Monday, May 26, 2008

The Queen of the Park

Henry likes “pretty” things. Sparkly. Pink and purple. Shiny. Multi-colored and polka dotted. I find this trait quite charming. I let him wear a dress when he was 13 months old and he took a fancy to one in a pile of hand-me-downs. I bought him the polka-dotted flare leggings that he wanted from Target in the fall, and he has worn them at least once a week since.

But Henry also loves to play “like a boy.” He loves to wrestle and swordfight and play heroes and villains and run around the yard. He climbs like a maniac and rides a bike with no training wheels. He covets Luke’s bin of “special” superhero toys.

So I was somewhat taken aback when I returned home from Chicago and I presented him with the Bionicle that I brought him and he rejected it. Yes, these Lego toys are too old for him, what with their weapons and clear emphasis on fighting—not to mention small and easily lost parts—but he is obsessed with Luke’s Bionicles, and so I bought them each one at the Lego store while on my trip. But Henry wanted none of it, and since I had to stop at the grocery store on my way home from the airport, I told him I would give the Bionicle to a bigger boy and he could pick his own present.

I was happy to see that Kroger was having a big closeout on many of their toys, and I directed Henry toward some that I thought he might like (and that were conveniently marked down.) I pointed him to some Lego sets, a game or two, a talking Elmo (I was magnetically drawn toward the $9.99 price tag, down from $45.99). But Henry was not interested in my suggestions. He wanted the furry princess phone. It is pink and covered in sparkles and each button has a coordinating princess who speaks when her button is pushed. It cost the same as the Elmo, so I didn’t say no based on cost. I didn’t say no because it is a huge hunk of plastic electronic junk. No, I refused to buy this toy for Henry because he has had one previously. Yes, that’s right, Henry fell in love with this particular toy last fall when we were visiting my friend Jenny, and—imagine this!—she was all too willing to send it home with us when her daughter wasn’t looking. But after Henry played with it for a few weeks he forgot about it and I was able to sneak it away to donate to the thrift store.

After much discussion and negotiation in the toy aisle, Henry finally settled on the sparkly princess crown and earrings. I suggested many other options, ones that I thought he would play with more, but he was insistent that he needed the crown, and for five bucks I decided it was fine by me.

I find Henry’s love of “pretty” things so sweet and innocent. I also think this trait is a beautiful sign of his own personality, something that he doesn’t get from Luke, he certainly doesn’t get from Craig, and he doesn’t even really get from me (I’m more into cords and clogs than rhinestones and polka dots). But here’s the thing that worries me a bit: I also cling to Henry’s sometimes-unusual taste in clothing and toys because I don’t want to turn into every other person around me in this town. And the reason this worries me is that I don’t want to use my kid as my counter cultural mascot. So I try, I really try, to remain as neutral as possible about these things.

I almost got rid of Henry’s polka dot flares yesterday. I almost sent them to a friend who has a little girl. But Henry saw them sitting in a pile and said, “I want to wear those pants today!” So he did wear them to his gym class at the local community center, and there I heard a woman correcting her grandson who called Henry a boy: “No, I think that is a girl. She’s wearing little girl pants.”

And later, that same day, Henry rode his aqua and purple bike, the Huffy Sea Star that used to be Luke’s, to the park. And a young girl, probably nine years old, said, “Your little girl is so pretty!” So I said, “Oh, he’s a boy, but thanks!”

Once all the other kids left the park, I told Luke, “Now you are the king of the park!” And Henry said, “And I am the queen of the park!”

Oh Henry, my darling queen of the park, may you always wear whatever you like and ride your Sea Star with abandon, the wind in your hair and joy on your face. May you never be the mascot for anything but yourself.


Sally said...

This is an awesome story.

When my brother was little he latched on to one of my mother's old skirts from when she was on the road with a band. It was gold and sparkly. He called it his "gurt" and it was his absolute favorite dress-up item for a while. We made a paper crown for him too and taped long strips of yellow paper around the edge to look like long hair.

Incidentally he grew up to be a lot cooler than me.

Lhamo Osel said...

That is lovely, Ser. Drew has always been a fashion-plate, so I can empathize with the unusually dressed child. He was the first kid on the block to learn to do buttons (at age 3), because I told him he had to get himself dressed if he wanted to wear button-down shirts. There was the fourth year, where Drew exclusively wore matching track suits, preferably with a button-down underneath (and a tie for special occasions). People started to buy short-sleeve versions of them for us in May because they were worried he'd pass out from the heat. And I am sad to say that Drew will, this summer, outgrow his genuine woolen black mariachi suit with the white embroidery and stunning vest. Last time he wore it (to the ballet, no less) he had to wear tights underneath because the wool was too tight and scratchy. We did turn lots of heads at the Lyric Opera, however. And NO, fashion is clearly not hereditary.

Van and Elvis still wear pink. Lots of it. One has a pink bike and the other bright purple. Of course, they can beat up people in pairs if they receive grief about their clothes. May Henry find similar strength to maintain his own style. And if he gets really skinny, we can hand down the mariachi suit.

Molly Sabourin said...

This is tightly written, Ser, and thought provoking. I really enjoyed it. I'm sorry I couldn't see more of you in Chicago! It was a wonderful but crazy-full day! Beth, Paige, and I all agreed that you look fantastic! I hope you had a very restful weekend.

Ser said...

Thanks for all of the kind comments, everyone.

IO (I'm not sure if I can use your real name?)--I always have loved Drew's unique sense of style. And yes, Van and Elvis are a great example of very tough guys who are also into "girly" fashion. It was great to run into you in Chicago, and I wish I had had time for a proper visit!

Molly--I loved seeing you and the old crew from Christ the Savior. I miss you all! I'm so glad we can at least stay in touch via blogging.

marji said...

do you have a tear test for your blogs? they are so touching; I tear up somewhere each time. Today it was the send off ... riding on his Sea Star with abandon. I love that image.

so yung said...

I will begin by saying that all comments from me should start with the assumption that I loved the blog, that Ser's story-telling skill is only on the increase, that her stories are captivating, complicated, inviting, and honest. I love reading this blog!

I love that you allow Henry to explore all of his likes and dislike, that you and Craig allow him to try things on. Not only is it encouraging to him as a person, but also, I'm guessing, fosters his sense of safety within the home; he's allowed to explore without fear of harshness by his parents. That has to be freeing in so many ways for him which can only help him as he grows in independence (again, I'm guessing). Sure, he'll have his baggage like all of us, but it seems readily apparent that you and Craig are giving him a tremendous leg-up on the whole secure, healthy (mentally and physically) adult thing.

(Warning: middle child angst readily apparent in following sentence.)I also love this blog in particular because Henry's the leading character. And Ser, you have to admit, your boys are characters and that's why we love them!

so yung said...

p.s. may we have a picture of Henry as Queen of the Park? Pretty, pretty princess please?

so yung said...
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