Leah loves her babies. She has one doll in particular (the doll she is holding in the above picture) that she is particularly attached too. That is her “baby.” The one she sleeps with every nap and night, the one she will grab when asked, “Leah, where is baby?” and the one she so lovingly gives her binky to when we pretend to make baby cry. I think a lot about what the future will hold for baby. Will Leah one day give her a name? Will she continue to be a favorite? Will she sleep with her every night and beg to bring her to pre-school during the day? I love that she has a baby. I love that she is gentle and caring and, although she still whacks baby in the face with a block from time to time, she will also hold baby with both hands, lean in, and give baby a big open mouth smooch on the mouth. It’s my hope that this baby, and the many others I know that will follow in the coming years, will teach her to be compassionate and nurturing and will, one day, help mold her into the amazing mother I pray she will be. But Leah is a girl. So when I tell anyone that her favorite item in the world right now is a baby doll, they smile and say “How sweet.” But what if Leah was a boy? What if my son loved a baby doll more than anything else in the world and was caring and nurturing to that doll?
The other day, as I was working with a patient and chatting with his mother, the patient turned to me and, while cradling his favorite stuffed batman doll he brought from home for his surgery, said, with the innocence that only a 5 year old could poses, “When I grow up I want to have lots of babies.” As I turned to his mother to say what a sweet thing that was, she rolled her eyes and said to me, “I’m trying to stop him from saying that.” She turned to her son and said, “Don’t you want to be an astronaut? A police officer? A race care driver??” And her son smiled sweetly, looked down at his still cradled batman and said, “Nope. I’m going to have lots of babies.”And the mother looked at her son cradling batman and said, “Stop doing that!” He looked at her, put batman down on the bed, and started smashing him in the face with the anesthesia mask we were using for medical play. It hurt my heart that this mother was so embarrassed and opposed to her 5 year old saying that he wanted to have babies when he grew up. I don’t think he was talking about wanting to physically give birth to babies when he grows up (although, even if he did, so what? He’s 5! When I was younger I was insistent upon the fact that when I grew up I was going to be a daddy, not a mommy.) But the way he was treating his batman doll, I believe he meant that he wanted to have babies when he grew up to love and care for. And, in that case, why is that such a bad thing? And why would his mother cringe when she watched him loving cradle his batman doll, and yet sigh in relief as she watched him rough house with the doll instead? Is it because it’s more gender appropriate?
Now, I don’t have a son. But one day, God willing, if I do he will be surrounded with dolls that belong to his sister. And I am sure sometimes he will love on those babies and other times he will smash them in the face with a block. Just like his sister did before him. But I do know that however he decides to play with those babies is fine. Because there is nothing wrong with teaching boys to be loving and nurturing and caring for those who are more helpless than themselves. If anything, by playing with babies, they are learning to become nurturing and loving fathers. And isn’t that what we need in this world?