Andrea J. Buchanan's latest book, It's a Boy, is the other title featured at the Mother Talk from my last post. The book provoked some lively discussion about mothering sons versus mothering daughters. As someone fortunate enough to do both, I appreciated the thoughts of the other women. The book itself is a gift--funny, tragic, bittersweet. Marion Winik's work compelled me to drive up to Philly and walk into a stranger's house that night...Andi Buchanan's would make me do it again.
She compiled the writing of thirty mother-writers (including herself) musing on such issues as gender roles, violence, love, adolescence, sexuality, joy, and loss. The essay Buchanan read during the discussion was Catherine Newman's "Pretty Baby". Here, Newman addresses another mother she met during the "Nutcracker on Ice"--an unexpected opening that sends her thoughts to her son's affinity for "darky pink". The essay then explores her son's relationship to his masculinity and considers, "But, here's where I get confused...if "pink" and "gay" go together like Froot Loops and Toucan Sam, is pink imagined to be the effect of gayness? Or its cause? Because if it's the former--if pink is the mere expression of some extant essential gayness--well then, what's the point of worrying about it? It's a fait accompli, so pour me a glass of champagne, pop in a Barbra Streisand movie, and let's celebrate. But if it's taken instead to be the cause, then how, exactly does pink make a boy gay? Does he grow up to be a pink-wearing adult, at which point other men--woops!--mistake him for a Victoria's Secret model and hit on him by accident, and, well, one thing leads to another, when in Rome, etc.?" Hmmm...How, indeed, does pink generate/facilitate "gayness"? The essay ends by again considering the other mother from the "Nutcracker", "...after we'd gathered up all our mittens and scarves and Ben was twirling merrily toward the exit in blue racing-stripe sweatpants and a pink shirt with a heart on its sleeve, you leaned over your sleeping daughter and whispered to me, "Your son is lovely." And my filled with tears--I could only smile and nod--because it's true. He is. And it was lovely of you to notice."
In It's A Boy, the heart-warming is cut with the heart-wrenching. Which, in my experience, is much like raising a son anyway. As the mama of a boy who has a fabulous blue-sequined Liberace-looking "Buzz Lightyear" cape and a fascination with fighting...a boy who cries and says, "You broke my heart" if you raise your voice at him--and who yells as loud as he can when he's "killing bad guys" with the swords we've caved-in and bought for him or the sticks/pencils/fingers he uses as weapons when we do not...the one who calls me his "beautiful angel", kisses his sisters warmly, and professes his love of the whole universe--and gets questioned at school for the butter knife the baby unknowingly packed into his bookbag on one of their grand adventures. I once wondered what kind of world we were making for our daughters to live in...now, I see that question as just as valid to ask for our sons? My boy-o is fragile and tough, beautiful and spirited, rugged and introspective...but, please remember--if you see him out there in the wild world, he is not merely defined his gender--but, by his whole heart.
Buchanan's companion volume,It's A Girl , will be out in Spring 2006...Happy reading!