About a month ago I remembered how much I like to have my nails painted. I got a suggestion from a friend about a quick-drying brand, you know, because if I’m gonna paint them, I have to do it quickly with two little ones running around. I found a few free minutes where I only had my oldest son, Jackson, with me. I told him to entertain himself for a few minutes while I painted my nails purple (my favorite color if you haven’t figured that out already). He asked to watch and of course I didn’t object. It gave us time to talk, and I do love to hear him talk. He’s so inquisitive and clever. Anyway, when I was done with the first coat he said “Hey, can you paint my nails next?” I didn’t skip a beat and said “of course!” If you’ve read my previous blog posts you know I do not limit him to prescribed gender roles, toys, etc… So, I painted his nails purple too. He liked it so much he asked me to paint his toes. He was ecstatic. You could just see the joy in his face. He was so proud and excited to show his friends at school the next day. Now, I was a little nervous because I wasn’t sure how everyone would react. However, I have worked very hard to instill a strong sense of self-confidence in Jackson and we’ve talked on a regular basis about boys and girls being able to like whatever they like and point out silly things like how McDonald’s always asks if the Happy Meal is for a boy or a girl. Toys are just toys, so they should really ask if kids want the Spiderman or My Little Pony toy (or whatever brands they’re marketing that month). But I digress.
I sent Jackson off to school with his purple nails and wondered all day how it was going. I didn’t get any calls from his teacher or his school so I waited until I got home to find out how things went. When I came home from work he poked his lip out at me and said “The kids didn’t like my nails.” I consoled him and asked him to tell me what happened. He told me how the kids asked why he had his nails painted “because nail polish is for girls” and asked if he was a girl. His reply was simply “No, I’m just a boy who likes to have my nails painted”. I asked him if anyone said anything nice about his nails and he said that his friend who’s a girl liked them and so did his two teachers. He then remembered that one of the bus monitors told him to go home and take it off because it’s for girls. That upset him the most. He said “Mommy, can you go to my school and teach her that nail polish is for everybody?” Believe me I wanted too. But I decided to instead talk to him about tolerance and how not everyone is nice when people do things different than are traditionally done. I told him we just have to be confident in ourselves so when we run into people like that we don’t let it get us down or change our mind about what we like or who we are. I called his teacher the next day and asked her how things went. She said she was surprised but told all the kids that they need to respect everyone, even if they do things differently and that if Jackson and his parents thought it was okay then it was okay. She said the kids were fine after that and went on about their day. She had talked to her daughter about it who is also a teacher and was told “You know, Mom, men used to adorn themselves with jewelry and the like in different times and different cultures.” So, she’s “learning a lot from (her) daughter” and I was very please with how she handled it. I did tell her about the bus monitor so that she could keep her eyes and ears open for any similar comments. I didn’t want to cause a big raucous, but I wanted her to quietly spread the word. I didn’t want Jackson to have to deal with any drama from administration.
After Jackson and I talked about all that he was fine and went to school with his nails painted until it chipped and he wanted to take it off. He kept his toes painted longer. A week or two later he and I were in Target and he asked to pick out some pink nail polish. I found a cheap bottle because it would be just for him. I’m not about to paint my nails pink (not my favorite color). While he was on Spring Break he asked me to paint his nails pink. One of my family members who is very traditional and shall remain nameless asked “what’s this” when they saw his pink nails. When I explained, that person turned and scratched their head but didn’t say anything about it. I was grateful for that because I want Jackson to feel free to be himself around his family. Everyone else in the family has been great about it and this person has either gotten past it or knows not to say anything that might hurt his feelings.
When it was time to get ready to go back to school he asked me to take the polish off his nails but paint just his toes so he could still have some nails painted but the “bad teacher” (bus monitor) wouldn’t know it. It was his little secret he said. Internally I was and have been grimacing over the fact that he has to hide some of the things he likes because it’s not the current cultural trend. I don’t want him to feel ashamed. He doesn’t feel that at this point, but the fact that he thought it would be better to hide it worried me. I don’t want that to be how he handles things in the future, but I guess it’s okay for school. I don’t want him to get bullied but I also want him to be who he is and like what he likes. I guess I should be proud he still liked having his nails painted even after other people reacted the way they did. So, I’m still going back and forth about him feeling the need to hide, but he’s happy so I go along with it. This time he wanted his toes painted in a pattern: pink, blue, pink, blue, etc… He’s been learning about patterns in school so he was excited to be able to do that. I haven’t written about this until now because I wanted to see how he continued to handle it. Jackson has remained happy and has learned to just laugh at any kids that ask if he has his nails painted today or if he’s a girl. He’ll say “Ha, ha, ha silly!” and let it roll off his back because he knows “they just have to learn”. While we were waiting for the bus the other day he asked me to go tell the little girl who lives across the road about how nail polish is for everybody and so is pink and princesses. Well, her grandparents were waiting for the bus with her and I wasn’t about to start up that conversation. They don’t seem like the most open-minded folks, but they are nice and cordial. It just wasn’t the right time. Plus, my inner introvert was too shy. LOL I just told him he could talk with the girl about it on the bus if she brought it up and to let me know if he needed to talk through any conversations he had.
Jackson’s favorite color continues to be pink and he has found a love for all things Disney princesses. He even picked out some Sofia the First pajamas. I keep reminding him that not all girls are princesses and that there are different kinds of female characters he could learn about. There is this great book called “Disney Princess Adventure Stories” that actually tells tales of the princesses saving the day, being daring, creative and smart. I found it for him for Christmas and for the most part find all the stories to be positive examples. They’re still “princesses” and fit the ideal beauty standards, but it’s a step in the right direction. He has since discovered Doc McStuffins and she has quickly become a favorite.
He recently had his 5th birthday and for his party he wanted pink plates, cups, utensils, princess napkins and a princess balloon. We got those things for him because we knew the family and friends around him would be supportive and love him for who he is. He was happy to recently discover that one of his friends who is a boy also likes to have his nails painted. He even had them painted at the party. For his birthday he asked for a princess palace bath toy as well as rescue bots and other various toys. He was super excited to get both of those. We try to balance what kinds of toys we give him and of course avoid the ones with weapons. We also got him some Frozen sheets and he was super excited tonight when I put them on his bed. He is such a sweetheart and I want to continue to encourage him to follow his heart and his interests. It hurt me to hear that the kids’ initial reaction and that of the bus monitor wasn’t positive but I wasn’t surprised. I am just so proud of him that he is still confident in himself and continues to like whatever he wants. He doesn’t limit himself on what he likes and neither will I. I just hope this will last through his lifetime.
I know people’s discomfort with boys liking pink and princess things has a lot to do with homophobia, but just because he likes those things doesn’t mean he’s gay. And if he is, I’m still going to love him and he’s still a valuable human being so people need to get over themselves. These prescribed gender roles are all about trends and the almighty dollar. It has nothing to do with biology (pink used to be marketed to boys and blue to girls in the early 1900’s). It’s time that our culture relaxed these rigid gender roles and let kids be kids, adults be who they want to be and love who they love.
I’ve been thinking how nice it would be to live in a community that was feminist and accepting of difference and non-traditional gender roles. I even thought about starting a Meetup group for the area to connect with parents and kids who just want to be themselves, even if that means breaking out of the pink and blue boxes. I’ll let you know how that goes if I find the time to put it together.
(This post was previously posted on http://www.GrrrlWithBoys.blogspot.com on 5/23/14.)