The other day I was at a bookstore with Anya, and she blurted out, "But I don't have a purse!" This was relevant to absolutely nothing in the preceding conversation. I asked her what kind of purse she wants and she replied "Umm...Purple!" and then I said okay, we'll think about that, maybe sew one to her liking or drop some strong hints with one of her grandmothers. In any case, I explained, this particular store doesn't sell purses, so we're not getting one today. She was fine with that, probably because we were already getting her a book, and I let the subject drop.

Then yesterday I made the mistake of taking the kids to a fabric shop (a fabulous one that deserves a post of its own) after a full day of swimming lessons AND a trip to the children's museum (I know, I know, what was I thinking?). It's not that I like taking tired, overstimulated kids to retail establishments in the middle of the afternoon, but I wanted to go there, it was all the way across town, and we were halfway there already from being downtown and - oh hell, I'll admit it was mostly poor judgement on my part. And all things considered, they did okay, but we didn't last too long. We were there, in fact, to look for some more fabric to make Daniel PJ shorts (he has two pairs and needs more), and he was on board with this plan at first, but was quickly distracted by Anya's increasingly insistent requests that I make her a purse. Then Daniel starting asking for me to make him a purse, too. He ignored my questions of "What about this for pajama shorts? Do you like this?" and found some black quilting cotton with different color polka dots that he liked.

(Aside: I love that my kids like me to make them stuff. This won't last much longer, so I'm trying to enjoy it for now, even if it makes me kind of a sucker for punishment.)

I have to admit something here that I am not proud of. I hesitated for a moment on the purse thing, and I'm not sure why. I certainly would never say "No, you can't have a purse. Boys don't have purses," because I am troubled by these sorts of statements from other people. I believe all people, including kids, should wear what they want and carry around whatever kind of bag they want and call it whatever they want - purse, bag, tote, whatever. Maybe it's because he's starting public school this fall, and I'm afraid of what the mean kids would say if he said he had a purse of his own. I might be a grown-up, but I remember quite clearly how mean kids can be and I'm not sure I could stand the heartbreak of his hurt feelings.

Maybe this is just my imagination running wild. There is still plenty of gender stereotyping out there, don't get me wrong, but it's not unusual to see boys with painted nails and pink clothes and pierced ears and stuff that used to be almost entirely the domain of girls. A couple months ago, he wanted his toenails painted like the babysitter's toenails and that didn't bother me in the least. I'm sure he wants a purse because I carry one and Anya asked for one and for heaven's sake, why not? It's just a bag you carry stuff in anyway.

Calling it simply a "bag" didn't fly. "No, mom, not a BAG, a PURSE!"

This coming from the child who has decided he'll never learn to knit because he wants to be the kind of daddy who doesn't knit (remember?) He also refused to play with a pink toy watering can at the pool one day because it was "for girls." Go figure.

Not to worry. I got over it, and today we made Daniel his purse. I didn't use a pattern. I just asked him how big it should be and how he wanted to carry it around (handles or shoulder straps, and he chose the latter), and I took some measurements and made a small tote bag with the bottom corners stitched up for depth and lined it with some lightweight cotton from a tea towel. He loves his new purse and spent a little time this afternoon deciding what to put in it before he and Anya and I went for a walk outside.

He packed: my keys, an old iPod he pretends is an iPhone (like daddy has) and my camera (because you know I'm going to take pictures.) This meant that I didn't have to carry a purse or shove things in my pockets. It was really quite convenient!

Here's a better look at the bag:

It's a neat fabric, actually, and there is plenty left to make that pair of PJ shorts for him. Here is a detailed shot of the stitching, though if you look too closely you'll see how inexact I am with stitching lines:

Daniel chose the thread color and specifically requested the zig-zag stitching. He LOVES helping me with the sewing machine. I let him plug it in, turn on the switch, put the bobbin case in the machine, and even hold the pedal down when the bobbin is winding. I suspect this was half the reason he wanted a purse in the first place, was to help with the machine. (Daniel is the sort of child who is obsessed with anything that plugs in, requires batteries, has lots of buttons, and/or lights up. He keeps changing all the digital clocks and setting timers and alarms. It's driving us batty.)

Anya didn't get her purse made today, but we have some fabric for it, a twill cotton in buttery yellow (she changed her mind from purple). Maybe tomorrow we'll get working on that, but in the meantime, here's a picture of her in a sweet yellow hat:

This was meant to be a short post about a quick sewing project, but it turned into something else. I'm curious to know what y'all think. I'm not happy that my gut reaction was in such direct conflict with what I want to be as a parent. I'm glad I didn't say no or insist that we call it simply a bag instead. Didn't I recently just whine about obnoxious gender stereotypes on kids' pajamas, which led to making them myself, which led to the trip to the fabric shop in the first place? Am I a hypocrite?


Anonymous said…
I'm coming at this from the perspective of a Bible-believing (imperfect) Christian, who believes that gender exists for a reason--that men and women are intended to have different, special roles. (I almost said "rolls." I get the buttered ones.)

I think it's cool that he wanted a purse, because he sees how functional yours is--I think you and S are clearly showing him what gender is supposed to look like (intentionally or not). You are great parents, and he wants to grow up to be like you guys--working hard to give your family the best--each one doing his and her part. :-)

I think there's a lot of crazy talk about what's for men and what's for women. Some of it is Western hullabaloo. Some of it is biblical truth (see the beginning of my comment).

Daniel's purse is adorable and I think it's cool that he wanted a functional (but cute) bag to carry the things he and his family would need. He didn't come saying, "No, mommy, I want this season's Coach clutch" or whatever. He wanted one like you use to use the way you use it. He just admires you, and you're awesome.

cauchy09 said…
that's a super sweet bag and i'm glad you made it for him. semantics shouldn't get in the way of functionality. :o)
Dee said…
I love the purse you made. The contrasting thread is great, and I agree zigzag is the best stitching.

This is just an aside from someone who grew up with a mother who sewed. We actually had a conversation two weeks ago about how my mother thought I would eventually outgrow the need for her sewing projects but it just never happened. I have always liked the sewn things my mom makes and I appreciate them even more as an adult. So watch out you may be in for a lot more sewing projects.

Dee Anna
Jessi said…
I don't have any words of wisdom, I just want to say how very, very glad I am to have girls. You just don't have these issues as much with girls. If girls wear boys' clothes or play with boys' toys, it's not a big deal like it is when boys do "girls'" things. Brynna is 100% girly-girl, despite my best efforts to the contrary, but she loves bugs and snakes and creepy crawlies and trains and building blocks. It's never been a big deal. Maren is much more tomboyish, but even with her in her little boys clothes and playing with little boys toys, we've never had a rude comment from kids or adults. It's a horrible double standard, but I'm glad to be on this side of it.

On another note: the purse is sweet and I think he'll get a lot of use out of it. I always wondered what boys have against having a place to put things.
Naycha said…
Why shouldn't he have a purse? Men carry wallets, but my husband's wallet is so full of the "stuff" he has to have that he's constantly yanking it out of his pocket because it's uncomfortable to sit on the bulk of it. Sounds like someone could use a "man bag", hmmm?

As for being a hypocrite....We all know kids can be mean, whether intentional or not. Regardless of how you feel about gender stereotypes, kids are going to pick up on them. Your first instinct to protect your son from being picked on is natural. I sure hate it when kids say things that hurt my daughter's feelings. That being said, all you can do is help him to be comfortable with himself so that if kids do make remarks, he'll be secure enough to deal with it.
Anonymous said…
I don't think you're a hypocrite at all. Gut reactions can't be helped. But what we do with them can. Have you seen the Seinfeld episode about the man purse? Purses are definitely useful. In response to Jessi's question, I think because men's clothes tend to have so many more pockets than women's. Men have sort of a distributed purse over their whole bodies (especially when wearing a suit). But when wearing a kilt (which has no pockets) a purse, called a sporran is actually traditional.

I've been meaning to comment since reading about Daniel's not wanting to be the kind of daddy who knits. I hope my baby boy doesn't mind that he'll have the kind of daddy who knits, but maybe also making beer will balance out the knitting :-). I think it's interesting that there was a time when brewing was "women's work" and knitting was a "man's trade."
Anonymous said…
I'm glad that you caught yourself on your own stereotype of what he's supposed to like, and that he feels comfortable enough to challenge you back. That says volumes about how you are raising your children.

Besides, purses rock!
Anonymous said…
If you look back in literature you will find that the term purse was often used with men. It referred to a bag that held money. It had drawstrings on it as in "He holds the purse strings." And it can mean finances, as in "the public purse".
So Daniel is in good company.
So says
Daniel's purse rocks (and so do his parents)! I understand where you are coming from on all of this. Oh, how well do I understand. Keep up the good work with your kiddos, my friend!

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