His name was Aaron. He had stick-straight, baby-fine blonde hair that fell in his eyes. He had glasses and was tall for his age. We were in early elementary school and I could always count on my persuasive powers to lure him toward the corner of the classroom where the pretend “house” was. There was a small kitchen, a bassinet and an olive-green-colored rotary phone with a long spiraling cord.
That’s where it happened. That’s where I could convince him – when none of the other boys were paying attention — to be the Daddy, the token male who would play house with us. Finally, we had a traditional, nuclear family. I was the Mommy and Aaron was the Daddy. Sometimes we posed like we were getting our family portrait taken in the Sears photo studio. He sat on a stool, I was behind him with my two hands on one of his shoulders, he held our babies in his arms. I played the part of Sears’s photographer, too. The picture is still in my mind.
One big happy family. Poor Aaron. I thought of him one morning last week. I was tying C.J.’s shoes and noticed that he had been quiet while getting dressed for school. C.J. is never quiet while getting dressed; after all, he has big opinions about what he should and shouldn’t wear.
“Mommy, today when we get to school, can you tell Gigi that I don’t wanna be the Daddy all the time? Sometimes I want to be the Mommy.”
“What?,” I asked, a little confused.
“When we play house at free time she always makes me be the Daddy and sometimes I wanna be the Mommy.”
I stared at C.J. as numerous thoughts ran through my mind:
- The NERVE of some little girl telling my son that he can’t be a Mommy!
- Well, at this point it really isn’t possible for him to be the Mommy.
- What does it matter to Gigi if C.J. wants to be the Mommy, she really is a bossy little thing.
- Maybe C.J. needs to learn that he does have to be the Daddy because he is the boy and boys are Daddies.
- How would Gigi’s parents feel about me and my son teaching her a thing or two about gender and identity?
- Maybe C.J. can be the primary caregiver “Daddy” while the “Papa” is working the 9-to-5 at some hip ad agency or modern design firm. Or, maybe the “Papa” to C.J.’s “Daddy” would be a lawyer or doctor.
C.J. has a group of four or five girls he hangs out with consistently at school. Occasionally another little red-headed boy will join the mix. At free time they like to play house and C.J. is always relegated to the role of Daddy. This, to most, would be the obvious and only choice for him, unless he wanted to be the baby, but he is way too type A for that.
“What’s wrong?” I asked as I knelt down to his level.
“Will you talk to Gigi?”
“I’ll talk to Ms. Sensible and I’ll help you, okay,” I said.
His peers filed into the classroom and we hung out on the sidelines. Ms. Sensible could see that C.J. had been crying.
“We’re having a rough morning. Do you have a minute?”
“Sure,” she said
I explained the situation to Ms. Sensible. I explained that, sometimes, my son wants to be a Mommy, not a Daddy, and the girls in the class won’t let him. I explained that I understood both sides.
“I don’t know how to handle this. I’ve never done this before,” I admitted to her.
“Me neither,” she said to me and we stood quietly.
“I’m going to email his therapist and see what she says,” I said.
“Yeah, do that and let me know what she suggests,” Ms. Sensible said. “For today, I’ll keep an eye on the situation.”
C.J. looked at us with hope in his eyes. Today, he might get to be a Mommy.
I emailed C.J.’s therapist. She’s amazing. She’s cute, hip, sweet and spunky. I think she’s my age. If she weren’t my son’s therapist and there wasn’t the whole doctor/patient thing going on, I think we could hang out and have fun. We would get a mani-pedi while reading gossip magazines and, then, sneak off for a Starbucks and some chocolate. Or, maybe we would meet up for dinner and each say “yeah, I could do a glass of wine” and that glass of wine would turn into two and a half glasses each and we would end up in Nordstrom trying on perfume and giggling uncontrollably at something that amused no one else in the entire store. Maybe we would go to a farmer’s market.
But, alas, in the real world, I only see her once a month when C.J. has an appointment. She specializes in gender issues, parenting and children. So, she’s a perfect fit for us and well worth the hour and a half drive each way.
Anyway, I emailed C.J.’s therapist and she immediately proved why we adore her. I don’t know how she got so smart, but I’m glad she did.
She said that we should step back and look at the bigger picture. “C.J.’s friends won’t let him ___________ and it hurts him badly enough that he cries about it.” She told me to encourage C.J. to use his words to express himself to his friends, tell them that they are hurting his feelings and ask them to stop the action that is hurting his feelings.
Simple enough, right? We practiced at home.
“I don’t wanna always be the Daddy, I wanna be the Mommy sometimes, too. It’s not fair that I always have to be the Daddy,” C.J. told me he was going to say to his girl friends.
I picked C.J. up from school.
“How’d it go?,” I asked him.
“Gigi said no. I can’t be the Mommy. I always have’ta be the Daddy.”
I listened and observed. He didn’t seem that upset. The next step is for Ms. Sensible to talk with the girls to discuss the importance of taking everyone’s feelings and opinions into consideration. It’s more a lesson in empathy than gender.
We can all use a lesson on empathy every now and then. I thought about looking Aaron up on Facebook to possibly apologize for not asking him if he wanted to be the Mommy, instead of the Daddy. I don’t remember his last name. Maybe it’s for the best. But, Aaron, if you are reading this, I’m sorry. I never thought to ask if you wanted to be the Mommy.