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“I want blue”, my son Mendel announces. He is referring to his choice of nail polish, which he demands I put on his toes and fingers. That nail polish is something only used by women (and the incidental rock star) is something he does not yet know, and since I am the type of mother that enjoys the gender confused actions of a seven-year-old, I comply. Mendel is a child who likes his world in Technicolor. We paint, draw, and scribble on every surface in the house; who’s to say that one little boy’s nails are off-limits? Besides, there’s nobody to stop us, so we get out the blue bottle, and we polish to our heart’s content.

I am equally permissive when he joins his older sister during dress-up time and proudly shows up in hot pink Princess Jasmine pants, or when, for the gazillionth time, he refuses to get a haircut. What makes a boy a boy, I wonder; is there a blueprint parents should stick to, or is it pretty much all water under the bridge as far as gender identity is concerned?

“He’s such a boy,” my friends tell me when I complain about how Mendel hits, kicks, and punches me on a regular basis. “She’s so cute,” the lady behind the counter tells me when I take him shopping. Although, to be honest, he brings that one on himself when he attempts to show her his imaginary friend, which is a mouse called “Mousy” that sits on his hands. Don’t ask; I have no idea what goes on inside his head, but he’s so cute it can be positively nauseating.

Watching my son, I find it hard not to think about the man he will someday be. I can’t escape it; even this young, he has an independent streak that causes him to live by his own rules, albeit very unique rules. Mendel is big on rules, they help him feel secure and in control.

When you eat breakfast, you always have to ask for exactly the same thing as your sister, but you should never actually eat it. You must ask for the impossible every day (a trip to England, your own car, a giraffe) and then cry when you don’t get it. When you break something it is automatically your mother’s fault. You should never eat the yellow part of the egg.  Never spill water on the carpet, always spill juice or milk. Eat some yoghurt before you throw up.

The list is endless; and the creepy part of it is: he never breaks his own rules. Maybe we should worry less about the hair and nail policy, and more about his obsessive-compulsive nature. Although, he gets it from me, so there’s that.

Written by: Annette Wright