Wednesday, June 02, 2010

read that color

Hey. Remember this kid? This is Toddles, type typical. It's also one of the few photos of the Toddles' stunning Mochi Plus yarn (Neptune, alas, o Neptune!) double-crocheted kipa. Taken shortly before I accidentally tossed the thing into the dryer and, um, felted it.

But that is not the point. The point is the kid. See? Kid? Okay. Now, watch kid evolve....

The Toddles seems to be the only one of my boys with opinions about his clothes. The Eldest has been my fashionista, but will wear anything in his drawers - paired with anything else. But the Toddles, possibly basing his philosophy on a general opposition to the beginnings of days, has opinions.

Sometimes, they are delaying tactics. Sometimes, they work. Sometimes, however, he offers a real opinion, and the difference is palpable.

Red is my absolute favorite color, he informed me. And held this position for over a year, staunchly, despite the inevitable battles between the sibs over who got the red napkin at dinnertime. Heaven help the child who was relegated to the orange napkin - yank out color wheels as I might, I couldn't persuade them that orange had red hiding inside. It's not red. And red is my absolute favorite color. (The Man and I began hiding the hellsbegotten red napkins, so that they'd appear only when both red napkins were clean and available.)

Right. Red.

Red underwear found its way into the kid's drawer, and a couple of pairs of red socks popped up. Two red shirts, and a quiet chat with the preschool teacher about how it's good for a child to learn to accept a compromise. The Toddles learned not to bulldoze the other kids, en route to HIS red chair, but I kept slipping red incentives into the Morning Pile o' Clothes o' Doom. Not that it helped much.

Three months ago, however, red and the Toddles had a parting of ways. There isn't enough beautifulness in my clothes, he mused. And solemnly chose a set of pink and pale blue, grey socks with hearts and flowers. The Eldest, holding a set of sport-themed socks in his hand, was shocked. But the Toddles was oblivious. These have beautifulness, he told me. I love the pink and purples.

And then summer came. I dug out the boxes of summer weight clothes from the basement, and started stuffing them into the boys' drawers. Blue. Red. Grey. Navy. Green. Orange. Denim-light, demin-dark, denim-yellowish blue. In the stores, hunting up a last pair of shorts or two, it was the same - plus camo. And very, very minus the beautifulness.

I glared at the racks, and stomped off to an outlet staffed by a couple of people who ignored other customers, and helped me hunt. In the uber-sales rack, we found a shirt, and a pair of beautifulness-spotted socks. Topped it with a recycled-silk kipa, and watched the boy glow.

Same boy. Same smile, but tilting towards mellow on the scale. Perhaps it was the warm day, the lazy day at home with a mama and sunshine pouring through the windows. Perhaps it was the glow of that beautifulness, worn with obvious pleasure. Couldn't tell you whether it was the clothes, the color or the day, but damn. Something suited that kid just fine.

Looking at him, I thought how well he wears pink. It's a color that I avoided for decades - too girly, you know - and still handle tentatively. Am I too girly in that color? Why does it echo concepts of frivolity, helplessness and uselessness for me? How absurd. But the Toddles doesn't hear those echoes, loud as they may be in my ears. Pastels suit him, contrasting and complementing the rich colors of his kipa - it's rainbow ore, he informed me, pointing to the Eldest's favorite raggedy blue-green kipa. Rainbow ore, he repeated. Just like my brother's.

He doesn't hear gender echoing at all. He just is, his beautifulness is, and he wears himself purely, uninterested in any handbooks on gender and color. Here, the Toddles' tendency to live inside his own skin serves him well, setting him free to search for his beautifulnesses. Years of dandelions, stroked over his skin can coexist with the cheerful menace of the Ant Stomper. Can share neural networks with the artist of fierce battles in outer space, a hurler of imaginary A-bombs, a waver of sparkling silver wands. A good touch from his dad's ancient shirt, shared with a stranger, confident in the pleasure of the experience. He is certain, thoughtful and obviously generous in sharing the wonders of his world.

Who are we to argue, I say, and then look skeptically in my own direction. I'm the product of aggressive gender-based training as to how to to dress, hold myself, make eye contact - or not -to position myself in our (patriarchal) religious community. Years of training in identifying the precise shade of gendered roles, where a gender-separate education didn't free the girls to explore, intellectually and religiously, but rather camouflaged how very different our teaching was to be.We memorized, the boys learned. Rote vs. scholarly tools, Aramaic vs. discussions about the appropriate lengths of our sleeves - and somehow I came to quietly twitch at the idea of a soft pink, or floral patterns, or lace. Who are we to argue? Ha. Years of accrued thought met my angled skepticism, and both sides froze, watching the Toddles. We should be paying attention here, I thought. But the thought got stuck. Attention to what, exactly?

On Monday, we bought sneakers - and again, rewarded the kids with socks. Tiredly, the Eldest surveyed his options, then reached past the packs of fire engine, skull-and-crossbones socks, for a striped oceanic pair. He weighed them in his hand, thoughtfully, and asked for more fun in my clothes? I added a note to my list, where it sat meagrely next to the Toddles' string of instructions. Pink, purple, flowers, hearts, beautifulness, no buttons, no snaps, many pockets, and a good touch, please, Mum. Comparatively, fun seemed easy. I nodded, the Eldest grinned, and offered to test-drive his new sneakers. He streaked through the aisles, dodging the other shoppers.

Whoops! sorry! flew by, and I layered a watch out for other people, hey? onto the kid-shaped blur.

The Toddles barely blinked when his brother whisked past. He'd somehow wrapped himself in a quiet hum, using that hum to lift himself into Toddles-space and away from the horrors of shoe-shopping. Trailing his hum, the Toddles walked over to the socks. He didn't discard the dinosaur socks, the fire-engine or sports socks - they were simply irrelevant. Insufficient, even. A salesperson helped him find a set of pale pink, lavender and white socks, trimmed in lace. Carefully, he stroked the lace over his cheek, and the moment of his beautifulness, this good touch, the Toddles glowed.

These ones, Mum, he told me, and held them up, offering to share his pleasure. I remembered the generosity and inexplicableness of this sharing, and a stranger's need for interpretation. These ones? I asked, but the Eldest didn't wait for either translation or explanation. He was suddenly, simply there, admiring his brother's treasures. And raising a private eyebrow, admitting that he didn't understand, nor did he need to. It was simple: beautifulness was sought, and happiness followed.

I'm jealous. More to the point, I'm in love.

4 comments:

Miriam said...

Well, now you don't need to have a girl! ;-)

And you clearly went to a substandard school. Same religious community (as you know), same gender-separate education, and we learned, baby. Explored like crazy. I don't often realize how lucky I was/am.

He's gorgeous. Especially in pink.

Miryam (mama o' the matrices) said...

he *is* gorgeous, isn't he? :)

And yes. Three schools, only one with real ambitions for the girls. (shrug)

joy said...

Sigh. He is such a lovely creature and pink is indeed stunning on him.
Do inform me via email of his current sizes in all stuff. I too have a passion for adding beauty and good touch and would love to point some in his direction when I come across it. He'd adore A's wardrobe for just this very reason. She already clearly shares his passion for a certain edge of fabric. Makes me itch that we aren't closer in the geographic space.

Rachel L said...

thought you might find this piece interesting: http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/22/boycotting-pink-toys-for-girls/