On most days in our house, my 3-year-old son can be seen for some length of time wearing a dress.
Before we entered legit Disney-approved princess dress territory, my son would bring us long scarves (once used for sensory play when both my sons were infants) to fashion into royal capes, dresses or skirts. If we wrapped the scarf around his shoulders, he was a queen. If it was wrapped under his arms, like an empire-waist, he was a princess. If the dress didn’t touch the floor, however, we may as well have been dressing him as an astronaut because if it doesn’t touch the floor, it just plain isn’t royal.
I admit that I wasn’t quick to buy him the first princess dress he asked me for -- a sparkly Elsa dress. I think that when you have a second child, you kind of hope that you’re not going to get thrown any new wrenches. I wasn’t gung-ho about having to deal with a completely new territory of parenthood with my second kid. I wanted things to be easy and predictable (or as close to that as possible).
I figured he could play “princess” with the odds and ends we had around the house already. Was there a part of me that didn’t want to encourage his inner princess from coming out? Maybe. Perhaps I was hoping we could satisfy his “royal” craving by adorning him in scarves and calling it a day (and maybe it would pass). But then one day, during a Superbowl party at a friend’s house, we noticed that our young son had been occupying himself for quite some time in our friend’s daughter’s room. When I went to check on him, I found him in an almost dreamlike state in her closet, among her vast collection of fake-gem-encrusted princess dresses and shoes. He asked if he could put one on, and even though it was three sizes too big, he wore the dress like it was tailor-made. Oh, and the shoes. The shoes! He clomped along in those too-big purple, sparkly heels, watching the way his toes peeked out from underneath the skirt of the dress and admiring how the hem trailed along the floor behind him.
This was it for me. Seeing him in his first “real” dress was the push I needed to let go of whatever was holding me back from allowing him to have his own princess dress, and engaging fully in his princess play. Every part of his being radiated happiness. He looked like he felt special. And why not? Princesses are special. Why would I deny him this feeling?
The next day, we borrowed an Elsa dress from the same friend, and he wore it to the playground. He disappeared into an imaginary world on top of a snowy mountain, singing about how “the cold never bothered him anyway.”
I posted a picture of his joy online, and immediately the calls from family came pouring in.
“I saw an interesting picture today,” quipped one member.
“You let him wear that outside of the house?” said another.
“Maybe you can just tell him we only wear dresses indoors?” suggested yet another, as if I had asked for their advice.
No. I live in Brooklyn. Boys get to wear princess dresses here, without much more than a second glance being thrown their way if they get that at all.
In preparation for our upcoming Disney trip, I considered ordering him a princess dress online. But then I thought, why not let him pick out his own right there, in the heart of it all? My mom, who was accompanying us to Disney, asked, “Can’t you encourage him to buy a prince costume? Or what about a cowboy costume?”
“He doesn’t want to be a prince. Or a cowboy,” I said. “He wants to be a princess.”
On day three at Disney, we rode the Frozen ride, and lo and behold, during our exit through the gift shop he spotted The Dress.
“Elsa dress! Elsa dress!” he shouted. He was practically hyperventilating.
We hastily tugged it over his t-shirt and jeans as soon as we paid for the poofy, sparkly number, and he commenced a heartfelt rendition of “Let it Go,” as little girls everywhere are wont to do in their Elsa dresses while standing in the middle of the fake city of Arendelle in Epcot center. Even my mom could not deny that it was pretty cute.
In the months since, we have quickly grown our collection of dresses and princess dolls. His most recent dress aquisition was Belle’s yellow gown from Beauty and Beast, and when he put it on, his older brother let out an audible gasp and said, “Wow, you look so beautiful.”
I admit, this is a lot fun for me. As a mother of two boys, I didn’t expect to be able to have a little princess in my life. I didn’t expect to get to play dolls with my son, and have little high-heeled doll shoes stuck in crevices in my couch. I certainly did not expect trails of glitter all over my house and my furniture. But I also have to remember that I can’t spoil him with every dress or doll just because I want him to know I’m ok with however he chooses to play or dress.
Some people have suggested that I prepare myself for the possibility that my son might identify as a female and that the insistence on wearing dresses could be the beginning of something much bigger for him. Maybe it is a possibility. Maybe it isn’t. Some people have asked if I am “worried”. Worry is the farthest thing from my mind, which is something that surprises me, because worry is something that comes naturally to me. I am so not worried. Far from it.
I love my son so very much. I love him as a princess. I love him not as a princess. I’ll love him if at some point he tells me he is a girl or if he tells me he likes boys. I know this because I thought I had a problem with him being a princess until I saw his face when he put on that first dress, and I thought, what I wouldn’t give to see my son this happy forever.
So I don’t know what this all means, if it means anything. What I do know is that my boy is a princess on some days, a queen on others, and other days he’s just himself.
Illustration by Amanda Crowley, for Well Rounded.