Mikey looked at the fishy thing on the computer. It didn’t look much like baby to him, but Daddy had said it was a baby and Daddy wouldn’t tell lies. Just to be sure, he looked to Mummy for confirmation. She was smiling and nodding.
“What’s its name?” Mikey asked.
“It doesn’t have a name yet.”
Mikey considered for a bit. “Snuffy,” he said. “We could call it Snuffy.”
Why were Mummy and Daddy laughing? Snuffy was the name of the rabbit in his favourite storybook. It was a nice name. Not funny at all.
“We”ll see, Mikey,” Daddy said, ruffling his hair.
One morning Mikey woke to find Nana Anne standing beside his bed.
“Hello, Nana,” he said giving her his special bear hug. “Is Grandad here?”
Nana told him that she and Grandad were staying for a couple of days while Mummy was in hospital. He was disappointed to hear that Snuffy was a girl. He’d really wanted a giant green rabbit, a magic one that could make carrots and lettuce appear from nowhere. Mikey didn’t much like carrots or lettuce, but he could appreciate the skill involved. If he had a Snuffy of his own, who knows what it might be able to do? He’d planned start it off with ice-cream and work up to chocolate cheesecake.
When he saw Mummy coming up the drive, he forgot his disappointment and rushed out to give her one of his extra special hugs. She was holding a bundle, though, and couldn’t quite hug him back.
“Careful, Mikey,” Daddy said. “It’s your new sister.”
Mikey looked into the shawl and sure enough, it wasn’t a rabbit, not even a grey one. It was red and wrinkly and bald and its eyes were all squinched.
“It’s very ugly,” he observed. “And it smells like poo.”
“You shouldn’t say mean things about your new sister, Mikey,” Mummy said, but not too crossly. “Would you like to hold her? Her name is Jane.”
Mikey was horrified. Jane was Dead Nana’s name. You couldn’t just give her name away like that.
“I don’t want to hold her,” he sulked. “You said we’d call her Snuffy.” He went off to his favourite sulking corner and glared at the fuss they were all making. No one seemed to notice his displeasure so he reviewed his stock of tricks.
“I can do a somersault,” he announced. They all took proper notice then.
The problem with having a sister was that she needed a lot of attention. And sometimes he had to be extra quiet. They were cross when he made a noise, but when Snuffy cried, they always picked her up, and fussed and petted. A boy could get very tired of that sort of thing.
“How long is she staying?” he asked one day. He couldn’t believe his ears. The baby was going to live with them forever and ever. Until they were all really old.
Mikey didn’t want to leave his house, but he had no choice. He liked his room with the racing car bed and the toy box in the corner. He liked how it used to be when the three of them had their dinner together at the big, square kitchen table. He liked watching cartoons with daddy and helping mummy with the cooking. They used to make little cakes sometimes and he was allowed to put sprinkles on the icing. He liked the back garden with the swing and the dish where birds came for their bath. The problem was, he couldn’t take any of those things with him.
He gave a deep sigh and got out his Wiggles backpack. Socks. Teddy, of course. His new racing car. The Big Green Rabbit book… he put that back on the shelf. He felt badly let down by big green rabbits. He replaced it with The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Oops! Almost forgot food. He checked that Mummy was feeding Snuffy and padded into the kitchen where he put a block of cheese and bottle of orange juice in his bag. There. Tonight, when Mummy and Daddy were watching TV, he’d go away and live with Nana and Grandad. Forever.
Mikey lay in bed, listening for the sound of the TV. He hoped it wouldn’t be too dark before they settled down. There it was. That was the music. He climbed out of bed and struggled into his tracksuit top and pants. Shoes were a bit trickier so he chose the ones with Velcro fasteners. Tiptoeing out into the passage, he paused at his sister’s door, feeling hot with resentment. He wouldn’t have to go if his parents hadn’t brought her here to live forever. It wasn’t fair.
He crept in and glowered down at the little figure in the cot. The night light was on and he could see she was awake, her bright little eyes looking right at him. She blew him a bubble and smiled. He reached down and a little finger curved around his.
“Hey, Snuffy. I’m your big brother Mikey.”
“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