Monday, April 12, 2010

Painted Toes

E's feet have always been my favorite part of his body. They're huge - long, wide, and fleshy, with big stubby toes topped off by toenails that tend to curl up at the ends when I'm less than vigilant about clipping them. His are feet that only a mother could love.

Lately, those curly toenails have been green, or blue, or orange. Whatever color strikes his fancy. It all began when he noticed that I painted my toenails and decided that he wanted "painted toes" too. So I let him choose a color from my (very small) collection of nail polishes. He chose hot pink, and when his friend came over later that day, E proudly stuck out his bare feet to show off his painted toes. His friend promptly stuck out his hand, the better to show off his painted fingernails.

A few weeks later, E started requesting colors that weren't in my nail polish collection, and so we made a trip to CVS to pick out a color. A few trips later, and we now have an enviable collection of quick dry nail polishes in all the colors that appeal to little boys. I came home from getting a pedicure yesterday and upon seeing my freshly painted toes, E excitedly ran for the drawer in my bathroom where the nail polishes live.

My mother is generally horrified that I paint my son's toenails, but I see things differently. Right now, painted toes have no gender association; they are just fun. He is so innocent and untouched by the expectations and prejudices about what it means to be a boy, about what makes a man. Soon, that innocence will fade, and he will no longer ask for painted toes. Every time he asks it's a reminder that he is still, still, my little boy. One day, he will stop asking, and those bottles of blue, green, and orange nail polish will sit in the drawer, untouched, and I will know: he is growing up.

I'm interested in how other families handle these issues. Do you encourage interest in things not traditionally associated with your child's gender? If your child displays a non-traditional interest, what is your response?


  1. Oh, how I love this. I, too, try to let my son explore whatever interests him, despite its gender associations, because I know that his innocence is so very fleeting. Right now, he loves nothing more than to clomp around wearing princess shoes, which raises eyebrows at friends' houses on occasion, but all I see is a little boy making big noises in fun, shiny shoes. That's what being a child is about, right?

  2. Stacia, friends of ours have a huge collection of princess shoes for their daughter and the little boys all LOVE to wear those shoes when they visit. The clomping and shininess is definitely part of the appeal. So cute!

  3. This is so interesting because I DREAD the day my daughter asks to have her toenails painted for the first time, for the very same reasons you like it when your son does--because for a girl, having her toenails painted IS a sign of growing up. So are we more likely to let our children do something that bucks gender roles, and to let it bother us when they want to do something that reinforces them?

  4. Absolutely. While I know we encourage our son - often unconsciously - to do "boy" things that he loves, we're just as delighted when he wants to do something different, something less than typical. In some ways I find the unexpected more interesting, more quirky. Several weeks ago he spent a couple of days in a little red sunflower-covered dress that had belonged to my sister. I loved it when he showed an interest in baby dolls, and I'll do everything I can to entertain him with cooking. It seems that when it comes to kids' interests and activities, traditional gender lines are being crossed more happily. I'm all for it.
    (And, p.s., my mother is still appalled that I want to paint MY nails.)

  5. This is lovely.

    "...untouched by the expectations and prejudices..." Oh, I wish our kids will always be that way.

    My little girl will play with cars with the same fervor as her tea set, and I love it. I hope she will always know that nothing is off limits to her.

  6. Your post is making me cry. I DREAD the day that E knows what BOYS stuff and GIRLS stuff is. He loves My Little Ponies and dancing in a tutu as much as playing soccer ( I don't want anyone to take that away from him. But I know that he will learn from friends and others.
    (My mom actually BOUGHT his first My Little Pony when she found out how much he LOVED the movie, which he picked out himself at Blockbuster. I was VERY impressed.)

  7. My kids are very young (11 months and 2 1/2 years) so we haven't dealt with this too much yet, but I don't see anything wrong with your approach - especially since, as you so eloquently point out, his interest is all tied up in his status as a little boy.

    On a less important note, my younger son also has really funky feet with quite unusual toe nails: maybe some nail polish is the answer!

  8. This is so great. I wish I could see his toes! (Good for you!) My boy hasn't asked for his toes painted even when he sees mine, but if he did, I think I'd do the same as you.