. I knew there were some things that needed to be done that morning – laundry, cleaning, etc. -and I was able to do some of it with my son (for instance, Eitan is great at sitting on my lap while I separate laundry).

Feeling rather proud of myself for having been able to accomplish a number of things in my wife’s absence, I decided to try my hand at one very specific child-related task. This task is critically important for helping a young child remain healthy, for sanitary and safety reasons, and for keeping the child’s parents safe, as well. This task can also be quite difficult, as it requires preparation, patience, dexterity and precision. And so it was, that on this particular morning, I decided to take on the challenge of…

Cutting my son’s nails.

I had everything set up perfectly. Even though I had never actually cut his nails before, I’ve watched my wife do it a few times. I knew how to position Eitan on my lap. I knew how to hold the nail clippers. I had a place to dispose of the clippings. I even knew which television channel had the most hypnotizing cartoons so Eitan wouldn’t move as much. And when I cut the first nail, I held the clippers too close (of course) and sheared off a flap of skin along with the nail.

Now, before you recoil in horror, let me say very clearly: Eitan was fine. He cried for maybe three seconds and then focused back on the television show. In fact, because he finished crying so quickly and because it took a second or two for the wound to start bleeding, I had a brief moment of hope that I had actually done it right. But he was totally fine.

I was mostly fine too. I did my best to ignore the immediate thoughts of self-doubt (read: “You’re a terrible father!”) and took action. I did not panic, but I did get up very quickly to get a paper towel to stop the bleeding.** In fact, the hardest part of this whole process, believe it or not, was keeping the paper towel on Eitan’s thumb while also keeping it out of his mouth. I put Neosporin on a small Band-Aid and managed to get it onto his tiny little thumb (and then set to work keeping that out of his mouth). And apart from the slight discoloration on the finger, you can hardly tell anything happened.

Look, I know this happens to every parent at one point or another.*** The important thing for me was that I gave it a shot. In retrospect perhaps I should have at least waited until my wife got home to try my hand at cutting Eitan’s nails, especially since I’d never done it before. For now, I suppose I’ll stick to the things I know how to do already, because I’m sure there will be plenty of other opportunities to traumatize my child without my rushing to do them all now.


*Lest you get the wrong idea, I prepared some of the food too.

**Speaking of which, is it normal for babies’ blood to take a long time to clot up? He was like the Energizer Bunny of blood flow. It just kept going!

***This happens to every parent at one point or another, right?