It all started with a pink pool toy. It was just an ordinary toy, but this one pool toy made me question my values and my deeply held beliefs. It took me down a peg. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a little bit. 

During the summer, my husband, one-year-old son and I took a short vacation in a nearby town. We were staying in a hotel with a nice pool and I had bought the perfect pool toy for our son. It was a small boat, with holes so he could stick his legs through and float around the pool. There was just one problem. I had left that toy at home. 

Determined to enjoy the pool, I sent my husband across the street to Walmart to buy another one. He came back shortly and tossed the bag on the sofa. I opened the box and my heart sunk. 

It was pink. Bright pink. It was not just a pool float toy either. There was also a shirt with a built-in flotation device. It was also very bright pink. With flowers. 

“I’m not sure this will work,” I said

“Why not?” he asked. “It will fit him, I think.”

I didn’t want to say why not. So I tried another excuse.

“Maybe he can just use the bottom part?” I thought out loud. “Oh no, you need both pieces. Hmm, maybe we can just carry him.”

“Okay,” he said, taking another look at it. “It is really bright pink. I didn’t see that when I bought it.”

“What was the big deal,” I asked myself. My son certainly wouldn’t care. But I did. I didn’t want to care, but I found, to my dismay, that I did care. What was I so afraid of? Sure, I would probably have to explain that he was a boy if there was anyone else in the pool. Maybe it would be awkward for a minute, but I would probably never see anyone at this hotel again. 

I knew this, but I still hesitated.

Every part of me wanted to say that it was not a big deal – that it was just a color. Every part of my brain told me that I should just put my kid in that darn toy and go to the pool. I knew this, but that pink pool toy remained in the box. It remains there to this day, unopened. Every time I see it, I feel the shame creep over me. 

I am absolutely embarrassed by my visceral reaction to this toy. I consider myself a very educated person about gender issues. My master’s thesis was about gender in music, for goodness sake. I spent two years of my life reading everything I could about gender issues. A pink pool toy should not elicit such a response from an educated and accepting person like me. Or, the person I thought I was. What if I wasn’t that person at all?

You see, it is one thing to think you will champion a cause or be completely accepting of a new idea in theory and quite another to do it in practice. I am the first person to rant about the unnecessary gendering of children’s toys, but when I was challenged to put my ideas into practice – to reject the idea that pink is for girls –  I failed. The pink pool toy, in five minutes, has changed my perception of myself. I failed and I am ashamed. 

So, what is a flawed parent to do? Well, luckily, I also have a good memory. I will remember this experience. I will remember those feelings of discomfort and shame and use them to become better – not just in theory but in practice. 

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Liz Parker-Cook

Liz is a mother of three children under four and has the dark circles under her eyes to prove it. She is also a high school music teacher, which is much louder than parenting but has much fewer dirty diapers. When she gets any time to herself she writes on her blog: Newbiemomsite.com. She lives in Toronto with her husband, children, and dog. 

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