The following is a conversation I have a lot when out and about with my almost two-year-old twins:
“Your girls are so cute!”
“Thank you. This one is actually a boy. This is Riley, and that’s Maddie.”
“Oh. [pause, usually pretty long] He has such a sweet face, I just thought . . . “
Few people say what they are really thinking: Why is your boy wearing a pink/sparkly/flowered/all of the above outfit?
I let Maddie and Riley choose their own clothes. I’ve never separated their clothes into “boy” drawers and “girl” drawers, I simply put all the shirts together, all the pants together, etc. and let them choose a top and a bottom. They love to peer in and make their selection.
From the get-go, Riley has often chosen things that would be considered “girl clothes.” Throughout the winter, there was a long-sleeved flowered shirt that he wore any time is was clean, at least two days a week. The first time he picked it out, I’ll admit that my instinct was to say, “Riley, that’s Maddie’s shirt.” Luckily, I caught myself before that came out and instead said, “Riley, that shirt is so pretty! What a great choice!” Our daycare provider had to hide her amusement when she saw him, but luckily did not give him or me a hard time about it.
At least two or three days a week, Riley steps out in girl clothes; this week’s most feminine choice was a brown and white checkered “bubble” outfit with pink ribbon bows at the shoulders from Gymboree. He looked stunning. I confess that, much to my surprise, it still gives me a little pause when he chooses such girly outfits, even though intellectually have have absolutely no problem with it. It’s amazing how deep-seated my own biases can be. Last week, I was buying new sandals for the kids at Target. I found a cute pair of Crocs-type Mary Janes for Maddie. I knew Riley would love them, too, yet I spent another fifteen minutes looking at “boy” shoes—knowing full well the styles and colors would hold less appeal to Riley. I finally left the store with two pair of Mary Janes, but with fifteen minutes of my life gone, time I wasted trying to force my child into a preconceived notion of being a boy, time I could never get back. Riley asks to wear those shoes every day now.
Here’s the thing: kids love sparkles, bright colors, and visually interesting patterns. They like textures and unusual shapes (I think that’s what drew Riley to the “bubble”). While Riley knows that he has a “pee-na” and Maddie has a “‘gina,” he does not know the difference between a boy and a girl, nor that the two genders have their own domains of dress and behavior, dictated by society. He simply knows what appeals to him; he has yet to learn to be self-conscious about it. The same holds true for Maddie. Last night she chose fire truck pajamas, and she’s been known to select “boy” outfits for school, too. Somehow, though, people aren’t affronted by a girl in boy’s clothes in the same way they are by a boy in girl’s clothes.
I want to preserve Maddie and Riley’s innocence about gender roles for as long as I can. In addition to encouraging them to wear what they want, I also encourage them to engage in all types of play. They both have dolls. They love to bang away on their Little Tikes workbench together. They build with blocks, make “tea,” carry purses, dig in the dirt, and play the xylophone. They do whatever they find fun, and as long as they are safe, it’s all OK with me.
Having boy/girl twins is like having a sociology lab in my own house. Having one of each, I have benefitted from receiving a variety of stereotypically “boy” and “girl” clothing and toys. If my multiples were of the same gender, I’d have to work harder to make sure they didn’t get gender pigeonholed too early. Clothing and toys are boy/girl categorized from the get-go. I like that our playroom is a gender-neutral zone, a mix of all that’s available, and I’m fortunate that I didn’t have to do much legwork to make that happen.
It’s beyond the scope of my thoughts here to get into nature v. nurture, or to discuss what—if any—inherent differences exist between the sexes. I will say that through their choices, even at this young age, Maddie and Riley have given me a chance for me to examine my own preconceived notions of gender roles and gender-specific play and dress. I’m proud to have a boy who happily wears sparkles and pink out in public, and bristle when the occasional forthright soul asks why my son is wearing girl clothes. Maddie and Riley have a whole lifetime to fight gender stereotypes. Let them enjoy the bliss of ignorance for as long as they can.
I’m honored to have been invited to write for this amazing group of moms of multiples. I’ll be posting here every other Tuesday. If you’d like to read more about me, Maddie, and Riley, visit my personal blog, Snickollet.