My daughter likes to bring things to school to use with her friends at lunchtime. Toys are not allowed, so usually she brings a book to share, or her journal, which she often allows her friends to write in. (I used to do this too!) She adds this to her homework folder, her notebook, her book baggie (a plastic ziplock bag full of school books) and 2 or 3 snacks. All of this adds up to a bulging backpack that makes her look more like she is about to hike up the Appalachian Trail than attend first grade.
Every morning we have the same discussion:
Maya: "Mama can I bring this to school today?"
Me: "Sure but you have to take one of the other things out."
Me: "So you don't end up with a bad shoulder like your mama."
And so on.
This morning I suggested she remove her crackers and applesauce from the unnecessarily heavy basket she carries them to school in and just stick them in one of the pockets of her backpack.
"But mommy, I will feel embarrassed."
Kids are so cute. She will run off to school in all kinds of outfits with no mind to whether or not they go together, or fit, or have holes in them. She does not care what her hair looks like, or whether or not her socks match. And don't get me wrong, I am thrilled that none of these things matter to her yet. But god forbid she shows up to lunch with her snack in a plastic bag instead of a lunchbox. Oh, the shame!
All of this made me think of the My Little Pony boy. If you are not sure what I am talking about, I can sum it up very easily. (Or you can just Google it.) A 9 year old boy in NC took his My Little Pony backpack to school. He got bullied and teased. The school told him he was no longer allowed to bring it. The Internet went nuts.
I am sure you can figure out what the varied responses have been. My Little Pony is for girls. I would never let my boy bring that backpack to school. A boy can like whatever he wants. The school has no right to tell him what he can and can't bring. Those kids were wrong to bully him. The school was wrong. His parents are terrible. And so on.
There was a similar uproar recently regarding little boys who want to wear dresses. Is it ok? Should you allow your boy to go to school in a dress?
Ok, soapbox time.
I obviously have a daughter, but lets imagine for a moment that my little Maya is instead a boy named Max. I say Max can like whatever he wants to like. If he wants ponies, he can have ponies. He can wear whatever he wants to wear. If Max wants a dress, Max can have a dress. But before he wears that dress to school, we are going to have a little talk. And it will go something like this:
"Max, it is fine for you to wear that dress to school. It is your dress and you love it. But you need to understand that some of your friends think that dresses are only for girls. They might make fun of you for it. You might feel sad. They are wrong for making fun of you, but sometimes kids are wrong. Sometimes kids are mean. If they say mean things to you, by all means tell them they are wrong. Tell them boys and girls can do whatever they want. Or, if you do not want to worry about that, save your dress for playing at home."
Also, if someone hits you or pushes you, push back. It is ok. I will explain it to the teacher.
Of course bullying is not ok. But it happens. Kids tease other kids. Believing it is wrong does not make it any less likely to happen. Is it ok for boys to wear dresses? Absolutely. Do most boys wear them? No. So when your kid shows up to school in one, he is likely to be the only one.
We can keep working on changing the world. But until it is changed, we have to be honest with our kids.
Boys and girls are different. Don't believe me? Try to get your five year old to stop jumping on his buddy at the playground. Its like trying to teach a dog to leave a scrap of food alone. They want to play this game. Their little bodies are dying to play this game. And you can, like I did, attempt to keep all pink princesses away from your little girl as long as possible. It does not matter; she will find them anyway. And suddenly, at age 3, she will be playing tea party no matter how many karate classes you bring her to.
And while we are discussing gender stereotypes, there is nothing wrong with a man who isn't afraid to cry. But there is something wrong with a man who is so whiny and timid that he never exhibits confidence or strength or power. There is nothing wrong with an aggressive, career driven woman. But there is something wrong with a woman who is so focused on getting ahead in the world that she has completely suppressed her instincts to love and nurture others. Gender roles should be fluid, in childhood and adulthood. In our desire to break stereotypes, we do not have to go so far in the other direction that a woman is now embarrassed to admit that she loves being a mommy.
I love being a mommy. And I run my own business. And I can kick your ass. And I know how to run the dishwasher.
A little boy in a dress should not have to worry that his buddies might tease him. But they probably will. Not because they are evil and unenlightened, but because they are children and this stuff is confusing. So parents, at least prepare your kids for the inevitable. Teach them what to say when one of their friends is mean. Teach them what to do when one of their classmates gets a little too close.
And, although I would not do it, it is also perfectly ok for a parent to forbid their son from wearing a dress to school. Not because "boys don't wear dresses" but because kids will be kids and you don't want him to have to spend his whole day defending himself.
Just remembering how to do math is hard enough.
Not to mention trying to sit still for so long.
Because we all know how hard it is for little boys to sit still...