Raising a child, as I have learned over the last six years, includes spending most of your time answering questions. When I hear the phrase, ‘The hustle is real’, I don’t end up thinking of people swindling others for cash instead I picture myself responding to "Who put the baby inside that auntie’s stomach?” and getting a satisfied nod from my kid, without me having to give ‘the talk’ as yet. I do a victory dance in my head. Finding the right answer, and the right tone is the real parenting hustle.
Sometimes you get simpler questions like ‘Who decided that fire engines should be red? Can they be blue? Or purple?’ A simple Google search gave me the answer. I found different coloured fire engines in use across the world. The kid was satisfied with the answer. But the follow up question made me wonder. He asked me simply, “Do pink fire engines have lady drivers?” I had to tell him sternly that a vehicle's colour has nothing to do with who drives the engine. He nodded and went off to play with his red and white fire engine.
I was however left with more questions. What made him ask me that? Why did he assume that it would be a lady driver? While we don’t have any colour demarcations in our home, and as parents we pitch in equally for chores, but it is clearly not enough. Colour-coded lines between the sexes are drawn strong and deep across his entire social circle.
Colour coding of blue or black for boys and pink for girls, is painful. You see it in the toys they get gifted, in kid clothes stores, even in food wrapping. Who knew even chocolates make a distinction. The doll shaped ones are always pink, the robot toys are always wrapped in blue. And thanks to conditioning, the kids then consciously choose these colours themselves. They think it is a default. Their conversations with their peers, is a validation for these choices. Children learn from what they see, and they see that spending time in a kitchen is a mother’s job. The boys being allowed in the kitchen is yet to become a movement in full swing. If you want to introduce your boys to a kitchen set, you will be hard pressed to find one that firstly, doesn’t have an image of a mother holding a ladle, printed on top of the box. Secondly, the entire stove being bright pink! I have struggled to find this ‘gender-neutral’ kitchen in play size model, on the larger scale, I am yet to find dads all over the city spending equal time in the kitchens as their wives.
Boys need to be included in the kitchen, you can teach them to roll out chapatis, a perfect round-shaped one that their future spouses can appreciate. They can be taught to multi-task and chop vegetables while keeping an eye on a saucepan of milk on the boil. These are life skills. It is necessary for all human beings. There is no shame in being in the kitchen, and boys need to be told that and more importantly being shown the same. The onus is on the fathers, elder brothers and even grandfathers, to talk and set the example. And if we can just stop marking out pink and blue markers in our day to day activities, the boys can then move about freely, and not be bullied by their own mates.
This is no hustle, it is real life. The right to choose which ever sex, colour, theme, food they want is okay, and the fact that everything is right for both a girl and a boy. You don’t need pink sneakers to run fast. You don’t need blue apron to enter a kitchen. Wear what you want, any colour. Like the fire engine, it can be any colour, as long as it is always there to put out a fire. The real victory dance is for when we don’t need to decorate a baby shower in just blue or pink. Let's just celebrate life, equally in all its hues.
Sharon Fernandes is a journalist based in Delhi.