She decided to let her boys decide for themselves how they wanted to dress, act, and identify. Experiment successful.
With all of the media attention right now on boys and their potential for violence it seems sort of sad that only now do we take an interest in their inner lives and whether their tendencies are more influenced by the context of their upbringing or some (potentially flawed and possibly dangerous) genetic programming.
This is a tale of two boys. I think it has some interesting sociological (as well as comedic) value. I never was able to write about my kids when they were little. Nothing seemed right. Every time I tried to put something down it seemed gushy or cliché. But now that my sons are 21 and 22 I feel qualified to share my recipe and turn in my results.
I started with the idea, somewhat selfishly, or even lazily perhaps, that it would be a much more interesting endeavor to let the boys tell me who they were, than it would be for me to tell them who they were, so I took a deep breath and stood back and waited for them to introduce themselves to me.
I watched, bit my tongue, cringed at times, and had to turn around a lot and hold my stomach so they wouldn’t see me laughing. It was pretty amazing.
One of my sons thought he was a dog until he went to kindergarten. This meant he wore a leash, rarely got up off all fours, barked at strangers, and slept in a cage at naptime. He also thought he could breathe through his eyes, and that for some reason this would make it possible for him to breathe under water, hence the ridiculousness of the notion that he take swimming lessons.
The other one refused to leave the house without his pink chiffon cape tied around his neck. He paired this with a flowered headband that was not to my taste but that’s the burden of motherhood. We called him Pricilla after the character in “Pricilla Queen of the Dessert”. No little boy ever wore a cape with such panache.
We did not have television. We did not have video games. Period. There is only a short window of time where you have complete sensory control over your children’s lives. Use that time wisely. The upside is that your kids will learn to keep themselves amused for hours with a stick, a rock, and an empty can.
When Prop. 8 was being discussed on NPR “Priscilla” asked me what it was about. When I explained that people were talking about whether girls could marry girls and boys could marry boys he said, “Mom! Boys can marry boys,” like I was an idiot.
When I tried to explain, “Well technically they can’t …” He was SCANDALIZED. He said, “Are you trying to tell me that Austin’s dads aren’t MARRIED?” That was when I realized that I was raising a social conservative in a pink cape.
On the first day of high school Priscilla came downstairs in pink socks, a pink feather boa, and a pair of pink sunglasses that Elton John would go mad for. I looked up from the sofa and said, “You sure you want to get beat up for your first day of high school?” He just laughed at me once again like I was an idiot and jumped onto his long board and skated off to school, pink boa floating gracefully in the wind.
At the time we lived in a small town in rural Colorado. My kid could get strung up on a fence for god’s sake. I had many moments like these — had I let things get out of hand? How far removed were my kids from reality? Had I done them a disservice?
But here’s the deal; the “gift of Pricilla” isn’t just the gift you give your kid, it’s the gift you give the other kids. By raising a son who showed that he didn’t really care that other kids might give him a hard time by decking out in what was by now his signature pink, it gave the other kids an opportunity to accept him. It gave them a chance to run across a kid who wasn’t like them, or any other of the kids at their school.
By raising a kid who is completely centered and comfortable with who he is (whatever that might be at any given moment) you are giving other kids permission to do the same. NOT ONE KID GAVE HIM A HARD TIME. Am I proud of my son? No more than I am on any other day. I am proud of the OTHER KIDS! By the end of his sophomore year all of his friends were wearing pink girl’s socks. It was a thing. Never underestimate your audience.
On the other hand, Dog/Fish/Boy is tough as nails and loves to fight. This came in handy as his best friend is gay and occasionally requires his services. He likes to fight for lots of reasons — but mostly because he hates to see injustice and he likes protecting people.
He practices Muai Thai and enjoys getting beat up as much as he enjoys winning. When he first started taking classes he was a skinny 14 year-old fighting guys in their late 20’s and early 30’s. He would come home with blood splattered all over the front of his white t-shirt. He thought it was great. I didn’t, but I bit my tongue. I was committed to my experiment.
I went to watch him practice once and the owner of the gym came over to me and said, “Is that your kid?” When I said yes he sat down next to me and said, “Really? He is so cool. We love him. I’ve never seen anything like it. These huge guys beat the shit out of him and when they’re done he just looks up at them and says, ‘That’s all you got?’ and starts laughing. It drives them crazy.” That was when I found out that he had started a Fight Club and enlisted some of the neighborhood boys to hold organized fights. He confessed, “I can’t help it Mom, I just want to see how I’ll do.”
But he also loves to save old people and children and volunteer in orphanages. He is the guy who will make sure your daughter gets home safely when she’s out on a date and she realizes that she’s had too much to drink and that her date might be a scary guy. It makes him sad that he can’t save everyone. Will he get satisfaction out of beating up the creepy guy? Yep. We are all very complicated. Masculinity is not bad and he is a young man who loves being male.
But no one is all male or all female, not even close. Dog/Fish/Boy recently went off to college in Switzerland to study international relations and when I was looking at his pictures on Facebook recently, I saw a montage of photos of a girl in a sailor dress playing wall-ball with the guys. She’s barefoot and lurching sideways through the air stealing the ball from the all the guy, and I am thinking OMG this is SO COOL! I love it when girls can do this shit! Then I start scanning the background of the photos because I am thinking, “I hope Dog/Fish/Boy is seeing this really cool girl kick ass!” But I don’t see him. So I start to scrutinize the photos more carefully and then I notice a familiar tattoo on the chest of the cute girl in the sailor’s dress and I realize that it is my dear little Dog/Fish/Boy all grown up at last!
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