By KIA MORGAN SMITH
Just for farts and giggles, I sat my son Jo-Jo down, grabbed his little foot, took his big toe into my hands and started painting the little piggy that goes to market pink. And from the look on his face, he might as well have said, “Aww hell no momma. I’m Jo and I gotta go!” That spunky little boy of mine jumped up so fast he left a trail of pink polish smeared on me, the carpet and my favorite pair of blue jeans.
He wasn’t having it.
I don’t think his reaction has anything to do with the color of the polish or even the fact that I tried to paint his toes. Because let’s be real, he’s two and he doesn’t associate getting his toes painted with being a girl or a “girly” boy. It’s just that my boy is a rough-and-tumble, kick and karate kind of kid. It’s in him. He’s not gonna sit and do dainty things like patiently, calmly and delicately part and comb a doll’s hair like my girls do. He’s gonna take his Iron Man action figure and charge him through the air, and, while making all kinds of roaring noises, he’s gonna crash land his action figure smack dab into a ridiculously large pile of other toys I’ve bought him.
But is painting your son’s toes pink a big deal some kind of new-fangled way to show just how progressive we parents can be when it comes to raising our little boys?
Well obviously it is for some.
By now, you must have heard the controversy surrounding a J.Crew Ad featuring a little boy with his toenails painted pink and a caption from his mom, a J. Crew executive, that read: Lucky for me, I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon.
People are outraged. Even a number of psychiatrists say that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity. Others say it’s harmless fun and painting your kids toes pink doesn’t make a kid gay or give him the impression that he should dress in flamboyant drag like RuPaul just like leaving them unpainted doesn’t make them any straighter. Amen to that.
From the looks of it, the little boy in the picture above seems to like pink polish on his little piggies. And if he does, then good for him and his mom. What works for them is for them.
But for me, a relatively open-minded mom, I’m just not that open when it comes to having my son actually walk around with neon-pink toenails and getting used to the idea of being primped and pampered like his sisters. In my house, we’re going to leave getting all pretty to the girls and save the Barbershop talk for the boys.
What I want to know, though, is this: What’s up with these clothing companies anyway? Are our children under attack? Just a few weeks ago, Abercrombie Kids advertised string bikinis with padded bras for girls as young as age seven. And now this. So, if I’m to read into this correctly, these clothing companies want 7-year-old girls to sex up bathing suits for their play dates by the pool and they want the little boys to be the belle of the ball?
Don’t get me wrong: I believe you have to let children be who they are. But at the same time, you can’t be so hands off that you are guiding them down a path that they’re not ready to travel or capable of traveling on their own. For instance, if you let your child climb behind the wheel of a car for a driving lesson and let her drive freely down the road knowing there’s a dangerous curve ahead that could send you both careening off a cliff, are you going to avoid warning her about it? Of course not! You’re gonna let her know to gently pull to the left because there’s danger on the right.
That’s all to say that parenting is about giving guidance and setting some boundaries. Kids can’t make all of their own decisions somebody’s gotta be the teacher and somebody’s gotta be the student. And while under my tutelage, I don’t want my son getting his hair curled or toes painted or wearing dresses. I don’t. Because in this society, he will be judged harshly for not having a traditional “manly” look and decorum about him, and could easily find himself in all kinds of danger because of it.
Even though being transgender is a little more accepted now, life is still not a bowl of cherries for most of those who live the life. It’s tough. And no mother wants her child to grow up struggling because the world is close-minded and hateful.
Of course, I will accept my child for who he is, no matter if he’s a boy who acts like a manly man or one who prefers pink toenails. But I’m not going to instigate the latter by openly cheering him on if he wants to dress up in princess dresses and lipstick like his sister and pose with his hand on his hip, pretending to be like me. I want a man to be a man with no remnants of a woman at all. Not even for a minute.
I’m just glad I’ve got a Tim Allen-grunting, Tool Time- type of guy for a husband, and I’m glad my son looks up to his dad and likes to walk around trying to tinker and fix things rather than worrying if his butt looks too big in an A-line skirt.
I’m not gonna let my son paint his toenails or act more like a girl than the boy he is. Sorry. Say what you will. I’m not gonna do it.
And you know what? I am damn glad Jo-Jo didn’t let me do it.
Kia Morgan Smith, author of the delightful children’s book, Goony Goo-Goo and Ga-Ga Too, is a passionate and dedicated educator and former award-winning education reporter from Philadelphia. She has five kids and balances life like nobody’s business all of which she chronicles on her blog,CincoMom. She lives with her husband and their family in Atlanta.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.