Prior to Vivi’s birth, Ian and I sat down to discuss our parenting style. We came away with only one hard and fast rule: no headbands on a bald girl baby. The mass of hair Viv possessed upon arrival mooted the issue, but the sentiment behind it – we don’t care if anyone thinks our baby girl is a boy – lingered.
I held true to the principle until Viv’s three-month mark. After a trip to her pediatric gastroenterologist one morning, I dragged my sick little bunny into a Marshalls store to pick out ‘tween jeans (I felt silly still wearing maternity clothes, but my normal pants felt and looked like sausage casing). As Viv writhed and wailed in pain, I waited in a seemingly endless line. Once I reached the register, the cashier moved in slow motion, setting her hands upon the jeans I’d chosen and slowly lifting them up as if she were vacationing on the beach in Cabo and they were her fourth lukewarm Corona of the hour. After finally scanning the tag but before hitting the keys that would allow me to pay, she looked at my daughter, dressed head to toe in pink, paused, and, still averting her eyes, suddenly spit a question in my general direction: “Is he a boy?” Totally undisturbed by the mix-up, I answered, “No, she’s a girl.” “Oh,” the checkout woman said to the jeans, “he looks like a boy.” Overwhelmed by the impulse to fire back “so do you,” I finally understood the impetus behind baby headbands.
A month later a radiology technician – who looked totally normal but must have been suffering some sort of amnesia specific to cultural name and attire norms – pointed to my purple ruffle clad lass and asked, “Is this him, is this Vivienne?” I didn’t want to say anything; pissing off my children’s care providers never struck me as the best idea. Plus, with the weight of Viv’s daily struggles and the enormity of the possible explanations for them looming, gender seemed rather irrelevant. When I returned to the room after the test and Viv immediately stopped screaming, the tech crooned, “Oh he knows his mama, he knows his mama!” What could I say? Yes he does.
Now that Stuart has arrived we’ve achieved the indifference we held out as an idealistic childless couple. After all, it’s hard to bristle at strangers’ confusion when for a solid two months I used “she” and “her” in reference to my firstborn son, just out of habit. When I accidentally responded to a stranger’s “how old is your baby?” with “she’s almost three months old,” super-husband once again swooped in to spare me embarrassment. Ian simply nodded and switched to feminine personal pronouns for the remainder of the conversation.
Of course, it’s easier to understand the confusion when we refuse to invest in new accessories simply in order to address the problem. Although Stuey’s bottom isn’t regularly adorned in fuchsia ruffles, he does cruise around town sucking on pastel pink and purple pacifiers, covered in a pink frilly blanket when he sleeps. Strangers who mistake him for a girl often feel the need to defend themselves. My favorite used to be the mother who sat across from us on a plane flight: “Well, the watermelon on his onesie is pink. Really pink.” Then last week, another parent at Seattle Gymnastics Academy deadpanned, “Is he a boy? Because his face looks like a boy, but his sweater is pretty girly.” To top it all off: it was my brother’s baby sweater! Oh boy! Or girl. I couldn’t care less.