Raising Trouble wants to give a shout out to some of the amazing work other people are doing on the same subject.
First, you must listen to the extraordinary piece, "Pink Bicycle," by James Braly, from the Moth podcast. Braly discusses his own father, a military man who disdained crybabies and nonconformists, and Braly's own resolution to be a different kind of father to his two sons. This goes pretty smoothly until three-year-old Oliver, a passionate aficionado of all things pink, decides he wants a pink bicycle. Dad's discomfort at this is so palpable and hilarious. And ultimately the outcome, which I won't spoil, is so sweet it will make you cry.
I did have one quibble with this story: Dad's level of incompetence as a consumer makes the story a little less plausible. How in the world did Braly have so much trouble finding a pink bike in Manhattan? With the flagship Toys 'R Us right in Times Square? Nearly every little girl in Brooklyn has a pink ride.
Then, you must read Sarah Hoffman's lovely piece in Cookie magazine, "The Pink Dress." (Thanks to Raising Trouble reader Terra Hartwell for the suggestion.)
When their preschool-aged son, Sam, wants to wear a pink dress to school, the writer and her husband are torn between letting him be himself, and protecting him from ridicule. She captures this tension so well. "A dress on a boy feels like an invitation to mockery," Hoffman writes, yet "we knew that denying his desire to look the way he wants would quash a part of him and make him unhappy, probably in a more fundamental way than we even understood." I won't reveal how this story turns out, either, but suffice it to say we can all learn a lot from Sam's parents -- and Sam.
One of the reasons gender is so important- and makes for such good stories - at this stage of life, is that kids under five are pretty well-supervised and thus, nonconformity rarely puts them in physical danger. Kids may make fun -- indeed, Sam's peers do tease him about his pink dress -- but their relationships are managed pretty closely by adults (whether parents, teachers, babysitters, grandparents). So preschool is an amazing time for kids to acquire questioning habits, and develop confidence -- when their world is still safe.