Kids Say The Darndest…

Yesterday morning was an early one.

A little before 6AM I was awoken by some commotion next door, and try as I might, I just could not head back into dreamland. As I struggled to fall back asleep, I noticed that EZ had crawled into our bed at some point during the night, and was snuggled up against me, his little face buried into the pillow.

It was sweet, peaceful, and quite joyous…while it lasted.

About 20 minutes later, the whole bed was awake. MD was off to shower for work, and EZ started stirring. It was still much too early for me to properly function, so I hoped it would be one of those slow-to-fully-wake up type mornings.

Oh, how wrong I was.

Only minutes later, I heard his scratchy-from-sleep voice pierce the quiet.

“Hey Ima?”

“Yeah, bud?”

“Do you think that bad people know that they’re bad? Or do you think that they think what they’re doing is good, and that we’re the bad ones?” Continue reading

Giving Thanks

When I went to pick my son up at school yesterday, there was a list outside his classroom. Next to each kid’s name was one thing they were thankful for. Next to EZ’s name were two things.

Superheroes & Giraffes

“Why two?” I asked.

“Well…First I said that I was thankful for superheroes, and my teacher said that they’re not real. She said we should give thanks for real things. So then I picked giraffes. Did you know that they have blue tongues?”

I think I did know that, but it hadn’t really crossed my mind in a while. In fact, the kiddo has been spouting off a lot of random animal facts lately…and for that, I am thankful. Sometimes I share my own fun facts with him, other times I learn something new, and yet other times I sit back and marvel at the fact that my son wants to chat about bats and echolocation for over half an hour.

So, I think it’s pretty rad that he’s thankful for giraffes and their blue tongues. I also think it’s kind of neat that he’s thankful for superheroes. Despite my iffy relationship with them, I dig the way EZ relates to them. I love watching his imagination run at full force as he comes up with various scenarios for his super alter egos to play out. I love that he’s turned his beloved game of “family” into “super hero family” (you know, where there’s a supermom, superdad & superkids. And they do a bunch of super stuff.) So, while superheroes may not be real, the effects of them are very much so…at least for us.

It seems, like EZ, I’m thankful for many things, and can’t pinpoint it down to just one. I’m thankful for curiosity, imagination, creativity, laughter, and silliness.

What are you thankful for?

Boys Don’t Wear Dresses…Today

I had been asked to submit some photos along with a short editorial I wrote up for Bamboo Magazine’s upcoming summer issue. The piece takes a look at young boys and gender expression. In addition to some general thoughts, I mixed in a few personal stories as well. The editors asked for some photos of EZ playing dress up, yet all of the candid shots I have didn’t quite match the aesthetic of the magazine (i.e. you can see piles of unfolded laundry or dirty dishes in the background), so I decided it was time to whip out the camera and stage a little photo shoot.

I explained to EZ that I wrote an article and needed a few pictures to go with it. I asked if he’d mind playing with his kitchen while I snapped away. He had no problem and I was able to get a handful of cute pictures, yet none that stood out to either me or the editors.

Totally adorable, but not exactly what we were going for…

Then…it rained. And rained. And rained. For almost two weeks. And I was unable to get any good photos outdoors (because we just could not escape the unfolded laundry and dirty dishes indoors!).

Finally, this past weekend we were blessed with beautiful sun (and heat and humidity) and I took advantage of it. I reminded EZ about needing some more photos and asked if he’d be okay with playing dress up with his best friend.

They occasionally spend hours all dolled up in fancy dresses playing Princess, so I didn’t think it would be that hard to have him don a dress for a few minutes while I snapped some photos. EZ had other ideas.

“Ima, dresses are for girls. I’m a boy. I’ll wear a tie,” he informed me as his friend eagerly put on her ruffled tutu.

I paused, weighing my options. There was no way I was going to force him into a costume, even for the sake of an article. The whole point to my parenting philosophy is to allow him to feel comfortable enough to express himself in whatever manner he chooses, and while some days that might be wearing a princess dress, other days it’s a tie (and some days it’s wearing nothing at all. sigh.).

And…he’s 4. Some days he does play around with the idea of stereotypical gender norms like “boys wear ties and only girls wear dresses.” So, we talk about it. While I’d never force him to wear something he didn’t want to, I let him know that boys can wear ties and so can girls…that whoever wants to wear a dress may do so. I remind him that he’s free to make his own choice.

I still had a photo to take, however.

Before I had time to figure out what to do, the kids decided for me.

“Butterfly!” they shouted at the same time.

EZ had spotted a pair of pink, sparkly butterfly wings and a purple silk scarf, asking me to tie it around him.

“I’m a dad butterfly,” he explained, in case there was any confusion.

“Great!” I exclaimed, watching as he ran around, fingers atop his head for antennae.

I was able to snap a bunch of really wonderful pictures and can’t wait to see which one the magazine ends up using. However, the experience reiterated for me the importance of offering choices and working with whatever comes up…even if that means that my child wants to wear a dress tie butterfly wings! 

My little butterfly

Storytime

A lot is done via storytelling in our house. If we don’t have an actual book open in front of us, it’s  not too far fetched to find us making up stories to amuse ourselves or remind us of memories past.

One of EZ’s frequent requests is, “tell me about when I was a baby,” where I’ll regale him with a story from his infancy and he’ll laugh and then nod. “Oh yeah,” he’ll say with a huge smile. “I remember.”

We also use storytelling as a way to process our day and usually, beneath the covers before bedtime, we’ll sit and share favorite moments from the day or talk through some not-so-fabulous ones that are easier to discuss once some time (or heated emotion) has passed.

The other night, EZ decided to add a new component to our storytelling: artwork.

Granted, this artwork took place in the bathroom and his medium was steam on glass, but his message certainly wasn’t lost.

“That’s me,” he explained. “See? I have curly hair.”

I thought he was just drawing a picture of himself, but then he went on to describe the reason he was smiling. He reminded me of how we worked together in the kitchen, making smoothies and then later some fresh pesto for dinner that night. He let me know how happy cooking together makes him.

I may have smiled, giving myself a mental pat on the back for clearly being a rockin’ mom in the eyes of my 4.5 year old.

He continued to play around in the shower while I sat in the bathroom, attempting to come up with some serious kick-ass words for a heated Words With Friends game on my phone.

“Now look,” EZ said, drawing my attention back to the steamy glass.

I placed my phone down and looked up to see that he had drawn another picture of himself, but this time, he was frowning.

I wracked my brain, trying to figure out what had caused the little frowny face that just looked so damn sad. I didn’t have to wonder long, because of course, he had an explanation.

“It was because you made me sad.”

What? I made my child sad!?

“Remember? When I wanted to take daddy’s nails and hammer them into the wall? You took them away and that made me sad.”

Ah. Yes. That.

It wasn’t that hard to recollect. I had gone upstairs to find EZ standing in front of a wall in his bedroom, hammer held high and a pack of nails at his feet. Thankfully, I stumbled across this little home improvement scene seconds before any damage (er, uh…improvement) could have occurred. And we had what I thought was a teaching moment.

I let him know that “tools aren’t toys,” and suggested a handful of (less destructive) alternatives if he still wanted to do some work on the walls. There was some pouting and some grumbling, but it passed. I had no idea he had been harboring such upset feelings about it.

I mean – did you see that steamy, pouty face?

So, we talked about it, and finally…begrudgingly…he accepted the “tools aren’t toys” mantra. And while I wasn’t glad that he was upset over it, I was thankful that he found his own way to work it through.

Between the happy self-portrait, the frowny one and the vast amount of cuddly snuggles I got later that evening when I put him to bed, I’d like to think I came out a smidge on top that day…

However, you can be sure that as I went to bed, I certainly replayed the evening’s storytime, complete with shower art, over in my head before I finally fell asleep.

You’ll See.

Our neighbors had a young girl, “C,” (age 8) visiting this past weekend and EZ quickly befriended her. They played with some remote control cars, and once the batteries died on those, found other ways to amuse themselves. At one point, I had gone back inside the house, yet could still hear them through the open windows. They seemed to be getting along great, so I was only partially listening until their conversation took a slight turn and grabbed my attention.

C had brought along her bike, which was heavily decorated in a Disney princess theme, and was riding it back and forth on the sidewalk. They began discussing her bike, since EZ was interested in it. He was explaining to her how he liked the princesses on her two-wheeler, and she was attempting to explain how that just couldn’t be.

C: “Girls like pretty things like fairies and princesses.”

EZ: “I like pretty things!!” (I could totally visualize the indignant expression on his face at this point)

C: “Boys like monsters and tattoos and stuff. You’ll understand when you’re older.”

EZ continued to sputter in disbelief, while C continued to explain, despite being obviously exasperated, that boys just don’t like princesses, a fact that EZ will only grasp when he’s older. You know, like eight years old.

At some point, my husband, who had been doing some yard work, interjected his two cents. I listened as he explained how we had a book about a boy who likes to dress as a princesse, and how it is possible for boys to like different things. I loved that teaching moment, and was poised to run out there, My Princess Boy in hand, to have a little story time.

It didn’t happen, though.

By that point, EZ had moved on and was digging in the garden for worms and C was ready to head back home. Before she left, however, she imparted a few more words of wisdom that only an eight year old could share. She directed them at my husband before peddling off on her bike.

“Somebody he’ll have his first tattoo. You’ll see.”

And who knows…maybe he will. But not until he’s much older…at least 10!

In other princess news, we picked the winner of the My Princess Boy give-a-way yesterday. Congrats to Becky (and her kids Maya & Isaac)!

I’m a boy.

Today we decided to escape the muggy heat by hiding out at a local bookstore for a bit. While I browsed the various literary offerings, EZ bided his time at the train table they have set up in the middle of the children’s section. I sat for a while and watched him play, trying out the various trains that littered the table. Watching him play with such enthusiasm and creativity brought a smile to my face and caused me to whisper to him, “I love you.”

He looked up at me and smiled, “I know, I love you.” My smile only increased and I relished the moment to the fullest extent. Then EZ turned towards me and out of nowhere said, “I’m a kid. I’m a boy.” I slowly nodded, wondering where that line of thought appeared from. He returned to his trains for a minute or two before looking back up, “I’m not a girl.” I nodded again, surprised by this topic.

We never really focused on gender in our house apart from EZ’s fascination about who has what body part beneath their pants. And even then it seemed more of a curiosity related to anatomy than gender discrepancy. I was interested to see what prompted this seemingly out of the blue declaration from EZ. I thought long and hard about how much focus I actually wanted to place on his statement before asking, “Well, what does it mean that you’re a boy?” He looked at me and scrunched his face, deep in thought.
“That I’m a kid.”

And that was that. He was back to the train table before I could engage him in a process-y discussion about gender roles and societal definitions. While his mind had already moved on to trains and tracks, mine was still on the short conversation we just had. I was immediately reminded of an article I recently read about a Swedish couple who were purposefully eliminating the concept of gender from their toddler’s life. Only the parents, and a select few people who had changed the child’s diaper, know what gender “Pop” is. The parents, working on the feminist principle that gender is a social construct that they do not want to reinforce, have basically decided that they will be proactive in promoting a genderless identity for their child.
So, when EZ decided to take a stance on his gender and announce to the entire book store that he was, indeed, a boy, I wondered if I had lapsed as a feminist and somehow enforced gender stereotypes in my household. That couldn’t be true, could it? I pride myself on my beliefs that men and women can do and be whatever they want, and yet here is my son, declaring his gender, loud and proud.
And then I thought, what’s wrong with that?

Does knowing and owning your gender mean you are playing into the patriarchal ideals of gender construct? I don’t think so. My two and a half year old son claimed his gender while wearing a necklace, white toe nail polish and blonde ringlets surrounding his face, all of which are of his choosing (he has on more then one occasion informed me NOT to cut his hair, which actually relieves me since I love his curls!). I can look around the living room and see it cluttered with trucks, books and dolls. While taken individually, each toy might scream out a particular gender, but taken collectively, one would be hard pressed to guess the gender of the child they belong to.
While ideally it would be wonderful to live in a world free of labels and gender stereotyping that is not the world we live in. So while we try and change things, I think one option is to give my child the tools to be what he wants within the system. He knows he’s a boy, yet still feels comfortable wearing or playing with things traditionally associated with little girls. He’s bucking the system in his own right, even without realizing it. And, I hope that as he grows to understand this whole social construct of gender “thing” he’ll continue to choose what he likes, regardless.