It is an unabashed and consistent honor to watch my children move from one stage to the next, to see them grow and develop into the young people they are becoming. However, every so often something emerges–something that is a sure and steady sign of growth–that nevertheless leaves me a little sad, a little wistful for the moment that came before, for the innocence that only a short time ago resided where there is now knowledge.
Experts say that “[a]round age 5 and 6, kids start to more fully understand the differences between boys and girls . . . They start to concentrate on learning the social differences–what clothes, games, and books are ‘supposed to’ belong to each gender . . . For many kids, this is the first time they’ll experience peer pressure, to be and act like girls or boys” (Ellen Booth Church).
Recently Oscar and Edgar have chosen their Halloween costumes (and for their 14-month-old brother and their parents). It’s no surprise that we are going with a Star Wars theme–August, as the shortest member of the bunch, will be Yoda; I have the honor of being Princess Leia, Don (though he may not quite realize it yet) will be sporting a white jumpsuit when he transforms into a Storm Trooper; Oscar is opting to be Darth Vader; and Edgar has chosen to be one of the padawans from Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Ahsoka. Oscar thinks all this is “really cool”–except for the fact that Asokha is a girl, that his brother has chosen to be a girl for Halloween.
Oscar recently told me that his “friends” are having a hard time with Edgar’s being a girl for Halloween, that “they think he should be something else.” We, of course, can read between the lines and understand that it is Oscar who is having a hard time with this.
It is no secret that Edgar does what Edgar wants to do and has little to no concern for what society says is “gender-appropriate.” And he happens to have parents who share his belief. This spring, when he wanted to wear his sparkly pink mermaid costume on a walk downtown, I simply said to him, “It’s fine with me. However, please understand that someone may say something to you about it being a costume for girls. Can you handle that? Is it okay with you?” His reply was a chirpy “yes,” and off we went. We got plenty of stares, and even a “Well, isn’t he brave to wear a mermaid costume!” Edgar remained unfazed, imagining himself as “the defender of all mermaids,” walking along in mythological aquatic bliss.
When Edgar recently saw a commercial for Barbie, he asked if he could have one. Oscar promptly intervened before I could respond with my predictable, “Sure,” and said, “No, Edgar, that’s a toy for girls.” Edgar’s reply? “I don’t care.”
And he doesn’t. He likes Ahsoka. She is a rich character with a pivotal role in the series, and her look is intriguing. That she is female is merely incidental to Edgar. It may be because he’s not yet at the point where these things matter; or it simply may be that they never will. Either way, Oscar, as Edgar’s brother, is going to have to come to terms with his brother’s (and his parents’) refusal to play into gender stereotypes. And something tells me he will.
Sometimes I think about what it would do to Edgar’s spirit if he had a parent who adamantly refused to buy let alone allow him to wear his mermaid costume; but just as much I think about what would happen if Oscar’s current notions about what it means to be a boy or a girl were reinforced and not challenged. I think that what would happen is that his development in this area would stop here at age six.
Ellen Church writes, “The goal is not to define your child’s gender identity . . . but to provide a wide variety of options.” My children’s gender identity, including the myriad options, is for them to discover. As their parents, we will alert them to all the possible ramifications; but ultimately they should feel free to be who they are, knowing they are loved and accepted. And it is my fervent hope that if they grow up secure in who they are, that they will move through this stage and never feel the need to succumb to the judgment of others.