As a toddler, Mark loved listening to bed time stories infused with signing and sound effects.
We would add anything we could that he could hold that related to the story. His first journey into fairytale land was Jack and the Beanstalk. For Jack, we had a basket with beans, hard boiled egg colored gold, a plastic harp, a bone, a plastic cow, and a piece of plastic vine. Every bean, every vine, every Jack he met was part of his internal fantasy that we were giving him real information.
Before we realized it, Mark would become the timeless characters of the stories. With so few spoken words, we taught him the signs for everything he pointed to in the book about Jack. Before we knew it he was signing multitudes of words generated from an insistent need to learn the names of everything connected to Jack. Curiosity and imagination had taken root with Jack’s bean stock. Mark always kept five magic beans in his pocket at all times. At first he used pea gravel from the yard, until we went to the store and bought a bag of real beans. He lit up at this get rich scheme. If five magic beans could get Jack rich, what could a pound of pinto beans get him? At least he chose to lock onto the beans and not the golden eggs!
This pattern of living in the fairytales continued until no other character could replace Prince Phillip in sleeping Beauty. By the time Mark was six, he was the consummate romantic prince waiting for a damsel in distress to be saved and loved eternal. Mark was now on the search for his ladylove. His girlie classmates were not very tolerant of being rescued repeatedly at recess from a weird boy who thought he was Prince Phillip. And they were certainly not going to stand still to be kissed awake, or anything else, from the Special Boy. He took rejection poorly and badmouthed them behind their backs,…in sign language.
But he soon found someone with hours of nothing to do but stare into his eyes and wait to be saved from a cruel world. This played out unexpectedly. Thanks to every Disney princess stereotype; he favored pink, ribbons, lace, and taffeta. Anything glamorously feminine caused him feverish wanting. And he wanted to have pink things: Sleeping Beauty bedspreads, Cinderella pajamas, Snow White action shoes with pink glittery shoelaces. I couldn’t just take him to pick out a lunchbox, slippers, or a shirt. I would have to select two socially appropriate choices and run them to a separate aisle as if they were the only choices for boys. It wasn’t all that easy though, he KNEW there were Barbie lunchboxes, he had seen them at school! Teaching socially appropriate gender rules to Mark were weird in that he was already so visibly distracting, what harm could a plastic Barbie doll do? Well, That’s how Mrs. MacDonald felt in the first grade. She generously gave him his heart’s desire without letting us in on her matchmaking scheme.
One day Mark came home with a Barbie doll in his very blue denim lunchbox. Assuming he had kidnapped her by force, I sent her back to school to be returned in his lunchbox spelling like bananas. For days, at two o’clock sharp, Barbie kept returning to our home. Her frizzy hair and constant smile transformed Mark into Prince Phillip. Mrs. MacDonald hoped there would be no harm in letting Mark have the Barbie doll. He was euphoric to say the least.
A week later, I got a call from the school secretary; “ Could I please buy Barbie some clothes? She had been naked all day and was causing a commotion among the first graders.
Steve and I did better than that; we gave Barbie back to Mrs. MacDonald permanently, with thanks for her thoughtfulness. If all the boys in her class had Barbie dolls, Mark could have one too, otherwise it was just not appropriate. He would have sessions working out his heartbreak. We could hear him lamenting in his room, “youfuhgrls,sorrynotoppopiet byebye.
Once again, we had to agree with him. Who got that wrong?
Beautiful girls are for boys!