“Buying toys for yourself now, Mom?” Harry asked Wednesday night when he stopped by to pick up the pink Timberland boots he’d ordered on eBay.
“Oh, that,” I replied, glancing up from the couch at the mini My Little Pony sitting on the counter. “That’s a Happy Meal toy.”
“Yeah, and it was my ticket into the bathroom at McDonald’s today.”
Harry laughed. “What?”
I explained how I’d really had to pee on my walk from 37th Street to 28th that morning. When the closest Starbucks didn’t have a bathroom, I popped into the McDonald’s next door, only to find a keypad lock on the bathroom. A dining-area employee said I needed to show a receipt to get the combination. Restrooms were for paying customers only. I didn’t want to carry another bottle of water, so I decided to just ask someone for their receipt. On my way to the counter, I passed a mom with her two kids. On their table sat a Peppa Pig figure and a small red truck.
“Then it hit me,” I told Harry. “I remembered from my days doing PR for McDonald’s that you could get just the toy. So that’s what I did. And it was like going back in time, buying a Happy Meal toy for you without you being there.”
“When I told the order taker I wanted only a toy, she didn’t ask ‘girl toy’ or ‘boy toy,’ which was great! She just wanted to know which toy I wanted. And even though they still offered what could be called a stereotype ‘girl toy’ and stereotype ‘boy toy,’ they weren’t asking if it was for a girl or a boy.”
“It’s so cute!” Harry said, picking up the pink toy.
“I asked her what they had, and she said, ‘Powerpuff Girls and NFL.’ I knew you would’ve wanted a Powerpuff Girl, so I told her I’d take that. She returned with a handful of toys. No Powerpuff Girls, but they did have the stuffed toy gray cat from their tie-in with Secret Life of Pets, a black Spy Gear something-or-other, and the pink My Little Pony. I knew you would have wanted My Little Pony, so I bought that.”
“That’s hilarious, Mom.”
“It was fun! I hadn’t bought a Happy Meal toy in probably 20 years. Look at all the stuff it comes with. And the tail changes color in the sunlight! How cool is that?!”
After Harry left with his new pink boots, a magenta hair scrunchy around his wrist, I thought about how much easier it was for kids now to get the Happy Meal toy they wanted, without a corporation’s determination that something was a “girl toy” or a “boy toy.” I knew that didn’t mean their parents might not discourage certain choices based on the boy-girl stereotypes they’ve learned. Ideally, parents are realizing that toys don’t have a gender and that expressing likes and dislikes when it comes to toys or clothes or colors or hairstyles is simply human nature. It’s so important to remember that we’re all humans first, and that gender comes second.
“I realized this is all just about expression. I don’t have to figure out what it means or what this says about him.”
I flashed on a recent phone conversation with a friend who has two boys. One is three, the other nine months old. She told me they’d been walking through the aisles at Target when her oldest, who loves Disney’s Frozen, spotted an Elsa dress that lights up and sings a song. He asked if he could please have the dress. And without even thinking about it, she said yes. Then a few minutes later he wanted a Star Wars Stormtrooper toothbrush, and she bought that, too.
“I know that ultimately kids are who they are and to just let them blossom.”
“Before knowing you, I don’t know if I would have been so quick to get the dress for him,” she said, “but I realized this is all just about expression. I don’t have to figure out what it means or what this says about him. I don’t want to put anything on him. I’m just going to follow his interests. I know that ultimately kids are who they are and to just let them blossom.”
I didn’t tell my friend, but I had to dab my eyes during that call. Her words reminded me of why I wanted to start this blog and write my book. After talking to her I wanted to do more, to talk to more people, to share all of my fears and my successes as Harry’s mom. I know that anyone’s child can grow up to be gay or identify in a non-binary way, and that it’s our job as parents to love and support them unconditionally and let them become their true selves.
As for the miniature My Little Pony sitting on my kitchen counter, I know a certain little boy who would happily adopt it. And there’s a three-year-old girl I know who would also love to have it. I have a feeling this My Little Pony will go simply to the child I see first, boy or girl. And I can’t wait for them to see that tail change in the sunlight. Well, sort of change…
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