The Shape of Our Dignity: The Classification of Toys

Posted inCreative Voices

She wasn’t like other moms— at least not what I remember of my friends’ moms in the neighborhood. She was always searching for her place; her belonging. Her fit in to stand out.

She always had a project. Several projects, in fact, that seemed to never be complete. She found joy in the next new creative idea. I’m not sure why she didn’t finish what she started. Often the timeline of crafts sat in baskets in a dark room in our basement.

That’s not to say every project wasn’t finished. I know that she wanted so much for us as kids. She showed it by the things she bought to fill our home. I know she loves me… but I’m not sure who she sees as me.

I never realized how poor we were. It never hit me, until I was older and began to understand the moments in my childhood that seemed so dark. She never missed a birthday. Each holiday was more glorious than the next. There was one thing that was for certain— she was consistent in finding the next idea.

More often than not, it was frustration that I saw on her face that stopped some of these projects. She seemed defeated, often. Angry with something that didn’t exist. In spite of it all, I know she loved us in our own little classifications.

You see, my mother was set on the idea that I was to play with Barbies. My sister received all the baby doll stuff. My brother had Lego, G.I. Joes, Hot Wheels… the cool things.

I didn’t “play” with my barbies, and my mother would argue that a young girl should not play with “boy toys” like that of Lego and Tonka. I was a sad and jealous kid— jealous my big brother always got to do all the cool things. Jealous my little sister got away with everything. Sad that no one seemed to see me for me, especially my mother.

My mother was studying to be an interior designer. I remember swatches of fabric and carpet piled on the kitchen table. She had a large file folder of paint chips. She collected remnants of mauves and greens, flowers and ducks. She had a beautiful image of what life should look like, and stuffed it all on our home’s walls.

Each section of our living room was a curated theme and scene that tied from one to the next. A bunny sitting on a bench with a little girl in concert with her little violin, framed in brass and glass. Mounted in boards that brought out the details in the print. Decorated items of a small stuffed bunny and violin tacked to the wall, in museum-like quality.

Her obsession with bunnies and ducks spruced up each room in our home; right down to the decor and details in my sister’s and my room. She was bunnies and bows. I was ducks and hearts. In pastels, she with blues and oranges, and I with pinks and greens. The nightmare of pastel pinks still haunts me.

It changed though, the walls in my mind. I became numb from the shit girls are supposed to do. Further, I went to places that didn’t have to be real. The fractures took over often. How funny it seems that today my favorite color isn’t of the pastel variety, but indeed is hot pink.


Sean Childers-Gray is a designer, writer, trans advocate, and educator. This essay was originally published on his Substack, The Shape of Our Dignity.