“I bought the boy a baby doll today! He loves it!”
Just what every man wants to hear, right behind “he is so cute in his frilly tutu and glittery nail polish!”.
But I digress.
Last week our young Master Cray-Cray had his typical round of speech and occupational therapy. As is standard operating procedure, Mama Angel called me at work to let me know how things had gone. I always look forward to these calls with a tremendous amount of hope coupled with a slightly lesser amount of dread. Was today the day he would start quoting “War and Peace”, or was today the day he decided he had enough and tore down the oppressive walls of the therapy torture chamber upon all those who dwell within? (I’m aware that neither of these are particularly realistic fears or expectations. He doesn’t even own a copy of “War and Peace”. Yet.)
This particular day was apparently a great one. Not only had he been focused, cooperative, and quite talkative, he had also engaged in pretend-play. Now for those who aren’t aware, this can be an area of difficulty for some on the autism spectrum. They can tend to take things quite literally, working so hard to focus on what is that what could be can be a bit difficult. So when I heard that, I was ecstatic! At least, until she told me WHAT he was playing with…..
“He was playing with a baby doll!”, my wife shared in an almost euphoric state. “He was brushing its hair with the little comb, and feeding it, and singing to it! It was SO adorable!”
“Uh-huh”, I replied, immediately dreading where this was going.
“So I’m going to buy him one for home!”
It was at this point that I decided this horror MUST NOT be allowed to unfold. “Really?”, I asked, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible, “Did he, y’know, really play with it because he wanted to or was this something that he was just mimicking with the therapist?”. That was it. That HAD to be it.
Needless to say, that wasn’t it. With a tone that barely contained her annoyance at my perfectly unreasonable question, my wife hit me with the one thing that I can never argue against: logic. “Noooo,” she said, trying to remember what on earth had ever possessed her to reproduce with me, “he picked it out and started playing with it himself. You’re always going on about how we have to do EVERYTHING we can to encourage him to develop. I’ve never seen him play pretend like this. I got him a doll. DEAL WITH IT.”
Well. No arguing that.
Before you decide to roast me as a pig, please keep in mind that it’s not that I necessarily have a problem with the boy playing with dolls. I’m a sad, nearly 40-year-old geek that has a huge collection of what some others refer to as “dolls” themselves. (They’re not. They’re highly collectible adult action figures with authentic fabric costuming. It says so on the box). It’s just that I’m keenly aware of the unforgiving maelstrom that is the elementary school playground. I was the fat kid into superheroes 30 years before it was decided that was “cool”. I got picked on mercilessly. The boy is going to have enough problems. If he starts acting or playing “like a girl”, that can only lead to him being terrorized by the less enlightened little bastards he encounters. They will no doubt pounce upon someone they already perceive as weak like a lion pounces on a gazelle. There is no more unforgiving arena than that populated by those who some refer to as “children”, but I recognize as “pint-size pricks”. I’d been through that, and even though I know I’ll never be able to protect him from everything, I’d like to do whatever I can to make sure to minimize the blows.
Well my wife saw that for the paranoid crap that it was and bought him a doll. She was even kind enough to make sure it was a baby girl in a bright pink onesie. She has a way of twisting the knife when she knows I need to be taught a well-deserved lesson, my angel does.
So I get home, and there he is with it. He’s singing to it, patting its head and saying, “awww, baby!” (which has become his customary way of showing affection to anyone he comes into contact with, regardless of age or potty-training level), and loving on it. That’s when it dawned on me:
He’s loving on the baby like I love on him.
When he gets upset, I’ll rub his head, rock him, and say “awww, baby…”. I brush his hair. I feed him his dinner every night. I’m the one who gives him his bath. There’s nothing “girly” about it. He was playing “Daddy”, and there’s nothing manlier than that.
That said, it was time for ME to be the one to “man up”. I’d had the great fortune in my life to have been surrounded by incredibly strong women, ranging from stay-at-home moms to successful businesswomen, to bow hunters, to athletes who could easily out bench press my punk ass. It may be time for me to redefine what’s “girly” anyways, because other than upright urination, there’s nothing in particular that men do that girls can’t or don’t.
So having had this epiphany, I decided it was time to stop being the worst definition of a swine, and just enjoy the fact that my boy had found something he wanted to love on, and that this would help him developmentally. Far as I’m concerned, being a real man means putting your kids’ needs and happiness before your own. If I want to be able to claim to be one, it’s best that I respect that.
So, with attitude properly adjusted, it was time to get our “baby play” on!
Which is, of course, when he started ignoring the thing all together.
He played with it for one afternoon. Then he decided to go back to non-stop requests for his I-Pad and viewings of “Frosty the *&^%ing Snowman”.
Oh, HELL NO. There will be no “dead-beat” dads in my house! You’ve got a baby doll now, boy! You’re going to live up to your responsibilities! I’m not going to be the only one brushing its head, and patting it, and saying “awwww, baby”! UH-UH! You best start living up to your obligations! I was already looking for a reason to throw out that damn Frosty DVD! You’re not going to just sit there watching your programs while I change the imaginary diapers! MAN UP, BOY!!
Well, it’s not a total loss. Because now Uncle Roundbottom’s decided that HE wants to take care of the baby.
Yeah. I’m done. They can play with whatever they want.
Not the tutus and nail polish though. I’m not quite THAT enlightened yet……..