Last weekend, my family went to Ulta to grab some stuff- for once, NOT for me (seriously!) While there, Parker picked up a bottle of nail polish and began carrying it around. He didn’t say a word, just held it close to himself. When I asked him what he was doing with it, he claimed to want it. It was sparkly, and silver, and not going to happen. Not because he’s a boy, but because that bottle in particular was eight bucks, and I had just one like it at home. I told him to put it back, but he immediately got upset and insisted that he absolutely NEEDED to have it, but wouldn’t tell me why, or what he wanted it for.
It took a lot of convincing, telling him that I had the same bottle at home, and after some tears, he put it back on the shelf and we went home, and all promptly forgot about it.
After Parker went to bed that night, I got to thinking about the events of the day and rummaged through my nail polish collection until I found just the right one, and when he woke up the next morning, I presented it to him. He’d wanted it so badly, I expected him to be happy, but he seemed confused. Conflicted, even.
“You did have it!”
“I told you I did. What do you want to do with it?” I asked him
He held up his hands “On my nails, of course.”
I opened the cap and covered the brush with sparkles, but as I was about to put it on his nails, he stopped me.
“What if other boys make fun?”
I hate to hear him worry, to know that along the line, it’s gotten into his head that he will be made fun of if he expresses any interests that are considered “for girls”, but we’ve been through this. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last, but I know the only thing I can really do for him is help him be confident enough in his own decisions not to let what others say or think affect him. Far easier said than done.
“You know there are no real things that are ‘for boys’ or ‘for girls’, and if someone says something, it doesn’t mean anything about you. Make it a teaching moment.”
“What’s a teaching moment?”
“Use the opportunity to teach them that there’s nothing wrong with a boy wearing nail polish, or a girl wanting to play football. That people can do and wear and be whatever they want.”
He still looked apprehensive. I’m not one to push him into something he’s unsure about, but this was the kid crying in the middle of Ulta the day before because he wanted sparkly nail polish.
“No.” He gave me his hand. “I want it on both.”
On it went. He was glittery and ready to go, and for the entire week, rocked the polish without another word about it. Along comes Friday and I decided to ask him about his week, if anyone mentioned his nails. He told me only one person did. A boy.
“Well, what did he say?”
“He said ‘boys can’t wear nail polish!'”
How did Parker respond?
“Boys can wear whatever they want.”
What we do, what we say- it rubs off on our kids. Whether we tell them “you can’t do that, it’s just for girls.” or they just watch our judgmental actions. They are sponges. But, just as easy as they soak things up, they can learn to change, to be open, to be accepting, to be confident, to stand up for themselves.
I know I harp on this a lot, and it’s not just because I have a kid who doesn’t fall into stereotypical gender “norms.” It’s for every kid who might feel different, who wants to be themselves without judgment. For kids like me, who were forced into extra curricular activities I had no interest in because of my gender that caused me to question myself for years and years to come.
Our kids don’t have to fit into neat little boxes. And they shouldn’t. And no one should expect them to.
It’s just nail polish. It’s just hair. It’s just clothes. It’s just a toy. It’s just CHILDHOOD. Help them figure it out for themselves by letting them be themselves. They’ll pay it forward.
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