When no.1 son was maybe three or four years old, Mrs TL took him to Toys ‘R Us to buy some wellington boots. They were walking each day to and from nursery and our north-western climate guaranteed plenty of puddles to splash in.
Faced with a shelf of cartoon-branded boots, no.1 son had no hesitation selecting the pair for him. He carried the sparkly pink boots to the check-out, where the cashier said, “Now, they can’t be for you, can they.”
“Yes, they’re mine,” came the correction.
Unaffected by social conditioning, no.1 son wore the boots happily for a term or two. But soon enough, we found the boots with ink scrawled across them, as though he had tried to strike out their unacceptable appearance. Our society’s arbitrary allocation of colour to gender had caught up with him.
Our daughter picked up the family’s pink baton (and probably the boots) with clothing, toys and accessories in the many shades available. This persisted until the age of six, when given a new bedroom and the choice of wall colour, she opted for.. blue. Pink still features in her palette but it has faded.
No.2 son has always been more conventional in colour choice. The primary school lost a much loved teacher to breast cancer. To mark her contribution to the school and raise money for a cancer charity, the school has an annual Pink Day. Mrs TL had the hardest time trying to find anything pink that he would agree to wear to reception class, settling with a ribbon on his school bag.
On the one hand, the arbitrary opposition by gender, blue versus pink, is ridiculous. I think I have read it swapped over at some point in the first half of the last century. On the other hand, it’s easy to understand why children go along with it, rather than attract their peers’ comment and attention.
I don’t think I have seen a junior football team playing in pink kit. Were I to see one, I would admire their flouting of convention, but worry for their player recruitment. The first time no.2 son went to a mini-tournament with other clubs, his side had a match with another team wearing red shirts. Our coach had the bag of bibs and handed out six pink vests. The boys looked at each other, perhaps recognised that none could ridicule another, and put them on. Next to me, behind one of the goals, a dad sighed as though jabbed in the gut, “Ooh. They’re a goal down already.”
Then this Christmas, things have come full circle. Both boys wanted football boots. Mrs TL took notes on preferred brands and models, searched the internet and placed orders. When no.1 son’s pair arrived, I queried if they had been the type he had specifically requested. She confirmed they were. And so on Christmas morning, no.1 son once again became the proud owner of pink boots.
Poor weather has meant the boots are yet to make their competitive debut. But we did have a kick-about with my Touchline Pal and his son. On seeing the boots, my friend said to no.1 son, “They’re nice. You’ll have to play well in them, you know.”