Finn gets a doll
Susan wonders why it isn't acceptable for boys to play with toy humans.
It happened when Roxi, Finn and I were queueing down the aisle of a stationary shop, waiting to buy the last of the cheap electricity. The queue was long – we were obviously not the only ones in the neighbourhood who'd decided to stockpile while we could. Finn was sitting in a trolley – not because we were planning to buy THAT much electricity, but because that's where Finn is happiest when we're out shopping.

We were fortuitously standing in the children's toy aisle and I watched our son's face as he scanned each toy before plucking one off the shelf. And what he got himself was a bright pink baby doll with eyes that open and shut. He studied each finger and toe before settling on a game of let's flick the doll's eyes open and closed for as long as we stood in the queue.

Now, Roxi and I are always on the hunt for toys that capture our son's imagination for longer than it takes to drench the thing in drool. And we seemed to have struck on the perfect one. Not only was Finn fascinated by this small baby look-alike but we could add to his vocabulary by teaching fingers, toes, eyes open and shut, eyes open and shut. When Roxi asked him what the dolly's name was, Finn gurgled and said, 'Nleeshella'. 'Neela!' exclaimed Roxi, 'That's a lovely name!' It was only when we got to the checkout and the cashier smiled broadly at our son and said 'She's such a friendly little girl,' that I remembered: 'Oh ja, boys don't play with dolls.'

It suddenly seemed laughable. Why aren't boys allowed to play with toy humans? Finn has toy animals of every description along with cars and balls and an array of other peculiar objects parading as baby toys. But unlike little girls he doesn't have the opportunity to interact and role play with human toys, like dolls.

A few days later I went out for coffee with a friend, a speech and hearing therapist who specialises in autism, who was visiting from the States. While discussing her work, she mentioned that dolls are a vital tool of therapy. And, she said, that by the time little five-year-old boys get to her for play therapy they are 'starved for interaction with dolls.' And so a couple of days ago, one cold rainy afternoon, I decided to do what I usually do when I've run out of entertainment options. I took Finn to a large nearby toy shop to test the toys. But instead of letting Finn careen the length of the store in one of their zootiest walking rings, like I usually did, I decided to look at their dolls and see if they had ones that weren't necessarily clad in screaming pink.

The sales assistant's face was already miserable when I got to her, but after enquiring whether they might have any dolls for boys, she scrunched it up into confusion and disdain. I do believe that if she could've she would've spat as she said, 'Dolls for boys?! NO! No!' and then again, 'No, there's no dolls for boys!' I tried to lay down my case of why I believed it was ridiculous that boys 'couldn't' play with dolls. And at one point I thought I might even have had her. But her brain was hardwired and she finally pointed quickly towards the doll aisle before stomping off in the opposite direction. Once I was faced with the dolly shelf it was clear that most dolls are in fact dressed in pink, and that Neela was perhaps as a good a doll as any for our young son.

It's been nearly three weeks and Finn continues to play with his doll... nearly as much as his ball. And I'm certain that if only it could roll around, Neela would win best toy, hands down. She has also been a great help for Finn's two mothers. When he refuses to eat, we pretend that Neela is eating his food, which sometimes encourages him along. When Finn is tired we point at Neela, who is invariably lying spread-eagled on the kitchen floor with her eyes tightly shut, and say, 'See Finn. Neela doodoo'. And although he doesn't usually follow suit, he does smile cheekily enough so that we know that he understands exactly what we want of him, and I like to think that he gets some degree of comfort from knowing that him and Neela are in the same boat.

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