My 21-month-old son is getting a doll for Christmas. His older brothers are getting snowshoes, a compound bow, a humongous snow tube. Miles is getting a doll.
It’s a boy doll. He’s got a charming mop of brown hair and a backwards baseball cap. When I asked my husband to choose from a couple options (without looking at price tags – hehe), he said, “That’s the one. That one reminds me of Miles.” I totally agreed. The doll is sporting a bright bandanna around his neck and the thoughtful half-smile that our Miles wears often.
Why a doll? To be honest, the initial idea was born of a complete lack of options. We already have an army of Little People, a fleet of Rescue Bots, a playroom chock full of art supplies and dress-up clothes. We have a light table with translucent letters. We have Lincoln Logs and musical instruments. We have a bin full of dry rice and assorted scoops. Our basement playroom looks like a freakin’ Montessori classroom – what could we POSSIBLY get these kids for Christmas?
Sporting goods seemed an easy choice for older boys, but Miles isn’t ready for a lot of it yet. He’s happy with the plastic baseball bat and tee (the kid can SWING!) that were passed down to him as his older brothers outgrew them. I thought about our friends’ homes — of the beloved toys of our kids’ playmates (many of whom are female). That’s when it dawned on me. What’s missing here is a doll. Embroidered face. Pretend hair. Sized for cuddling. We have an army of reptilian ninjas and boy pirate figures kicking around the floor, but not one legitimate doll.
It’s a man-centric world around here. There are five sets of testicles in this house if you include the dog’s. Testosterone is prevalent in our home, and even more dominant in our local culture. We live in the rural, wooded Upper Peninsula of Michigan where gender roles are traditional and there’s a whole lot of pressure on boys to be manly men, to go to hunting camp and shoot stuff, to play football, to grow facial hair. My brother-in-law, bless his bearded face, has a fit if a boy’s hair grows beyond his ears. He cringes when my sons demonstrate yoga poses or protest a channel-change when a princess show comes on. (Can’t wait til Cousin wants to play with Miles’s doll – muuaahaha!)
When I taught English at a local school, I often overheard boys telling each other to
GROW A SET!
Many people view this as normal, acceptable boy-havior, but I have to say that it causes me, the sole female in this family, to feel an onslaught of pressure to teach my brood about nurture and tenderness. I think a doll could help with those lessons. We can dress and undress him, sit him up in a chair at mealtime, push him in a stroller. We can wrap him in a blanket, sing songs to him at bedtime and snuggle him through the night.
Ok, so the doll is actually for me…
Seriously though, a few years ago, we were at a local park for a family photo shoot, and Gray, two years old at the time, darted off to the playground. Among the wood chips, he found an abandoned doll.
Then this happened.
Guys, look at the way he’s holding that doll.
What is this thing?
Is she ok? Where are her CLOTHES?
Who does she belong to?
No really, what the hell IS this thing?
I wish I’d have run out and bought a doll that day. I wish I had popped Gray in the Jeep and cruised right up to Shopko and let him choose a doll so that we could talk about what babies need, so we could name eyes and ears and elbows, so we could feed pretend food to a fabric-and-stuffing companion. But I didn’t know then, didn’t understand then.
I didn’t know I was going to be a mom to three boys.
That my house would be full of blue stuff and battery-operated stuff and armored stuff.
That we’d accept, no, we’d encourage our boys to kiss cheeks and sing lullabies, but that we’d have to teach them how.
That it’s so okay for a boy to play with a doll.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking this all sounds nice and idealistic, and that I have decent intentions here, but really, have I considered the possibility of Doll being launched across the living room like a torpedo? Am I prepared to see Doll being subjected to a swirly, his mop of brown hair undulating in the whirlpool of a flushing toilet?
I assure you that I am. I am fully prepared for this. I grew up in the 1980s with a brother who watched World Wrestling Federation and reenacted body-slams, powerbombs, and piledrivers on the living room floor.
Poor My Buddy.
Honestly, I don’t have huge expectations for how Miles (or his brothers) will react to this doll. I can’t predict whether he will attach to it or forget about it like so many other toys that seem interesting and exciting at first. The only thing I’m sure of is that my sons won’t have an authentic chance to interact with a pretend human being unless there is one in our home, so I’m starting there and letting the rest develop naturally and organically like good things do – things like the strong swing of a plastic bat, a hunting season beard, or Hulk Hogan’s flawless suntan.
No really though, it’s going to be so fun to see how this all unfolds. If my momma instincts prove correct, this first doll may not be the last doll to come into our home. I can see my middle son Reed asking for his own little buddy, and Gray has always enjoyed holding and interacting with babies.
Who knows, maybe one day a doll will even share a bunk with one of my boys at hunting camp.
I’ll be sure to update in a few weeks, and hopefully I’ll have some pics to share. Until then, I’d love to hear your thoughts on boys and dolls, or any gift-giving dilemmas taking place in your own families this season.
Be merry, friends.