The other night, in the middle of my crusade to find every dirty dish in the house (there’s always that one that finds its way into the sink 37 seconds after you push the “start” button on the dishwasher, making you wonder if it would be acceptable to just throw it away- or through the damn window…), I heard, “What do you think? Do I look fancy??”
I turned to see two little arms held out to me, adorned with colorful bracelets and whimsical rings. The fingers, shining with dark pink polish, wiggled and waved gracefully for effect.
I smiled, gasped and exclaimed, “Oh my gosh, I LOVE that look, Vince!” and tousled his wild orange hair as he beamed proudly and bounced away to get my husband’s opinion.
My son loves jewelry. He curls up under his favorite “super soft” blanket on our couch, watches my friend’s Paparazzi Jewelry parties on Facebook, and delights in picking out pieces to add to his collection, which he keeps carefully displayed in his bedroom.
He’s been asking me to paint his nails since he was two years old- I took him for his first real manicure a few months ago and he practically glowed with happiness while they gave his tiny fingers a hot towel massage and pretended to push his cuticles.
He enjoys sword fights, dinosaur facts, ice cream that’s been slightly warmed, cuddling during cartoons, pretending to be a monster while demolishing his Lego creations, and wobbling around in my heels while singing, “I am fabulooouuus!”
His little sister, Grace, has decided to be SpiderMan for Halloween- I barely got the Minnie Mouse dress over her head before she flat-out rejected it. Her favorite way to amuse herself is to chug her milk and then burp as loudly as she possibly can. She thinks “playing” with her big brother involves wrapping her legs around his neck and flipping him over like a pint-sized MMA fighter in a Doc McStuffins Pull-Up.
I once joked to a friend that my house is where stereotypes go to die. This is why.
But beyond the occasional joke, none of this fazes us. We don’t really think about it. And why should we, really? Our kids follow their hearts and do what makes them happy. They’re well-rounded. End of story.
But it’s not really the end of the story, is it? Not for me, at least.
Regardless of how “live and let live” the atmosphere is in our home, I know the world can be a much less accepting place. And it scares the Hell out of me.
I can remember about a dozen times that I’ve heard, “Are his nails painted?” “You let him paint his nails?” “You aren’t worried what that might lead to?” “Do you think you might be confusing him?” “Do you think he’ll outgrow it?”
Just to pre-emptively answer all those well-meant queries for anyone who has been planning to ask:
Yes, his nails are painted.
No, of course I don’t let him do it! He doesn’t have the precision yet- I do it for him.
I was worried that it might lead to him having nicer nails than me. But I’ve accepted it.
He’s not confused. He knows what he likes. Telling him it’s somehow wrong for him to engage in an innocent pastime that makes him smile- that might confuse him, no?
He might paint his nails until he’s 8. He might be coming with me for a mani/pedi, sushi and cocktails when he’s 28. My only request is that he uses the non-toxic polish- it’s healthier.
I’m subjected to far fewer “well-meaning” comments about Gracie, mostly because we are moving in a direction in which strong-willed, independent women are being encouraged instead of bopped on the head and told to get back in the kitchen and bake some muffins. As an aside, I’d love to be a fly on the wall if anyone ever tries to say that to my daughter. I’m pretty sure they’ll end up crying in a corner, covered in muffin mix.
But this isn’t a political rant- I swear. It’s just….just, why?? Why can’t kids just be happy? Why can’t they just express themselves however they see fit? I just…I just don’t get it.
I lie awake at night every time Vince picks the hot pink polish for our at-home manicures. What if another kid makes fun of him? What if he takes it to heart? What if he gets teased so much that he eventually suppresses major parts of his personality that he’s being told aren’t “tough” enough?
When Gracie asks me, “Am I beautiful?” I make sure to answer, “Of course! And you are fierce and strong, my love. Fierce, strong, and beautiful!” Because when she’s inevitably subjected to “beauty” according to social media, I want her to remember that there are other vital components to a woman’s personality. I want her to know that the way in which she articulates an argument or persists through a trying time are infinitely more important that fitting in a size 2 skirt.
One might say I’m over-reacting. And my response would be, “Hi, I’m Cathy! Worrying is my Super Power!” I’d be the Michael Phelps of the “What If” Olympics. But honestly, I’d rather give them more strength and support than they’ll ever need, than find out years from now that I didn’t give them enough.
I’m not so Mary Poppins that I think my love will be enough to buoy them forever. No matter how much of a shield I help them build against ignorance, it will sometimes find its way in. And I don’t know how they’ll react when that happens. But I do know that last month as I walked through the door of Vince’s school, I saw this:
Friend- “Your nails are painted pink? Only girls paint their nails! Are you a GIRL???”
Vince- “Well then, I guess I’m a girl!!”
Then he smiled and giggled at his friend, slipped his beautifully-manicured hand in mine, and strolled to the car with all the carefree confidence I wish I could possess at 34 years old.
I hope they will both always be that peacefully and beautifully fierce; I pray they will always know who they truly are.
If I have anything to say about it….they will.