My son is not quite two. He plays the drums, the saxophone and the keyboard. And if an ability to make a lot of noise is a measure for skill, he is gifted. He enjoys eggs, singing Jingle Bells and chanting Mommy mommy mommy at obscene hours. He hates when his hands are dirty. He prefers Charlie Brown to Elmo. He thinks fart noises are comedy gold. And he loves, loves, loves playing with trucks. He loves identifying trucks. He loves saying the word ‘truck’. His pronunciation is not so tight quite yet, so it sounds like he’s cussing but trucks are his jam. I try my best to quiet my internal relief about that. I never prayed that he would be drawn to blue things. It was not my conscious desire that he be all snakes and snails and puppy dog tails. I shrugged my shoulders when someone mistook him as a little girl in the airport. They apologized profusely as if I may have been insulted, as if I should have been insulted. “I am so sorry! It’s just…the braids, I thought…” I was proud of my initial response. I am proud of my parenting style and the way I refuse to place heavy value on some of the silly gender expectations we assign children. I looked at my beautiful baby boy and smiled. I convinced myself that the haircut he got a month later was because I was tired of wrestling him to brush his hair and/or braid it and that it had nothing to do with people asking me when I was going to cut it and absolutely nothing to do with a stranger thinking he was a little girl.
I imagined myself being the type of parent who could buy their son an Easy Bake Oven and dare anybody to say anything about it. But the truth is I am the type of parent that is relieved by their son’s interest in trucks. I am not alarmed when he climbs the furniture and jumps off of it. I tell him “you’re fine” when he stumbles and is trying to decide whether he should cry or keep playing. When someone says, “He is all boy ain’t he?” I am pleased. It is my responsibility, to guide him towards being the person God has called him to be. And I realized that I am really hoping he only stands out in ways that will make his life easier. If he is smarter and faster and stronger than his peers, that would be better for him. If he is the most prayerful or the most creative he could excel in ways that would benefit his life. If he is unusual in the “wrong ways” it could make everything complicated. He is Black and his mother is single. Those two things alone make him eligible for every negative statistic that exists. I observed a mother describing her two year old Black son as soft when he would not stop crying. “You soft water! You so soft!” I watched this same baby’s uncle snatch a guitar out of his hands and reprimand him for playing with a girl’s toy. The guitar had pink designs on it. In those moments I felt like I was witnessing a crime. A baby was being robbed of his right to emote and play freely. Let’s meet up with this guy at twenty-two and see how well he manages interpersonal relationships. Right there under the surface of my polite smile was hard judgment. I judged the entire family. And as I traveled a little farther into myself I was able to understand. Forgive us Father. If fear and love are the only two motivating factors in any decision a human can make, then fear is winning when it comes to parenting.
This is not an article about my son. This is not even an article about subscribing to the Westernized ideals of femininity, masculinity and sexuality. It is an article about being held hostage by our fears. We are scared for our boys. It would not be difficult for me to love my son if he wanted to wear pink and play with Barbie dolls like www.myprincessboy.com . But it would be difficult for me to send him outside of our home knowing tolerance and understanding will not necessarily be waiting for him on the other side of the door. It is difficult to leave him now. Will his grandmother be as patient as I am when he throws a tantrum? Will his daycare provider respond to his finicky eating with kindness and other options? Will the children at the birthday party want to be his friend? Will his teachers cater to his learning style? I want him to be favored. I want him to be a leader. I want him to be outstanding. I want him to be loved. I don’t want him to get hurt. My “don’t wants” are so much louder.
I think I should be busy trying to create a world that is safer and more beautiful for every child instead of preparing my son for the world that actually exists. I lean toward the latter in practice, the former in poetry. I should do more. I don’t know how. Parents who discipline their sons for playing with toys that have glitter are not a part of my immediate circle. But their children may be a part of my son’s. I’m glad he likes trucks. For now, it makes me feel a little less afraid. But I promise not to ever snatch a pink guitar out of his hands. Even if I kind of want to a little bit.
By: LYNNETTE JOHNSON
Twitter: @KnottyPoet IG:KnottyMama