Hannah has this wonderfully soft, floppy Elmo stuffed toy that Jonah has been carrying around and caring for the past few days. He holds Elmo on his lap and says things like: "I'm snuggling Elmo. She's nice."
She? I've always thought Elmo was a young male monster.
I have corrected him a couple of times. Hannah has corrected him as well, though she is far less kind about this than I am. Finally today, after Hannah reduced her little brother to tears over which gender pronouns to use when referring to the little red bugger, I sat down with Jonah and asked him why he thinks Elmo is a girl. He looks at me, holds the toy up and very matter-of-factly says: "Elmo does not have a penis." Oh, right, of course.
I've watched both of my children now grapple with this penis/no penis issue. I don't remember going through this as a child, though I'm sure I must have. What I do remember is being in trouble for drawing an anatomically correct picture of my brother when I was about 7 years old. I think I was supposed to be old enough to know that it is not a very christian thing to do, noticing a penis and including it in my art.
Hannah went through a period at 18 months or so of asking, at every diaper change, whether she or people on this long list of people she knew had a penis (which she pronounced "peence"). Do I have a penis? No, you do not have a penis. Does Mom have a penis? No, Mom does not have a penis. Does Dad have a penis? Yes, Dad has a penis. Does Owen have a penis? Does Jayme have a penis? and so on. Around this time, before she turned 2, she made John blush by announcing to my mother that "I don't have a peence, but my dad does!" For quite some time, it seemed she thought of this as very much a matter of some people being thus endowed, others not--simply an interesting topic of conversation, a genetic quirk of some kind like having your second toe longer than your big toe. Then, unprompted by either of her parents, she resolved things as follows: boys have penises, girls just have butts.
This is what she has taught Jonah, going through the list of his friends and her friends and the adults in their lives, telling him which ones are boys, which ones girls. Which ones have penises, which ones "just a butt". (We have told her that she--along with other females--has a vagina and a uterus where she can, someday, grow babies and that boys do not have these. She's not very interested in this information yet.) Jonah's a good learner and so far, what Hannah says pretty much goes unchallenged. He does show some signs of dismay that I, his own amazing mother, do not have a penis. He was downright perplexed when he was playing with a doll and noticed that it did not have a penis. I took him to be worried that he might lose his own penis. And then he'd be a girl. Like Elmo.