My family recently experienced a change in the core of our identity, in the way we think about ourselves, in the way we perceive the world.
Six and a half months ago, a baby girl was born to us.
Suddenly, a large portion of our family life revolves around this small, chubby Buddha.
My father has become a different person, someone Crisco-soft, unusually tender; a grandfather. He gently ooks at the baby like a chimpanzee, a practice he would find mad in another man. It may hurt him to feel so soft, almost over-ripe. He buzzes the baby’s cheeks and waits for smiles that she gives warily. She is still so young.
My mother’s voice has taken on a strange, high timbre. She is hungry for the baby, eager to hold her, to feed her, burp, clothe, wash, and swaddle. The baby looks much like her first-born, my brother, and she yearns to kiss the same spots and play the same games.
But she is also cautious of overstepping invisible boundaries. The proud parents are crazy-in-love, wary, mildly germ-phobic. No one is quite sure anymore where they stand in the family order.
And I? I cannot believe in the baby’s miniature finger nails. They are perfect, crafted carefully like doll-house furniture.
This fifteen pound goddess, this gorgeous, pink-clad, fleshy bundle has become the center of all activity, the person we look to first for all things. Shall we go to a movie? No, it’s too loud for the baby. Shall we go out to dinner? It will have to be somewhere with plastic menus! Shall we take a walk? Nope, it’s after the baby’s bedtime.
Every movement she makes is carefully watched and fully appreciated. We often lay her, stomach down, on a blanket in the middle of the room. This is known as tummy time. The family stares intently as she wriggles like a beached eel, moaning and grunting with the exertion. Sometimes, lately more often than not, she manages to rotate onto her back and gleefully salute us with flailing arms and legs.
If one member of the family happens to miss a key event – an early chortle, perhaps – the moment is verbally played and replayed. When she cut her first teeth (wee, ivory pillars), the message was joyfully passed from one cell-phone to another in a long succession.
We are all under her minions, you see. She holds court from her car seat night after night and each one of us is invited to public audience with her highness.
Does every family feel this way about its offspring?
We are delicate, transparent with a love both intense and possessive. How did we live before she was among us, we ask ourselves. She has only been with us some few months, but we have become addicted, ravaged by her presence. She has grown to be necessary.
And we like it that way.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem