I Dressed My Baby Boy In Blue, I’m An Idiot

“What’s all that stuff back there?!  I see pink!” C.J. asked enthusiastically as I was driving him home from school.

On his way upstairs to pack for the trip to see his new cousin.

On his way upstairs to pack for his trip to see his new cousin.

Crap.  I didn’t have to turn around to know what he was pointing at.  He had seen the shopping bags I had stashed in the back of the car and covered with a beach towel.

You see, we have welcomed a new member into our extended family.  C.J.’s Dad’s brother and his wife had their second child and it is a girl.  They waited to learn the sex of the baby until the birth.  A few days after they called to say that a baby girl had been born, I dropped C.J. off at school and spent two hours shopping for my new niece.

I’m the last person who should be enforcing traditional gender norms.  I’m the last person who should be buying $100 worth of pink clothes, blankets and burp clothes.  I should know better than to buy a teething ring that looks like a giant engagement ring and rattle that looks like a luxury handbag.  But, I did it.  I did it all and I’m not taking it back.

She’s the first girl in the family, there are no “girl” hand-me-downs for her, she needs clothes and when she’s a toddler I will buy her tools, the best router table when she’s older and cars and dinosaurs and encourage her to excel in math and science.  I will be her auntie who will tell her that she can be anything that she wants to be: president, astronaut, athlete, firefighter.

But, for now, she can’t hold her head up, sleep through the night or see more than a few feet from her face and I want to see her in pink with ridiculously sized flowers and bows in her hair.  I would paint her nails if I could.  Where you might have previously thought me to be a model citizen in the land of gender nonconformity, I had a niece and briefly became the queen of enforcing gender norms.  You are more than welcome to leave an admonishing comment below.  I was bad.  Real bad.

But, I knew that I couldn’t be that person in front of my children.  So I went shopping in secret, in private, while C.J. was at school and then hid the evidence to pack and ship later on the sly.

“What is all that pink stuff?  Is it for me?!” C.J. asked again.

“It’s presents for Baby Sarah,” I said, knowing that it wasn’t going to be a short conversation.

Playing with Grandma Colorado's dogs at his cousins' house.

Playing with Grandma Colorado’s dogs at his cousins’ house.

We had told him about the arrival of Baby Sarah the night before at bedtime.  I wasn’t exactly eager to tell him that there was a full-fledged girl in the family, but I had to after being reprimanded by Grandma Colorado for not spreading the good news.

How would my gender nonconforming son react upon learning that the role of “most feminine child/grandchild in the family” that he had been occupying for nearly four years had been snatched from him by a baby?

“How come she isn’t just getting hand me downs?” he asked.

“Because she is a girl and our family doesn’t have any baby girl hand me downs.”

“She can have my baby girl clothes hand me downs?” he offered.

“Baby, you only wore baby boy clothes.” I realized that my son probably can’t remember a time in his life when he wore exclusively boy clothes.

“How come you made me wear only boy clothes?” he asked slightly disgusted.

“Because I didn’t know that you liked girl stuff,” I answered honestly.

“How come you didn’t know that?”

“Because you weren’t old enough to tell me or show me.”

His sad face crushed me.  He was wondering why I didn’t know my own child, my baby.  How could I have been so wrong about my child?  Because I was full of assumptions and expectations — none of which included my son being anything other than heteronormative.

“I’m sorry, baby,” I said to C.J.  A blanket statement to cover so much.

When was the last time you awoke to a fairy scaling the fireplace in your bedroom?

When was the last time you awoke to a fairy scaling the fireplace in your bedroom?

We saw Baby Sarah a few weeks later and I worried how C.J. would feel about the newest member of our family who is everything he wants to be.  I secretly prayed that Grandma and Grandpa Colorado wouldn’t go on and on about finally having a girl in the family after generations of only boys.  I didn’t know how that would make C.J. feel. Thankfully they didn’t say anything to the effect.

And, when C.J. got a chance to hold Baby Sarah he looked up at me and smiled that award-worthy smile of his.  He gently adjusted her pink hat and kissed her cheek.  I hope that the two of them become great friends…in pink or blue or whatever hue.


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57 Responses to I Dressed My Baby Boy In Blue, I’m An Idiot

  1. beckcycle says:

    Hey, it’s not over- infants grow. You could still get her something not pink to wear and she’ll look knockout cute in anything. Tell CJ you learned from him that she might like to look back at pictures of herself in all different colors as a baby. I’m a big fan of this “gender is performative” concept. Clearly we perform for infants. Nothing wrong with a variety of costumes, especially when they puke so much 🙂

  2. “Because you weren’t old enough to tell me or show me.”
    not to mention that he wasn’t old enough to even care at that time. I think it could be important to let him know this little fact too.

    • ettinacat says:

      I wouldn’t assume that. Babies have color preferences. He wouldn’t have known pink was a ‘girl color’, but he might have liked pink.

  3. Kieryn Kavanaugh says:

    OMG!! I love your blog! And you are not an idiot for dressing C.J in blue. You didn’t know then, but you know now and that’s what matters. ☺.

  4. Clay Severns says:

    Yup. You don’t have to dress an infant in any particular colour, but you also don’t have to restricted any. You didn’t have to dress the child in blue, but your not an idiot for doing so.

  5. Steph S says:

    Love this post. I have a boy (2 yrs) and girl (7 mo) and my husband and I are both engineers. I’m used to the professional gender-role reversal and have tried to blur gender lines some for our kids with their toys. I was so surprised when I winced when we got a “purse rattle” for our little girl… but was ok with trains & tool sets for our boy?? So good to be aware of our own biases! 🙂

  6. Pingback: Found while foraging (January 28, 2013) « Inspiring Science

  7. Anonymous says:

    I have aunts just like you! I was the first girl in the family, and they were super excited to buy me all sorts of pink girly things when I was first born and when I was little, even though I have always been quite a tomboy. Now, I love you, don’t get me wrong, but to see that you support your son’s gender-nonconformity yet apparently support gender conformity for your niece is odd to me. It feels to me like you’re only supporting femininity, and as a masculine girl, that’s a little off-putting. Again, I love you, but I was a little uneasy with this recent entry.

  8. auntiemip says:

    Oh Mama C.J. you are so precious!!!

    Just as there is nothing wrong with dressing C.J as a bot when he was so small there is nothing wrong with buying pink for your new niece. Little girls look precious in pink.

    What a lovely conversation you and your boy had. While it might not make sense to him now, it will one day. Because what you taught him in that moment is that as parents our children are born unknown to us. It takes time to learn their cries, grunts and little noises. We have to grow with them and be open to learning from them just as they learn from us. There is no shame in learning. Only in not being open enough to hear what we are being taught.

    C.J. has taught you a great deal in his short little life. I have no doubt that you will both be learning from the other for many years to come. I have such hope when I come here. I pray one day every child can grow up the way your boys are. And for the record…today, this Auntie bought an awesome men’s pink checked Izod dress shirt for her 21 year old nephew. He has been asked back for a 2nd interview at Yale and it will look perfect under his gray coat!

    Pink is only a color, there is so much more to us all!

    God Bless you mama C.J.

    • Kyle says:

      AuntieMip has the right of it. Enjoy your niece Sarah pretty in pink. If Sarah grows up to love pink, she and C.J. can share that love.

  9. Clay Severns says:

    I was always dressed in green and purple when I was…a baby.

  10. hawkeye83 says:

    I had friends who didn’t find out the gender of their baby until it was born. They both said it was nice to receive shower gifts of clothing in colors that were “gender neutral” without being swamped in all pink or blue. I’m not sure if you’ve heard the history of baby clothing for the genders, but this is an interesting article I thought I would pass along: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2831/was-pink-originally-the-color-for-boys-and-blue-for-girls

  11. Pam says:

    The idea of an engagement ring teething rattles gives me goose bumps!
    I know (and a lot of people already pointed that out): Baby Sarah will never remember… But that’s how it starts! I would never give my money, I would never encourage a company that promotes that kind of values. Ok, Sarah won’t remember, but that ring will be there for other children (and parents) to see, reinforcing that kind of twisted values.

    About the pink stuff: I born in the 80’s, I don’t remember growing up with thousand options of “pink stuff” in the stores. Today, childhood consumerism is a sad reality and the dictatorship of pink is, for me, the worst part of it.
    I’m not saying that, just because you’re C.J’s mother, you have to give gender-neutral gifts to every child, but maybe look for things a little less “offensive girlie/boyish”.

    I totally agree with Tiffany and Abby’s comments. Even if you’re not sure if C.J. are a boy, a girl, a gay boy or whatever… Maybe it’s time to start thinking about his “girl stuff”: the body image and values they promote.
    Make believe is so funny and it’s healthy, C.J. has every right to be a fairy, a barbie or spider man, just make sure that he understands that a girl can be much more that a princess that lives for pleasing his prince. (Whether he’s grows up to be a boy or a girl).

    (Sorry if some sentences sounded a bit harsh or weird, not a native english speaker)

    Love you blog! Happy 2013!

  12. miafaery says:

    As always…you are amazing.

  13. Anna Marie says:

    Beautiful composition and the lighting is lovely.

  14. I had a little C.J. in my life, but in my case, I was the older girl cousin, Well, if it wasn’t fot me, his little boy toys would stay all forever brand new. We were really good friends, both of us only child, we were almost like brother and sister, I hope Sarah and C.J, have a great firendship, just like the one my cousin and I had. I just love this blog! The best ever!

  15. bbg says:

    As usual, you seem to be doing the best you can to raise your precious child (no matter what gender, they all are precious). There will always be moments like this, but you handle it with so much love. I know one day your CJ will understand how fortunate he is to have a mom like you and will understand that you are not perfect, but your love is, because it is unconditional, and that is the best a parent can give to his/her child.

  16. Karen says:

    I’m a teacher and I think of you & CJ every time I go to buy stickers and pencils and other fabulous reward stuff. I stand there with all kinds of girlie-type stickers and then a voice in my head chimes in “don’t forget the boy stickers!” Then all of the voices in my head scream at each other: “what if the boys wants girl stickers?” or “what if the girls wants boy stickers?” It’s a nightmare.

    When we finalized our daughter’s adoption I can remember being so excited to buy girl stuff. Then she asked for Hot Wheels cars and for Hanukkah this year she DESPERATELY wanted a remote control car. Which she got and it was by far THE BEST present she got!!

    thanks for helping the voices in my head think things through

  17. Ally says:

    That just made me laugh that CJ was offended you couldn’t sense his inner rainbow when he was an infant. Too cute! I love the way little kids think 🙂 Congratulations on the new addition to the family!

  18. Courtney says:

    So incredibly sweet!

  19. It’s fine that you bought pink for that baby girl! You could tell CJ that you bought her pink because you knew that HE would like it! As usual, another tears-in-my-eyes post. Thank you!

  20. Matt O'Neill says:

    It’s funny because this was the fist time I went through and read some of the comments you receive on your blog…you really are an inspiration to so many people out there and there are so many viewers that want to watch your little CJ grow up. All the best.

  21. MelMelKel says:

    You seem like a thoughtful amazing mama.

  22. Justin says:

    You are amazing. You are doing such a wonderful and inspiring job of being a mom. I read often, but haven’t commented. I just wanted to say that I look forward to every post and am never disappointed. Thank you for the hope that you give.

  23. George says:

    Parenting: You’re doing it right. 🙂 Excellent blog!

  24. Lori says:

    When my son was born, I regifted all sports themed clothes and toys. I didn’t like the idea that people associated boys with sports. While my favorite color is blue, I dressed him in greens, yellows and browns, and his blankets and towels were all orange (mainly so I could find them in a hurry.) Instead of footballs and basketballs, his onesies were covered in puppies or duckies.

    Now at age 5, he does enjoy playing catch with whatever ball he can find. His favorite color is purple (with sparkles), and he loves animals.

    Do I think it would be different if I had dressed him in blue soccer jammies?

    Nope. He is who he is. Just like C.J.

  25. Mark says:

    oh, I wouldn’t recommend you beating yourself up to bad about buying blue for baby CJ, or buying pink for cousin Sarah even now that you’ve been on this different path.

    When CJ was born you had no idea that he’d prefer pink until he was old enough to tell you. Why would you have any inkling of that, and if you’d specifically bought neutral then that would have been your political statement not a gift of his preference. Same with Cousin Sarah. You give a gift with heartfelt generosity and at this point she can’t tell you what she’d like, so you go with whatever you choose. When she’s old enough she’ll tell you and then you will go with whatever she likes, rather than what you think she SHOULD like.

    The best part in my opinion about this is there is no way on this planet that Sarah’s mom and dad will cavalierly think and push for what Sarah should like. Theur viewpoint has been shifted. I can almost guarantee that they will be, and probably already are, coming from a perspective of letting their child express her preference before they go on autopilot and choose for her. That is a change in the world all by itself. And you and CJ and the family were a catalyst for that shift. Awesome.

  26. nikkiroberti says:

    For CJ and/or when baby Sarah is older, look into the new toy called Goldie Blocks! It was designed by a female engineer to encourage young girls to be creative, build, and maybe one day become engineers too.

  27. Children should be exposed to both “girl” and “boy” clothing, toys and colours. I don’t like how some people take raising a gender neutral child or just a child in general to mean that they cannot put their little girl in blue or their little boy in pink. I feel that just continues to push that colours are only for certain genders.

    It might be fun to take C.J. shopping for presents for Sarah 🙂 That way he can add a dash of himself into her life!

  28. Tiffany says:

    Do they really sell engagement ring teething rattles? That’s the only one that I take issue with–not so much the fact that you bought it, more the fact that it exists. What are we telling our children with an item like that? She may not remember it, but is her older brother old enough to notice what it is? Little girls are brought up to believe that their wedding will be “the happiest day of their lives,” and that success means having a husband and a family. That’s the only item I’d feel any remorse about. There’s nothing wrong with her wearing pink.

    I imagine it’s difficult, knowing what to say and do with a gender non-conforming child, and you seem to be handling it remarkably well. However, I’d suggest that since your son likes mostly “girl things” that it’s not too early to start treating him as you would a little girl, and behaving like the auntie you intend to be for your niece. CJ loves Disney Princesses and Barbies and Monster High, but he needs to know that those are just pretend just as much as any little girl does. He needs to realize that the body image they promote is unhealthy and that there’s much more to being a girl than fashion and make believe. He’s definitely old enough to grasp some of that.

    Give it a couple more years and then get him a subscription to American Girl Magazine. I had it growing up and while they seem to have gone more “girly” since Mattel bought them out, it still has a lot of inspiring stories about girls doing things that don’t revolve around makeovers and slumber parties. Or, sign up now and read it together. (The magazine used to come with paper dolls, too–real little girls send in the stories of their lives and ancestors and become the girl of the issue, which is something he’d probably enjoy, too.)

    Oh, and if you’re worried about him feeling jealous in regard to his cousin, I’d suggest taking him with you the next time you shop for her. There’s nothing wrong with living vicariously from time to time and he’d probably enjoy picking out pink things for her. Better yet, take both your boys and let them each choose something for her.

    Other than that, just keep doing the wonderful job you’re doing raising them. We need more parents like you in the world….

    • Tiffany says:

      Oh, and maybe stay away from the film “Enchantment.” I thoroughly enjoyed it as an adult, but the idea of sharing a story in which daddy drops the strong, successful career woman for a princess, and the career woman gives up everything she’s worked for to marry a prince, with impressionable young children doesn’t sit well with me. Maybe save that for when they’re old enough to discuss the film’s merits with you. 🙂

    • Abby says:

      I have to say, I agree about the engagement ring. Not that Sarah will ever remember unless her parents’ keep it until she’s much older but even still, it just underlines the message that when a little girl grows up, she’s supposed to get married. Of course, CJ’s Mom, I know you’re not one to spread that message and it’s just a teething ring (and I’m sure a cute one).

      That having been said, there’s nothing wrong with being excited over a baby and buying her pretty pink things. Someone here suggested letting each of the boys pick out something special for her- I think that’s a good idea. There is still plenty of time for Sarah to decide whether she likes “girl” things or the color pink and other girl type things. Congrats on your new niece!

  29. Jess says:

    I don’t remember how I was dressed as a baby, and I doubt she will know either except from pictures. The color of her room and baby clothes means nothing about who she will be or what she will like. The important thing is honoring preferences and choices, who they ARE once they can express that. That said- it is hard to be the older sibling/cousin and have all the attention & gifts be for the new arrival, so a few dollars for the older kids to pick out something they want might be good here 😉

  30. You are seriously an inspiration!

  31. pepibebe says:

    I read some of your blog a few months back, I think before I had my own blog and before I knew how to ‘follow’ lol. I just found it again after a recommendation from Mothlit, she mentioned you in a comment on a post I wrote about finding the following search term in my stats ‘mother of FTM grief’. Maybe you might like to comment on my post too, as I’m hoping if the mother searches again she might find my post. It’s called ‘The mother who searched’ and I guess my blog will be linked to this comment.
    Your CJ sounds like the most amazing child. I’m in awe of how you are navigating your journey with him.

  32. jmgoyder says:

    I am crazy about your CJ!

  33. Rebecca Center says:

    I bought all gender neutral bedding and curtains in primary colors for my bio son. I did not buy into the marketing of superheroes. We had cool wall hangings that went with the neat funky lizard curtains. Fast forward 4 years and my then son was starting his collection of Disney princesses, especially the ones that are like Barbies. The room now has princess drawings taped to the wall. Now my bio son is my 8 year old daughter and she has moved onto Monster High dolls, that are even more skinny than the Barbies and look like they should be on a street corner. Who bought some of these dolls? Me. I think it is partly due to trying to compensate for so much time not being able to be completely open in public.

  34. I love your blog. You are touching lives, even of those that do not have children and are not genderfluid themselves. I shared this post with my boyfriend, which led to a discussion. He is just as okay with the possibility of a son that prefers “girl” clothes as I am. You’ve made our relationship closer by sharing your story. Thank you. 🙂

  35. strawberryquicksand says:

    I don’t see anything wrong with buying pink baby girl clothes for a baby girl. She can make her choices when she is old enough to know what is going on. Like CJ has.

    • mhasegawa says:

      That is what I was going to say. And the answer to CJ’s question that he was too young to tell her what he wanted was spot on.

  36. interiorlove says:

    The wisest thing anyone has ever said to me about the ‘gender issue’ is that there are around 6 billion people in the world and therefore there are around 6 billion genders, no two exactly alike. You’re a very inspiring person.

  37. scutaloo says:

    My heart just melted in the end… hope CJ and Baby Sarah will be as close as you and Uncle Uncle (I still remember that picture of you two napping as kids – so cute! so much love and acceptance).
    As for me… when I was little, blue and pink were not really specified as boy/girl colors here in USSR. I remember wearing a LOT of blue, and my male friend wore a lot of pink because his mom apparently thought it looked nice with his hair color. No problems whatsoever – until some Western culture finally sipped over the border 🙂

  38. I just love your blog…your honesty – your openness – the love you have for your son and the person he is…as well as the trials that go along with being true to yourself as well as he…thank you for sharing – I too have a son who loves pink and all things ‘girl’… I too embrace his (my sons) openness to everything, though not all in his family share the same sentiment (he’s only 3)…how do you help your son understand that not everyone ‘agrees’ with the non-gender issues you so openly embrace? only curious as to help my little guy (and me)… I don’t want him to feel bad about his wants, though I also don’t want him to feel bad when someone who ‘loves’ him says – “why are you wearing that? – it’s for girls?” – breaks my heart? – If you can’t be yourself in your own home, where can you be?

  39. Tell CJ my baby girl wore baby boy clothes because she also came from a long line of boys. I didn’t care that she didn’t wear pink and the baby pictures are proof. Now that she is a teen, the only ‘proof’ of her girlish side is her long blond hair. The clothes she chooses are ‘girl’ clothes because she is tiny, but to look at them, you would never know. I feel for him, I bet he was hoping to get all the new stuff. I am excited for you and your family on the arrival of the first girl of this generation. 🙂

  40. DRose says:

    I didn’t know about your blog until a week ago and it’s one of the best and most heart warming thing I’ve ever read on the internet. Every post makes me want to cry, happy tears for your dear son and sad ones for all the people who don’t have a mother like you. I’m a 29 year old woman who just lost her husband almost a year ago now. We married in the knowledge that he was bisexual but did everything in his power to stifle that side of me. In my family I only ever came out to my cousin (who found out over my AOL profile), my brother and my father who found out after a very long drawn out argument over sexuality when I was 17. I just couldn’t take it anymore and just yelled at him that I was in love with a wonderful girl. It took him years to come to terms with that. I told him recently that the person I bring home next probably wont be a man. He looked at me, after all this time and said “Its okay” with a smile. It’s all I ever wanted to hear. It gave me the strength to finally come out to my grandmother, who is the most important person in my life. I was terrified, coming from a African American Christian family it’s not like its ever talked about. So I did it the weekend of my family reunion. She looked at me and said “You’re still my baby. I think everyone is born with both a male and female spirit, sometimes it’s even and sometimes it leans more one way or another. Gender or whom you’re attracted to isn’t defined by what you were born as.” I wanted to cry. I look forward to the day when I introduce her to my new girlfriend whom is gender fluid. I love her so much and she accepts me like no one before her has ever done. I love the smile on her face when I call her my boyfriend and she knows that I see her. Thank you for just writing.

    • pepibebe says:

      What a special, wonderful, amazing grandmother. My wife is Afro-Caribbean and it’s a bit of a mixed bag as to which members of her family accept us and which don’t. Are you blogging or just reading?

      • Mark says:

        this was a very special humanist post, and your father and grandmother’s comments were beautiful, and everything about what we should be seeing in the world today. One thing that really stuck out for me was your comment about male and female spirits. I’ve been thinking alot about that very concept lately. I happen to believe in reincarnation, and there’s alot of reasons for that that are not important to my point here.

        But in that concept, we are reborn into a body that will fulfill what our soull, or spirit needs to progress to the source. We can choose at times to be in a girl’s body, which I call the stage costume, or we can find what we need by incarnating as a little boy in Zambia. Doesn’t matter because only the work that spirit needs is what’s important. To that end then, I believe that out of source comes female and male oriented spirits, and some lean more toward choosing their natural incarnations and some choose at times to be the other, and that quite frankly may be the explaination of feeling like you’re in the wrong body, too much emphasis places on the earthly inputs and not enough on what the spirit has chosen or why. The physical plane was shouting more loudly than the spirit one and drowned them out basically.

        In my case I certainly do not feel I’m in the wrong body at all. However, by nature I’m sensitive, and like alot of things that traditionally are enjoyed by females, cooking, conversation, most of my good friends are female, and the like. That got me to thinking that by nature I could be a masculine spirit, as I have no same sex attraction in this life, yet at the same time incarnating many times as well in female costume I have an affinity and understanding of that side too, and which explains my lack of gender bias.

        Just food for thought is all.

    • Thank you for that post, DRose, you have inspired me for today!

  41. Debby says:

    Your posts really tug at my emotions but this one just made me laugh! Kids will be kids and CJ is some kid! ““What is all that pink stuff? Is it for me?!” C.J. asked again.” 🙂

    Oh yeah, you get a pass on the girly-girl baby stuff, at least from me! 🙂


  42. Parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles should be able to indulge in their baby’s cuteness 🙂 As an aunt, myself, I would have (and have) done the same thing. We will love and support them in their decisions when they are able to make them, but for now we will put big, ridiculous pink bows and flowers on them 🙂

  43. doubleinvert says:

    The challenges you face as a parent are amazing to me. My gender-nonconforming child came out to me when they were 20 years old. By then, they had a much better idea of what goes on around them.

    Parenting is never easy even under the most ideal of circumstances. I salute you. No one’s perfect. We can only try.

    – Connie

  44. jenxbyron says:

    You know, at least you thought about it. Most people don’t. And I know we are trying to get things fixed, but if you don’t make a bald headed baby look like a “girl” then people will call it a “boy”. It shouldn’t matter, but I think causing damage about who they are could possibly come from the other direction as well. My friend let her baby pick his clothes as soon as he could reach for things. I think that’s the best we can do.

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