Here's a weird one for you - my son wants me to paint his fingers and toes with my nail polish. Whenever he sees a bottle out, he points to his toes and hands and asks "Gareth's toes? Mommy painting?" And I do it. I've painted several of his toes and a couple of his fingers. He even went to daycare this week with one of his toes on his left foot painted. He usually wants it right off, but I realized I'm really conflicted about it.
Would this happen if Cliff was here? Sometimes I worry about raising a boy without a constant male figure around - am I feminizing him? And then I feel ashamed of those questions because lots of very "masculine" men are raised by single moms or grandmas or lesbian couples and then I run down the rabbit warren of questions of gender identity and parenting and feel frustrated by the lack of answers and my own uncovered prejudices. Ex: Does a man really need to be "masculine" to be a man?
I guess I'm just going through my own version of the nature vs nurture conflict, but this time its in my own head as Gareth has polished toes and then makes his dinosaurs knock each other over. I'm not the first mom to deal with the issue of little boys and nail polish - see this article. And there is a growing conversation about transgender children and their medical treatment (see here, and here, and here) and how parents should respond. I have no reason to believe Gareth is transgender and likely he is just interested in having painted toes because I have painted toes. But, as I've learned in the past 2 years, life does not generally go the way you plan it to and people are almost always different than you expect them to be.
Much of my anxiety about Gareth and nail polish comes from the fact that I'm making all of the parenting decisions by myself. I talk to Cliff about what we do and sometimes I ask for his opinion, but since I'm the one in the trenches (so to speak), the buck stops with me. And there's just a lot to consider. I've read enough statistics about the children of incarcerated men to make me sick, I've seen the blather about how we "damage" kids through single parenthood (this article will make you see red) and any blogpost or facebook update that laments the "fatherless" children in the world pierces me right to the heart. So at times, I feel overwhelmed with the statistical likelihood that I will fail Gareth in some profound way - like I really need that.
I try not to let the borrowed guilt rest on my shoulders. I try to expunge poisonous internal monologues and I skip over discussions that I know will trigger my grief. And I paint my sons toe nails, hoping that mostly what we're doing is having a moment of shared discovery rather than a long-term gender choice to be criticized later. And then, of course, we go play with the trains for as long as possible before Gareth goes to sleep clutching his "Percy" and "Gordon" tightly.
Not every part of parenting is complicated.