“Mamma, why do you wear earrings?”
“Because I like to.”
“Because earrings are pretty.”
“But why, Mamma? Why do you think earrings are pretty?”
“Because they ARE pretty.”
A moment’s respite. Then - “Why does Anurima wear earrings?”
Anurima being all of twenty months old, I could not really tell my son she had much choice in the wearing or not wearing of earrings, so settled for, “Anurima wears earrings because her mother thinks she will look good in them.”
“But Naman will look pretty in earrings. Why doesn’t he wear them?”
The moment I had been hoping to avoid had finally come. “Naman is a boy. He can’t wear earrings.”
“So, Mamma, only girls wear earrings?”, he declared triumphantly.
I thought I was a good debater, but my not yet five year old had maneuvered me into a corner.
I still tried to recover lost ground – “not exactly. Some boys wear earrings too, but not now – only when they are much older. And not all girls wear earrings either.” But I could see that having found one more fundamental difference between girls and boys, he had stopped listening.
I don’t really know when my son started this girl-boy stuff.
A year back, one of his two best friends was a girl, and she and my two boys used to spend hours playing all sorts of pretend games. Now, the two never seem to play together, and when I ask him why, he says, “But she is a girl, she wants to play only with girls.”
It does seem to be true – his erstwhile best friend does seem to hang around only with girls, just as my son only runs around with his gang of boys. Sometimes, when neither finds anyone else, and they end up playing together, the old spark is apparent. But the moment either of them spots someone of their own sex, they hastily gravitate towards that person. On rare occasions, the girls and boys play together, but only if there are at least three girls and an equal number of boys.
When did this happen, and how did this happen?
I thought I had taken adequate care in making sure neither of my boys grew up with strange notions of girl-stuff and boy-stuff. In fact, I often denied them Power Ranger guns, but happily bought them Barbie look-alikes.
But I suppose environmental conditioning is too strong to be overcome this easily. Or maybe it is just evolution – I too remember a time when I played exclusively with girls. That was when I was ten, not five, but today’s five year old is exposed to much more than I was at ten.
Two days after the earring exchange, I saw him playing with one of the little girls.
“Is Suhani your friend?”
“Suhani is a baby."
“Yes, she is a baby. But is she also your friend?”
“Suhani is a boy!” He chuckled at the joke he was about to crack - “Suhani doesn’t wear earrings.”