I didn't try to shape them. I let my eldest play with dolls (which had been mine as a kid) and I painted his toenails only when he requested it, which was every week. Daddy tried his best to not freak out, but the nail polish did him in on occasion.
When I was pregnant, Big Pants carried his doll "Baby Brudder" around everywhere he went, and it was cute. He has always been very protective and sweet to his kid brother ever since, too. I let them both wear my high heeled shoes and steal my purses when they asked, as long as I wasn't using them.
Plenty of people said they wondered about Big Pants. He told his father he wanted to be a Mama when he grew up, and when Daddy said he couldn't, he cried for twenty minutes straight. I told him he could be anything he wanted and Mama would always love him. (I don't know why I talk to my kids in the third person, but I do.) I thought at the time that Daddy was so much less fun than Mama and that was why he chose me as a role he wanted to emulate, not because of physical differences. The older he gets the more sure I am that he is happy to be a boy.
Do you know what happened with Big Pants? He got older. He developed a sensitivity for sex role differentiation at the age the doctors said he would. He fell in love with football and baseball and scorns nail polish. He would never believe that he ever wanted to be a Mama.
Tonight he found a hole in his favorite teddy bear, so he made the bear a little bed with a mini-pillow and a beloved baby blanket we still have hanging around. He tucked him in very carefully and gently, then picked up "Sports Illustrated for Kids" and snuggled in to read himself to sleep.
He has not yet developed an interest dating anyone of either sex, and I'm glad to put it off for as long as I can. I assume someday he will want to hold hands with someone, and eventually kiss them and talk on the phone with them for hours. I assume he will be attracted to the opposite sex. But he is going to be who he is. There is nothing I can do to make him gay or straight or cisgendered or transgendered.
What I can do is equally important, though. I can refuse to my push my issues on him and not make him feel ashamed. I can teach him to be sensitive to other people of other persuasions. I can talk about sexuality and gender differences as normal. I can let him know that is really doesn't matter to me at all.
And you know what? I am damn proud of who he is right now- a seven year old boy who just likes sports and bears and doesn't even think about girls. Whomever he winds up being when he is grown up, my pride will come from how he treats the people he loves, not what the people he loves looks like. You know what else is ok? If he doesn't choose to marry anyone of either sex. If he doesn't date. The world does not have to go around two by two. In spite of this summer's rains, I haven't built an ark.
My youngest son is now also leaving behind the toenail polish stage that made Daddy insane. He no longer asks, and I don't offer. I'm a little sad, though, to see him leave the ambiguous world of toddlerhood and enter the realm of being "a man's man" or more appropriately, "a boy's boy." I'm glad I had those moments of painting tiny toes. I'm glad I didn't shame the sensitivity out of them by trying to toughen them up. The world will do that for me soon enough - they don't need to be torn down by Mama.