A few weeks ago my 4-year-old son and I were lounging around the living room doing nothing in particular when he asked me a sudden question that I had previously never thought about. Even at the moment my answer came faster than any thought process could have ignited. It was only after my answer had been given and the deed had been done that I stopped to reflect on what had actually just happened.
I grew up in a very conservative area. It’s a beautiful countryside that is home to more livestock than humans and has every charm the country can have to offer. Jobs are scarce unless you can swing a hammer or plow a field. The very landscape of the land and its long and difficult winters encourages its inhabitants to be tough and with that comes a sense of perceived masculinity, even for women. I love where I’m from and it’s shaped me, but there is a reason that I no longer live there. Even as a child I felt like I didn’t quite fit in.
My wife and I believe that our son should be able to express himself as much as he can and within reason. If he’s mad and stomping around because he can’t have another cookie, we let him be mad. If he’s overly jubilant about something relatively mundane we never bring him back to earth on time. We let him dress himself completely occasionally and don’t let him know how ridiculous he looks with his Mickey Mouse tights, Halloween dinosaur shirt, and purple knee highs with neon blue water shoes. These are his little wins and the only way he knows how to express himself at this age.
We know that someday people will drive him away from being that way. He’ll get made fun of. It will hurt. Feelings will get buried down deep inside and he’ll find new ways to express himself. Hopefully, they are constructive and legal ways because sometimes this is where things start to creep into a young person’s life that can change who they are and who they will become.
So when he asked me if he could paint his fingernails I never thought to say no. I replied honestly with “Sure go ahead” and he did. Bright red nail polish that he asked his mother for. She helped, of course, so he didn’t make a complete mess, but I have to say his patience for it and his hand-eye coordination was really impressive.
What struck me, later on, was the thought of him going to school and what staff might think. Then I suddenly realized that I never had the thought cross my mind of “A boy can’t paint his nails!” It never crossed my mind because he’s only four.
My guess is that might have been different if he were older. Although I’m not going to be able to say that for sure unless he still has this desire when he actually is older. I hope that this experience will shape my answer in the future and that my focus is still to allow the child to express himself instead of being concerned on whether or not his actions fit into some preconceived notion of gender that society has built and we aimlessly follow.
Evolution is slow but there are little glimpses like this of life changing in America. The framework for it has been built by pioneers and now it’s time we listen and start acting. But it’s going to be slow and that can be frustrating at times.
But if you burned a building down to the ground that’s been in the skyline for years almost everyone would notice. But if you took it apart, brick by brick, nail by nail, and slowly disassembled it, many might not notice at all.
This is just my little piece, my brick removed.