I picked up the phone this morning to the sound of screaming in the background. “What’s going on?” I asked Ruanita. She was home with the kids while I was at work. I immediately envisioned limbs cut off and eyes poked out and other various tragedies that involved massive blood loss. As usual, none of those was the case. Ruanita had called me at work to tell me that our four-year-old twins, Sophie and Nicholas, were in the midst of a magnificent, throw-down, no-holds-barred fight. At the moment Ruanita called, they were both completely devastated and in tears. This was really quite an unusual occurrence. Sophie and Lucas fight. Nicholas and Lucas fight. Rarely, however, do Sophie and Nicholas fight. It must be something about the twin connection. I asked Ruanita what sort of horrible event had transpired to cause the two of them to toss aside their twin bond and brawl.
Apparently, it all started as the kids were sitting at the kitchen table this morning coloring. Sophie found a picture of a bird in her coloring book and colored it purple. She proudly showed it to Ruanita and explained that it was a girl bird. Nicholas disagreed for some unbeknownst reason and butted in to say that the bird was not a girl bird. Rather, he insisted, it was most indubitably a boy bird. Therefore, he concluded, Sophie could not color the bird purple because purple was not a “boy” color. He became incredibly upset that Sophie had colored a boy bird with a girl color, as this somehow broke some unwritten coloring law. Of course, if you tell Sophie she can’t do something, you better be prepared for all hell to break loose. I am sure the ensuing scene was not a pretty one. Nicholas channeling his inner anal retentive and Sophie going all banshee on him. I am glad I was safely ensconced at work on the other side of town.
It’s amazing to me the way in which Sophie and Nicky are obsessed with “boy” things and “girl” things these days. I’ve reluctantly come to the conclusion that there must be something innate about it. Prior to having children, I always thought little boys tended toward being rough and tumble and little girls tended toward being caretakers and eager-to-please because of the expectations society places on them. That boys and girls were so different because they were conditioned to be that way. I was a firm believer in the power of nurture over nature. I was convinced that boys and girl are essentially the same, and I was adamant that I was not going to raise my children to adhere to gender stereotypes. I naively assumed that was my decision to make. Despite my kids’ insistence that girls rule and boys drool (and vice versa), I was arrogantly determined to raise children immune to traditional gender conventions. Today, I am admitting defeat.
My children are being raised in a lesbian household. There is no “man’s work” or “woman’s work” in my house. Like most same-sex couples, we’re pretty egalitarian. My children are being raised by two women who encourage the boys to express their sensitive sides and Sophie to embrace the tomboy within. We try to teach them that both boys and girls, with hard work and persistence, can do and be anything they want to do and be.
Regardless of our efforts to raise them equally, my children are acutely aware of the differences between boys and girls. Yesterday, as we were driving to pick Lucas up from school, the twins and I were listening to the radio in the car. The song on the radio was by a female artist. Nicholas asked me when a “boy” song was going to be on. He announced, rather unceremoniously, that he only likes songs sung by boys. Of course, Sophie immediately chimed in to say that she only likes girl songs and that she wasn’t going to listen if a boy song came on. They both ended up taking turns sticking their fingers in their ears the entire drive to and from Lucas’s school. I just shook my head at them both.
This evening, I tried to sit down and discuss with Nicholas their earlier brawl. He explained to me, in no uncertain terms, that purple was a girl color and that Sophie —deliberately and with little regard for childhood customs and mores— broke some unwritten prepubescent mandate when she colored a “boy” bird purple. That’s not actually a direct quote, but that was the gist of what Nicholas was saying. I dutifully explained to him that there is no such thing as girl colors and boy colors. I told him that our world is chock-full of a rainbow of beautiful colors that can be enjoyed by everyone. Boys and girls can both like purple because it is a nice color. Grapes are purple. The beautiful petunias we plant in our yard every spring are purple. Jeff from The Wiggles wears purple. Nicky seemed to consider this for a minute or two. Then he nodded in agreement. Yes, he finally conceded, boys can like purple, after all. However, he informed me, girls like purple because it is pretty, but boys like purple because it is cool.
Try as I might, I am afraid that I am not going to win this argument. I am throwing in the towel and admitting defeat. I guess I simply can’t fight nature, no matter how much I try to nurture the hell out of them. Perhaps I should just be glad that Sophie is proud to be a girl and Nicholas is proud to be a boy. In the end, that’s all a parent really wants, isn’t it? For her children to be proud of who they are?