Letting Life Lead
My daughter’s school is celebrating the last week with a different dress theme every day. This morning my silly girl happily put on a Hawaiian shirt, big clip-on flowers in her hair, a sporty skirt, and some green, water shoes. Her little brother and I watched her skip off to kindergarten in a van Gogh blur of mismatched colors.
The other children filed in and nearly every girl was dressed in theme. Grass skirts, leis, bright dresses, flowers, hair wreaths, or simply bright clothing with loud print. They had their hair up, or down, or long, or short. I’ll set aside the annoying predominance of pink for a moment and just focus on the fact that even the oldest girls participated. Only a few weren’t dressed up with at least one accessory for whatever reason. Exactly the distribution I would expect for the age group. Silliness predominating.
I saw two boys dressed in theme, and one of them walked with his sister in a matching grass-skirt extravaganza which only lacked a ukelele.
I’m sure there were a few more that I didn’t see, but when I glanced at the crowd a decided lack of whimsy prevailed. Drab colors and no accessories. Khaki, blue, and olive. Plaid and sports. Not even hats or shades. I didn’t even see one boy with long hair. I’m positive he and his brethren exist, but invisible in the wave of sameness. Though I didn’t see them, I’m convinced more boys in kindergarten embraced the theme than any other age group.
I looked at my four-year-old son and the worry gave me more face creases.
My son has whimsy.
Right now his hair is long, wild, with crazy corkscrews (one day the comments will come with the pressure to cut it). He dances, smiles and laughs throughout the day (in order to balance out the whine and indignant squalls). He willingly dresses up in different hats and scarves just to be goofy. He’s as likely to be a superhero, a server in a fancy restaurant, or a random somebody in oversized sunglasses.
I don’t want him to lose the little boy in him before he even gets to age seven.
The other day, at an event hosted by the school for families, I noticed a high level of aggressive competition with the boys and very few girls participating in the pick-up games of soccer and baseball. Not that that deterred my daughter or the two other girls who inserted themselves into the games. One older girl noticed my daughter’s age and insisted the boy pitcher give her another chance and go easy on the pitches. The two kids were both natural leaders and kept the game together and organized. It was wonderful to see kids in charge of themselves.
Yet, something nagged.
I brushed it aside at the time, but the vast majority of boys all seemed so serious to me. Where were the giggles or the fall down laughter and wild abandon in throwing yourself down a big hill until the world spun backwards?
Should you be that serious under age ten?
Even when my daughter shoe-horned herself into a game, she smiled and kept smiling.
Where did all the joy go in those boys? I know they were having fun, but still…
I didn’t see it with the majority of them. The few I did see that had that whimsy weren’t playing the pick-up games. They, overwhelmingly, played by themselves, with siblings, ventured to the playground, or chose a parent.
And that worry in my gut got bigger.
Is our society squashing the boy out of our men this early? I don’t want my son to lose that part of him that generates those face-splitting smiles, prompts ridiculous behavior, and makes him torture his sister until she chases him in a whirl of squeals. I fear he might lose his natural empathy for others and confidence to do what he wants even if no one else is doing it.
I don’t believe for a moment that our men can’t be both compassionate and competitive, gentle and assertive, leaders and followers, athletic and artistic, goofy and serious, strong and vulnerable, nurturing and attentive. They are human beings capable of the gamut. What they fight against is a society that encourages them to focus only on one aspect of their personalities. A society that defines a man a certain way. A society that tells them they can’t wear pink, wear a skirt, keep their hair long, cry, or to act ridiculous just for the sake of feeling silly.
I am glad that my son has a big sister. It is important for him to have a female role model close to his age, and I am thankful that my daughter has a brother like him in her life. They will protect each other and encourage each other and drive each other insane as only family can.
The men I have known in my life who walked their own path gave me a proper overview of men outside of what society says: My grandfather with the perfect smile who would bust-a-move just to make me laugh; my skirt wearing, anti-violence, hair-dying friend in college who wore what he wanted; my stepfather who changed diapers and let babies pull off his face; my nutty, little brothers who grew into men who know injustice when they see it; and my mind-like-a-steel-trap husband who plays D&D and shows pride in having matching car seats in the back seat of his baby (a red 2103 Challenger). I am thankful, too, for the families we know who go against the status quo.
I still worry about raising my son and my daughter.
But I have hope — to balance out the wrinkles.
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When life hands you lemons, go find some gin and tonic.
"Smile with your teeth." -my Mother
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Wrote hard and put up wet - a fiction writer from parts unknown