The morning of my class, my daughter shocked me by requesting a bow for her hair. I brought it down and showed her. N, realizing what she had done, shrieked NO.
But my son turned to me and said: I want a yellow bow.
I paused, considering.
This past Sunday, we went out to lunch. E had been playing dress up before we left. He was a princess in a yellow Snow White dress. As we were packing up, he asked to wear it to lunch. I was nervous, but I didn’t want to change our parenting style for the possibility of a dirty look that may not even come.
We don’t teach much gender at home. E knows that basics of anatomy and how that differentiates girls from boys. But everyone gets to wear pink or blue or run or play soccer or be princesses. Even pronouns are not emphasized. Who cares? has been our theme.
We drove to the deli. People stared when we entered, but the adults were unwilling to say or do any more. It was a gaggle of middle school girls who began the snickering. They were on a sports team of some sort. And their blatant whispers incited the DEATH STARE. I told Scott LOUDLY that the girls were being rude. E heard me and asked if they were making fun of him. I lied and said no.
I couldn’t hurt him like that.
The girls were only showing what they know. Their fears. Of not fitting in. Of being different. Of being excluded. They were reflections of their parents’ fears of the same.
So many teach the words, we can all be whomever and whatever we want to be, and follow it up with actions that say, as long as we conform.
But in my heart, I worried: Am I setting him up? I live in the South. I live in a state that bans gay marriage and people call the police when a black man is in a certain neighborhood. A boy in a dress has no business here.
We sat further away from the crowds and I wouldn’t let E go anywhere without Scott or I by his side. And when we got home, I put on my princess dress, too. In a show of solidarity that I wished I had thought of before we left for lunch.
We spun and laughed. Eventually, we moved on to soccer and superheroes.
My son, oblivious.
Until I’m faced with this second chance. A chance to let my son wear whatever he wants to wear or tell him that he can’t wear a yellow hair bow outside of our home. I can change my parenting ideals to meet the unfair standards that people who merely believe that they believe in equality of gender and the rights of men and women to follow their dream but can’t even handle a boy in a dress.
Or a bow.
I said: Yes.
His school is very progressive, and I believed that he would be safe.
As I relayed the weekend lunch to his teacher, my son walked up to me crying.
E: He called me a girl.
The teacher stepped in and helped E and this boy negotiate.
I walked to my car and burst into tears.
I didn’t want to make my son’s social life more difficult.
I didn’t want to conform to ideas that I believe are stupid.
Pink for girls.
Blue for boys.
When I picked E up from school, he was happy.
He handed me the bow that was no longer in his hair.
I asked him how his day went as we drove home
Me: Did you work things out about being a boy and wearing the bow?
Me: The other boy only knows what he’s been taught. He doesn’t know that boys can wear whatever they want.
E: It’s interesting.
He wouldn’t talk further, and I let it drop.
But as I was walking to class, I reached into my pocket and pulled out the forgot yellow bow.
I clipped to my bag so I, too, would remember to be myself.
To be the best Alex I can be.
And sometimes I wear bows. And sometimes I wear baseball caps. And sometimes I cry for my little boy who can’t be everything he wants in this world.
I remind myself to add YET.
Because I believe that it won’t always be this way. Each generation, while perhaps not financially better off, is more open and tolerant than the last.
And in the face of hatred, we learn every year to judge people less by what they wear or who they look like, and more by the person they are trying to be.
But progress is slow. And children are sensitive.
Today, at the children’s museum, my son went over to the dress-up bin. He asked his dad to find him boy clothes.
I cried when my husband told me.
Sometimes, I truly hate the world and how far we have to go.
How tiring it is to want more for our children.
But I still keep the yellow bow on my bag. In case, any little boys change their mind.
The follow-up post to this piece is Princess Solidarity.