In which boys can like babies, too, you know

Our Joe is such a boy, you know.

And Joe has a little stuffed sheep, he calls him Shawn. He loves to look after Shawn. He dresses him in an old Calgary Flames baby t-shirt that used to be his own, he regularly asks me to put a new diaper on Shawn, he pushes him around the house in a little pink stroller that belongs to Evelynn. When Shawn is hungry, Joe promptly nurses him which always devolves into a fight between him and Anne because “boys don’t have nummers, Joe!”

“My am imagining, Annie! My am the only one who LOOKS AFTER SHAWN.”

Joe adores boys. I am not sure if its because he is an only boy, surrounded by a sea of girl-cousins and sisters, but he loves boys. He yearns for boys. When confronted with a boy, he wants to wrestle like puppies in a kennel. He calls all boys “Friend” and cries with rage when the worker at the drive-thru window at Tim Horton’s is a girl.

But he has a baby and he loves to look after his Shawn.

I am perfectly content with Joe’s nurturing side existing in perfect harmony with his more typically-masculine side. I was raised by a holistic, gentle man and I’m married to another one. Most of the men in my life do not buy into this lame, hyper-masculine stereotype, even though they exhibit strong, typically male characteristics and preferences themselves.

Joe loves to play hockey, make fart noises, and wrestle; he also loves babies, no big deal.

Except other boys aren’t always so cool about stuff like that.

The other day, Joe took Shawn took the library.

He stomped over – he likes to walk like a dinosaur – to a little table of boys. They were all paging through Spiderman books (graphic novels? comics?) and hockey stats books. They were maybe eight years old. Joe marched over, pulled out two little plastic chairs and thumped himself in one, Shawn in the other.

“Hey, friends! Whacha lookin’ at?”

They stared at this little boy in their midst like they’d never seen a preschooler before in their lives. I stifled a laugh. Joe is so oblivious.

“Well, friends, this is my baby! I gots to have a spot for my baby! My baby LOVES books at the li-berry.”

And those awful boys started to laugh at Joe.

In less than a minute, as I crossed the library floor, they pointed at him, they imitated him, they mocked what he said, repeating BABY? HE HAS A BABY! over and over, and then they pointed at his Shawn and delivered the final pronouncement, BOYS DON’T PLAY WITH BABIES.

I swept over to the table with my Angry Eyes on in full force. I icily informed the boys that Joe was only three years old and that they were being unkind to someone much smaller than them. Also? SOME BOYS LIKE BABIES. And that’s okay. Maybe next time, you could be a bit more kind? Thank you, boys. I certainly appreciate it.

They had the grace to look ashamed. I don’t think they were bad boys. I think they are typical boys, trying to figure out boyhood. But still. I am learning to speak into the village a bit more. Joe was unfazed. What can you say? He’s a typical three-year-old boy, completely oblivious. But when he took his Shawn home, he talked glowingly of his friends at the li-berry all afternoon as he raced Shawn around the house at a dead run, screeching to a stop to catapult Shawn out of the baby carriage into the wall.

Being a boy must be so hard.

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  • Carolyn Gingerich

    Loved your story…just finished reading “Boys Adrift” by Leonard Sax.  In today’s world, it is so hard to be a boy and so hard for boys to know what being a boy really means.  And it’s scary.  And I PRAY for my boys and their developing boyhood.  

    • Sarah Bessey

      That sounds like a great book, Carolyn. I’ll check it out. 

  • Tara_pohlkottepress

    Oh, Sarah… my boy Owen. He is the softest soul. Honest to goodness. cross my heart. We pick up full bags of leaves as the snow melts and it starts to uncover them, because “he can BARE the thought of never seeing them again… and for them to fly away, all alone like that.” – – And in the fall he would only pick up the still green ones, why? “because everyone admires the yellow and gold ones, mom. This one didn’t have a chance to turn. So I will love it.” – – – ugh. my heart breaks to think of his soul out there in the world that won’t understand that he speaks God all over creation… so far, he’s made his way through kindergarten without me beating up any 6 year old boys :) 

    • Sarah Bessey

      Oh, that so SWEET, Tara. I love that. I hope you write it down for him. And yes, for the broken heart of releasing them into the world. GAH.

  • Amanda @wandering

    My almost three year old little boy loves his stuffed animals (and has nursed them on many occasions, saying “feed my baby.”) He recently has started calling his bears and monkeys and doggies his babies. He LOVES his little brother and is very nurturing. But he is also all boy playing with cars and trucks and balls and climbing on EVERYTHING. I think he is everything God created little boys (and big boys) to be.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Amen – let’s hear it for holistic boys – and men!

  • Janae Maslowski

    He is spectacular, I love this so much, thanks for sharing.

  • Corrie Aw.

    My four-year-old boy plays baby with his teddy bear, too, since she has a baby sister. But he hands it to me for nursing, because “boys can’t do it”.

    • Sarah Bessey

      haha – so sweet.

  • Mizmelly

    My Angel has a big sister so most of the toys are girlie and he LOVES them. He’s big into Princesses and Peppa Pig and he loves to play house. He also loves cars and trucks. My Gift is a Kung Fu Panda fanatic and also loves cars and trains. Her two best friends are boys and she’s even convinced one of them to come to dance class with her. I have that little niggle in the back of my mind that I should get my Angel some less than frilly stuff to play with but he’s happy and he’s only 20 months so…. I love that the two of them can play together to easily and there will hopefully never be that refrain of ‘ewww but he’s a BOY/she’s a silly GIRL’…. one can always hope and dream…

    • Sarah Bessey

      I noticed that when Anne was in preschool, she was more sensitive about the “boys dont’ play with girls” thing with Joe but now that she’s home, they’re best friends again. I wonder how to navigate that next year when she goes back to traditional schooling (I think?).

      • pastordt

        Speak against it just like you did with the boys in the library, calmly and firmly. My six year old granddaughter considers her 3 boy cousins around her age to be among her best friends. It can still happen at 6…I have some concerns about the next few years, however… :>(

  • Jenn

    Your boy sounds a lot like my boy (he’ll be 3 in June)… it drives my husband crazy, but I think it’s fine!

  • Laura_InTheBackyard

    Noah has a bunny that is his everywhere friend and pseudo baby.  (Right along with his basketball obsession and Buzz Lightyear superfandom.)  I adore it all.  I’m dreading encounters with library boys because I know they’re probably coming and so help me…  

    • Sarah Bessey

      You and me both, sister. 

  • Kathleen Quiring

    Oh, I loved this. I loved the story of Joe and Shawn. And the story of the boys in the li-berry made me SO ANGRY! You are such a spectacular writer. And your boy sounds perfect.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Well, he’s not perfect but I sure like him! 😉 And thank you, Kathleen, so much. 

  • mundanemusings

    You can tell Joe that my 6yo boy, my 10yo boy and even my nearly grown teenager still have their babies/animals they take care of. Seth’s is a small monkey named Dexter and while he stays home more, there was a time that he went everywhere with us. He’s a part of the family. Noah still has a small baby doll that he had as a toddler. He can’t bare to get rid of it. It sits in the back of a drawer. He can’t stand the thought of getting rid of it. They are the roughest and toughest wrestlers, ball players and muddy kids you’ve met. Nothing wrong with having a baby.

    • Sarah Bessey

      That is brilliant, Bek! Love it!

  • Lindsay

    We often think and talk about how hard it is to be a girl, and it is, but you’re right: it is hard to be a boy, especially if you don’t fit into the stereotypes. My little man loves to take of his baby as well, almost as much as he loves to drive his bus and bug his sister. We often say he is “all-boy,” and that includes his love for his baby too. Hopefully we can all speak “into the village” a little more until it’s just boys and girls being themselves and being accepted for that. And it will be a good day when our boys know that it’s wonderful to be nurturing and loving.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Yes and amen.

  • Jenn

    Oh my heart! I can’t handle it! What a sweet boy…I used to babysit for a family of 3 boys who had dolls and a kitchen and a playhouse and are growing into the most amazing men ever. They are all boy..a head taller than all the kids in their class they downhill bike, snowboard and play soccer competitively and STILL love babies. When I had my daughters in was amazing to see how sweet they were with them. My daughter is in love with the “big boys” to this day. You go mama, keep raising him to love babies…. :)

    • Sarah Bessey

      Yes, ma’am! xo

      • pastordt

        Our big grandparent gift for each of our daughter’s trio of boys was good quality wooden kitchen set (for our son’s girls, too). BEST GIFT EVER. The 6 year old still plays with it some.

  • Cat

    I’m so glad you told those boys!  I love that Joe is being so tender and nurturing!  :)

  • Stephanie Spencer

    I have 2 boys. Ages 5 and 20 months. They both love playing with Cabbage Patch babies. And our family is unashamed about that. They also both have some favorite stuffed animals that they care for very compassionately.

    Thanks for sharing your story about Joe and Shawn. I wonder, would a girl have been picked on by other girls for carrying an action figure? I’m thinking maybe yes. 

    • Sarah Bessey

      Yes, you’re probably right. It’s on all sides, isn’t it?

  • Leanne Penny

    This makes me pray that I can give my own son the tools to open and nurturing.  Your son sounds way too cute to be true.  

    • Sarah Bessey

      Oh, he’s cute all right – and infuriating at times like most kids! But he’s adorable and wonderful and so much, yes, he is.

  • Krista

    My oldest wanted to carry his Mickey Mouse around all tied up in his blankie because that’s what I was doing with his baby brother.  He was also 3.  He now is 5 (well, tomorrow anyway) and wants to hold his new baby sisters and will lay on the floor next to them talking to them.  So sweet!  I hope he always loves babies too.  As well as his younger brother who is also loving his new role as a big brother!
    Also, how much did this post remind me of the British show Shaun the Sheep???  If you haven’t seen it you must look it up.  Super cute, clean, and your kids would love it!

    • Sarah Bessey

      Yes, that’s actually where Shawn got his name! Joe is a dedicated fan of Shaun the Sheep. I am probably spelling “Shawn” wrong – my first draft of this had it spelled “Sean” but Anne spotted it and reminded me that there is an “H” in there. Oops!

  • Hilary Sherratt

    I’m so sorry that those boys were so mean – it reminds me of days on the school bus, where people made and broke friendships so easily. But your son seems to be such a sweet, full of life boy. I haven’t commented very much before, but I love reading your words. Thank you for sharing them.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Thank you, Hilary – that means a lot to me to hear. 

  • Mary Beth Loewen

    So glad you spoke up. I love it when I see the nurturing side of my boys ( and my husband too…he is a great example to them). It melts my mama heart. 

    • Sarah Bessey

      Mine, too!

  • Heather

    what a sweetheart! and good for you for standing up for him at the library! this post reminded me of an article i read recently about the growing gender gap among toys manufactured for kids. in case you’re interested:

    • Sarah Bessey

      Oh, that does look interesting – thank you for sharing it.

  • Erin Ruggeri

    I have two boys and I’ve been there. My older son’s friends don’t seem to understand that my youngest is just two and its okay for smaller kids to act differently. Two year olds don’t have to be big kids and don’t have to conform to the older kid’s playground rules about what defines boys and girls (thankfully!). I do notice a big difference in understanding and acceptance between children who have younger siblings and those who don’t however so I thank God that my oldest has a younger brother to remind him how treat younger kids.

    • Sarah Bessey

      I agree, I notice the same thing. sometimes, it’s just that kids haven’t been exposed to little ones and don’t know how to care for younger ones. Siblings are good for empathy training.

  • Kamille Scellick

    so many thoughts streaming through on this…I’m glad Joe has you as his mama & Brian as his papa.  

    • Sarah Bessey

      Thank you, Kamille. 

  • Jim Fisher

    One day my 5YO grandson asked, rather sheepishly, why I was wearing a “girl color”. I was wearing a pink dress shirt with new jeans that day. I quickly responded that there is no such thing as a girl color or a boy color, but there are just colors that boys and girls happen to like most often. I happened to like pink that day. In his black-and-white mind, I don’t think I made my point, but I am sure we will revisit it again as he grows older. And then I can pull out the well-worn phrase I repeated often as my two daughters were growing up. Whenever they said, “Dad?!? You’re weird,” my answer was, “Normal is boring” (or later, “Normal is just a setting on a washing machine.”)

    I agree with all of you. Teaching (and modeling, Dads!!) how to nurture, to empathize, to love unconditionally is one of the greatest gifts a parent can give a son.

    • Sarah Bessey

      I love that! I might start to use it, Jim: “Normal is boring” is my new mantra!

  • rae

    Way to come to the rescue!!  This story brought tears to my eyes because I have a newly 3 year old boy who also loves to walk like a dinosaur and wrestles and calls everyone FRIEND and is so NICE and cares so much and love babies and taking care of little people.  Little open, caring, loving souls – I just want to protect them all. And this post prompted my first comment, but I’ve been reading and loving it all for ages.

    • Sarah Bessey

      Oh, Rae, thank you for your comment – glad to know you’re “here.”

  • Heretic Husband

    I have a four year old daughter, and she already refers to certain toys as “boy toys”.  Neither my wife or I has ever used this phrase AFAIK.  I don’t know if she heard it somewhere else or if children naturally draw these distinctions.  I explained to her that there are no girl toys or boy toys.  

    She likes “typical girl” things (dolls and tea parties) and “typical boy” things (she enjoys it when I read her comic books – Green Lantern is her favorite so far).  I know that situations like the one you described in the library are coming, and it breaks my heart.  People suck*

    * myself included, sometimes.

    • Sarah Bessey

      I know – I don’t know where they get this from? I wonder that, too. And yes, I suck, too, I admit.

  • Katiepforte

    I have a Joe, now 6, who had a sheep he loved! He called it Sheep :) He has sadly moved on and donated it to his baby sister.

  • pastordt

    Omigosh I LOVE THIS. Yes, boys can love babies, too. I would HOPE and PRAY that they can love babies. My ‘boy’ will be 40 in June (oh, God above, how is that possible??) and I’ve never seen anything quite like the way he loves his own babies. And how he has loved his sisters’ babies. And how he loves his friends’ babies. And don’t even get me started about my husband – oh, glory be, that man adores babies. And I thank God for that truth every single day of my life. You use those angry eyes, girl. And you carefully tell any village you walk into that it’s more than acceptable for boys to love babies. It’s required. Sweet Jesus, yes, it is required. (Mark 9 this week for my daily Lenten discipline – it’s got me hot under the color on this entire topic, for boys and girls: welcome the child…yes, yes, yes.)

  • Handsfull

    Wanted to say that we’re Shaun the Sheep fans at this house too!  And that my 3 boys have all loved ‘girl stuff’ – wearing their big sister’s sparkly pink frilly dress-up stuff.  Often worn with gumboots underneath, lol!  My baby boy has just turned 2, and was given a baby doll for his birthday (because he kept running off with big sister’s dolls), and he loves it.  Carts it round the house and goes to sleep with it carefully tucked up beside him :)  We tell him (and anyone else that raises an eyebrow!) that he’s practising being a daddy.  Girls practise being mummies, why on earth shouldn’t boys practise being daddies?!

  • Amy Laurens

    Oh Sarah. I’ve just recently found your blog, and you speak straight to my heart. I have a 6 month old son, and my heart breaks for the days when I will have to face this too. Thank you. Thank you for giving me courage through your words.