‘No, I do it Self!’ Annie declares defiantly as I scoop her dripping body out of the bath and bundle her in a towel. As I race towards her bedroom, large droplets plop from the tangled spaghetti of her hair on to the freshly ironed silk of my blouse. By the time I reach the end of the hallway, the mucus and tears of her indignant protest has rendered it unwearable.
Sweeping through the doorway, her frustration quickly changes to delight as she spies her favourite dress laid out on the bed. She wriggles out of my arms and races towards it cheeping ’Mummy fix, Mummy fix.’
‘Yes Annie’, I reply, ‘all fixed, those buttons won’t come off again.’
‘No come off,’ she confirms as her fingers pat the bright yellow buttons that I have surreptitiously left undone so that the dress can be easily slipped over her head. It‘s a simple little dress – crisp blue cotton with bright yellow buttons and yellow sunflowers appliqued around the hem. It reminds me of summer and the beach. But most of all, it reminds me of the contagious smile that sometimes takes up her entire face.
I throw the dress over her head amidst squeals of displeasure and fumble for the armholes. Having extracted her arms, I reach for the buttons.
‘No, I do it Self!’ she insists. Impatiently, I check the time as her tiny fingers struggle with the top button and eventually push it through the hole. Looking down with her chin pressed against her chest, she searches out the second button. The tip of her tongue protrudes from the side of her mouth to aid her concentration. I glare at my watch again and take a deep breath. After thirty seconds of intense prodding, it surrenders to its buttonhole at last. Now for button number three and we both hold our breath as we urge it through the opening.
Feeling a little more optimistic, I leave her to grapple with the remaining buttons and race off to change my blouse. When I return I am surprised to find her socks and shoes already on and the Velcro securely fastened.
‘Well done’, I acclaim as we dash down the stairs towards the car. There is a glimmer of protest in her eyes as I lift her into the car seat and fasten her belt. As the car lurches forwards, I take another deep breath and catch her reflection in the rear vision mirror. She is humming to herself and happily counting the buttons on her dress.
At last we pull up outside her day care mother’s house. I turn around to explain that Auntie Emma will be looking after her today. She nods her approval as she pulls her dress up to study the sunflowers around the hem. At that moment we simultaneously realise that we have forgotten to put her knickers on.
“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