I’m going to talk about boys and dolls. Just hang in there through the back story.
When I found out I was pregnant, I knew right away that I wanted a girl. Pink tutus have always been my weakness. When the ultrasound technician told me I was having a boy, my brain went on a brief vacation and I dumbly replied “But I don’t even like blue!”. Treating me like a handicapped toddler, the tech began to tell me there were all sorts of other colors like orange and green and red. It was no comfort. It wasn’t until my mother, who knew I would be crushed, sent me a package of little blue boy things that my heart began to lift. Blue bibs. Blue booties. Blue onesies. Blue pacifiers.
I fell in love with the idea of my little blue boy. But I never could understand the things that I knew he would cherish like Matchbox Cars and Tonka Trucks. For his nursery, I picked out jungle animals.
And then he arrived. I was induced roughly three weeks early because of high blood pressure and the risk of preeclampsia. It was a terrible three-day labor. I was prepped for a C-Section somewhere in the wee hours of day three but some sort of emergency kept me from the operating room. Finally, after the sun had fully risen, they told me I could push if I wanted to. Oh hell, did I want to. I wanted that baby out and now. Less than an hour later he came into the world, blue-gray and his umbilical cord wrapped around his neck. The obstetrician tried to get him going but quickly called the NICU staff and started CPR.
I have very few good things to say about his father but, as a former paramedic, he knew what was happening. He focused my attention away from the scene going on just five feet away. If I could, I would thank him for that. The one glance I got showed my precious little one surrounded by nurses and doctors. Someone was pumping an AMBU bag to give him oxygen. Another was pumping his little blue chest. It’s an image I will never clear from my mind or my heart.
They got his heart going and immediately left with him for the NICU. In the hallway they lost him a second time. It’s selfish but I truly feel hurt that I never got to have the traditional meet your baby moment where they hand you the new ball of wonder and good hormones. I still crave that moment. A social worker came to talk to us, saying that there was no way to know the damage oxygen deprivation may have had on his beautiful little brain. He told us our son could be completely normal or profoundly handicapped. I got to meet my son about 10 hours after he was born. I was wheeled to the NICU and parked next to his crib, He was hooked to every wire you could imagine. He had lines in his heart, chest, and feet. I couldn’t hold him, he was still too fragile. But he looked at me. He knew my voice. His eyes, which were black, looked directly at me. He held my finger as if to say “Hey mom, what took you so long?”.
And that was the beginning. Eight years and nine months later, my son — who is disastrously brilliant — defies the odds he was born with. He has no lasting damage from oxygen deprivation. He has no lasting effects from a spinal birth defect that required his vertebrae and spine to be disassembled and put back together like a jigsaw puzzle. Despite coming from a horribly broken home and two parents with mental health issues, he has escaped with just a couple psychiatric medications. But the most amazing thing about him is his innate ability to accept what is presented to him without judgement. Because there is no way to know yet if he is gay or straight, in sentences we always refer to having a boyfriend or a girlfriend. And, to him, that’s just the way it is. I showed him the video of Ryland Whittington, a child whose parents transitioned him from girl to boy fairly young, and my son was more concerned about the suicide statistic than Ryland becoming a boy. He was hurt that anyone would feel so badly about themselves that they would want to die.
That’s my son and that’s why I love him so very much.
Recently, he was watching Netflix on my iPad. I asked him what he was watching because I do believe allowing small children access to internet ready devices must be monitored. He wouldn’t tell me what he was watching. So I busted out my MOM voice and told him that he needed to tell me or there would be no more iPad. He bashfully told me that he was watching Strawberry Shortcake. My brain processed the situation pretty quickly. My response was telling him in an excited voice that Strawberry Shortcake was awesome and she was my favorite when I was his age. The relief on his face was palpable. Then we had the most adorable conversation about Strawberry Shortcake and her peeps.
He went on to tell me that his stepsister — In a fairytale, she would be the troll under the bridge — had American Girl dolls and he really wanted to play with them but he couldn’t.
There’s a quote somewhere that I’m going to paraphrase. It basically says that when you have children, you make the decision to let your heart walk outside of your body. I really think it’s true. My heart hurt for him that afternoon. I might be considered progressive but I see no problem with boys playing with dolls or girls playing with trucks. I don’t think it indicates a sexual preference, I think it indicates curiosity. And curiosity is at the heart of so many things we do as adults from grocery shopping to education to our professions.
I can’t afford to by my son an American Girl doll (they’re stupid expensive!) but the bearded gentleman and I did take him to the toy store. I walked with him through the doll section and he wasn’t shy. He was excited. When we found the Strawberry Shortcake dolls he got really excited. He honed in on one in particular. Her name is Lemon Somethingorother and, the real highlight, she came with a hair salon. We brought her home with us. My son settled in with her and her salon and went to town. He loved brushing her hair. He was even amazed that I could show him how to make different hairstyles on her. It was a beautiful, pure sort of wonder.
I couldn’t have been happier watching him practice how to make a ponytail. There’s not a single ounce of me that wishes he would have a dump truck or dinosaur. My baby, because he will always be my baby, who struggled to coming into this world is finding himself. All I want for him is that he have confidence in the person that his heart longs to be.