To cushion the blow should costumes not be allowed every day at kindergarten, we promised him we would take him shopping for whatever he wanted if he couldn't wear his costume.
And that's essentially how I found myself shopping the girls' departments at Dillard's and Target this evening.
After dinner, we looked around online and found the perfect Lego Star Wars shirt (combining his all-time favorite Legos and his current favorite Star Wars). We couldn't find shorts he wanted, so off we went to look in town.
Bean was super excited to be just the two of us. He chattered the entire way there. He held my hand and grinned at me as we crossed the parking lot. As we walked up the steps to the doors of Dillard's he squeezed my hand and said, "You're the best, Mom!" And I felt like the best right then. I'm finding having a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old simultaneously to be REALLY difficult. I don't often get to just sit back and enjoy them, and this was an opportunity to revel in the wonder of my firstborn...who starts kindergarten in just one week.
Long story short, after a trip through the girls' section on our way to the boys' section, I realized just how boring the boys' section is. No bright colors unless they were absolutely IN YOUR FACE. Limited textures. No glitter or sequins. In response to Bean's descriptions of what he wanted, I kept saying "I don't think you'll find that in the boys' section." And "I think we're going to have to look for that in the girls' section."
Even as I said it I was thinking "does he really think it's ok to shop in the girls' section? I mean, I'm calling it the boys' and girls' section...does he really not care? Awesome! Oh wait. Oh no. Kindergarten. Kids can be cruel. WHAT HAVE I DONE?"
My. mind. was. racing.
Though we didn't find any shorts at Dillard's, he did find a Hello Kitty backpack. He had spotted her as we came off the escalator into the girls' section (on our way through to the boys' section). "There's Hello Kitty!" he exclaimed. I was just trying to get us where we needed to go, so I hardly responded even though I wondered how he knew who Hello Kitty was.
After the boys' section, we looked at backpacks and circled back to Kitty (or is her first name Hello? Do I have to call her by her full name? Awkward.). She was shiny and colorful and happy and that was the backpack Bean wanted. After a trip through the girls' section (still no shorts!) with Bean chit chat chattering non-stop while Hello was perched on his shoulder, I was about to break into a sweat. I decided this was the time to talk to him point blank about my concerns.
I said, "it is fine with me if you get this backpack. But I have to tell you that some people may be confused by it, and sometimes when people are confused they are mean. Some people - I don't know why - but some people think boys can't wear 'girl' things <oh yes, I used scare quotes!>. They're often ok with girls wearing 'boy' things, but not with boys wearing 'girl' things. It doesn't even make a lot of sense, because what makes something for girls or for boys, right? But I have to tell you that people might be mean to you about your backpack."
Bean listened to my entire word vomit, smiling and chuckling over "girl stuff" and "boy stuff" as I wish everybody would. And when I finished he said, "Oh. Well then never mind. I don't want it."
I had just enough time to go from relief to "oh fuck I just broke my kid down and made him 'be a boy'" before he said, "no. I do want it. That's the backpack I want."
Phew! I haven't made my kid do anything but be true to himself! Yeehaw!
Oh fuck he has a pink backpack with sequins and a rainbow and a cat with a freaking bow on its head.
So now I am kind of blindly following him around the store and texting The Beast and posting on Facebook (I am 1300 miles from most of my support network, but my goodness did they ever get me through this round of school shopping!). I posted this:
The boys dept is boring. Bean wants shiny and shimmery (because FUN!).And so, as we finished our last sweep of the Dillard's backpack selection, I decided I had to lay it all out for Bean one last time. I found a place to actually sit on the floor so I could really look him in the eye and not just spit words in his general direction.
So here we are shopping the girls dept for "shiny shorts." And I think we are getting a glitter hello kitty backpack. I have warned him about teasing...
I am so scared for him.
Remind me I need to let him make his own mistakes. And we are here impermanently. And we could get him a new backpack if it is just too hard to be so awesome at 5.
"I just need to tell you that I am scared. There is nothing moms fear more than their child being hurt, and I am very afraid of someone hurting your feelings because of this backpack. It is a silly thing for people to be mean about, but I really am afraid they will be mean." In a teasing voice, I told him they might say something like "are you a girly girl? Do you wish you were a girl?" (He couldn't contain laughter at this. I hope it was over the ludicrousness of "girl" as insult. It might have been at my "teasing" tone of voice.)
I told him "I am happy to get you this backpack, but if you think that teasing on the bus from older kids might make you not want to ride the bus..."
"Then I won't have to ride the bus?" he interjected.
"Well...yes. Actually, if you didn't want to ride the bus because kids were mean, I would be able to drive you...but if you think people being mean to you at school would make you not want to go to school? Well, you have to go to school. So then you shouldn't get the backpack."
He just said "ok" in a way that indicated to me he was still getting the backpack. So I said "but if that happened, Dad and I would always back you up. Whatever your choice, we'll help you. I would talk to whoever I need to - kids, parents, teachers - and help you however I can."
He gave me a big hug and a kiss and that was that. For him, anyway.
Then we went to Target. Even after finding a few options from the boys' department, he insisted we look in the girls' department. My first impression: girls' shorts use approximately half the material as boys'!
I gathered girls' shorts in Bean's sizes and continued to be that mom distractedly typing on her cell phone. And I will never feel guilty because my son had just picked out tiny purple satin-y gym shorts and told me in no uncertain terms that those were his first choice and he was going to wear them with his pink-and-sequined Hello Kitty backpack. And a Lego Star Wars shirt.
Imagine my relief when those itsy-bitsy, teeny weeny, purple running shorts in a sateen-y didn't fit. Instead, he chose baggy royal blue shorts that come down to his knees. Obviously intended for boys.
I've said a bit about this on my personal Facebook page already, but I'll share it here. No, I am not sure he can handle negative reactions to this. But I will never know if I don't let him take this risk. And I have to let him take risks. I have to let him fail. And I have to let him make his own choices - even bad ones. And I have to hope that he's resilient like me (though I wasn't so resilient at his age) or rather impervious like his father. This backpack might be a mistake. Or it might just be a backpack! (I mean, come on! It's just a backpack!!!)
Both The Beast and I have talked to him about what kids could say, how he could respond, and our own (very different) experiences with and responses to teasing and bullying. He laughs nervously about it, but also seems to see it as a challenge he's ready to accept. Of course, he has never experienced or witnessed anything like cruelty and has no idea what it looks or feels like...so we'll just have to see what happens, be in touch with his teacher, and support him if anything comes up.
I suppose this is 21st century feminism. I'm proud to raise an apparently feminist son. But I wish I could be the one to bear the potential brunt of this choice, rather than my 5-year-old who doesn't even realize he might be standing at the vanguard.