Saturday, February 21, 2009

Growing a Grrrrrrrrrl

Before Sophia was born, I tried to conjure images of what it would be like to have a baby. The best I could do was a brief fantasy of taking a pre-school aged boy to the Museum of Natural Sciences. I imagined showing him the dinosaur bones and then having lunch, just the two of us, in the cafĂ©. I couldn’t see his face, just his legs gleefully swinging back and forth, not touching the ground.

Just in case you missed it, here are the key points in the previous paragraph:

  • Preschooler, not baby (not our topic for today)
  • Boy, not girl

I feared having a girl. Partly because I had bought into cultural stereotypes (girls are whiny and moody) and partly because I blame some of the misery of my childhood on girlhood (the snarkiness, the underground competition, the rapidly shifting allegiances). Then, of course, there are Bratz dolls, eating disorders, teen pregnancy, cutting, thongs, roofies, HPV, Cosmo Girl get the picture.

The fact of the matter is, I think of myself as a pretty male-identified female. I don’t like to be touched when I’m upset. I can build a kick-ass fort. I enjoy hunting for earthworms and have no qualms about picking them up with my bare hands. Dolls, on the other hand, have always spooked me. And I never did get the hang of applying makeup. Which is why I knew, in my heart of hearts, that my he would be a she.

Of course, there was the possibility that like me, she would move more fluidly between established gender roles. And so, I’ve done what I can to foster it. Before she inherited a Little Tykes Country Kitchen from my friend Pam’s boys, she had a trash-picked Tool Bench. I avoid buying pink clothes. I’ve banished the word “princess” from my vocabulary.

But given a mountain of stuffed animals, Sophia selected a plush doll for her transitional object, who she named “baby” and carries everywhere. And recently, when I furnished her with an old purse of mine, filled with the accoutrements of womanhood (wallet, sunglasses, chapstick) she slung it over her arm, gave me a backwards glance and said, bye bye, as if now she was armed with all she needed to move forward in the world.

I really am sick of nature vs. nurture arguments. Certainly, our behavior results from a synthesis of the two. But as Sophie’s childhood looms before me, I wonder, how much influence can I exact? How do I do it without having her run screaming from me in the opposite direction, towards Spike, the pierced and tattooed, verbally abusive spermdonor of her learning-disabled crack baby?

Okay, maybe that is extreme. But, you get the picture.

I want so badly to do it right. Balance the love and boundaries. Hold her tight and let her go. And it means fighting impulses and influences and Sophie herself at times. And I’m always questioning whether I have the wherewithal to do it.

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