Saturday, October 20, 2012

My Son Wants to Wear Nail Polish

The colour that started it all.


A friend of mine texted this afternoon in the midst of a crisis. She couldn't locate her giant box of nail polish and was afraid she'd thrown it out in a fit of overzealous purging. She asked if I had any she could borrow. 

I can see why she asked. I don't do nail polish often, but I do have some fabulous colours. I am a maven, after all. We don't do neutrals.

As soon as I took out my own box of polish, six-year-old Spawnling ran up to me excitedly and slapped his hands down on the table. "Can you colour my nails, mom? Please?"

This used to be such a simple thing. He wanted polish, I had him pick a colour, and we painted them -  just like that. He would then happily wear it about town, to preschool or playgroup, and to play with friends at the park until he either got sick of it or it peeled off.

If the other kids made comments, they'd be positive or maybe surprised ones - never negative. Little kids don't usually care about gender biases the way we do; yes, they are forming ideas about what makes boys different from girls, but are generally still more accepting of differences. Far too quickly, however, children start to make generalizations about how each gender should be. It's only once we get a little older - and hopefully a lot wiser - that we begin to accept that not everyone has to dress, act, speak or look a certain way.

Unfortunately, Spawnling wore his new blue polish into the living room and proudly showed it off to the group of kids occupying the space. Gutsy has a couple of boys over. One is a good friend's son and, at eleven, is one of the most liberal and accepting kids I know. The other one, however, is nine and comes from a more conservative military family. The first thing he did was declare, "You look like a girl."

Spawnling's answer? "Um, this is my house, you know. I can ask you to leave if you're going to be rude."

My youngest, thankfully, is not easily picked on.

I had to take a deep breath in the kitchen and collect myself before I went into the living room. I then went in and said, ever so calmly, "You know, boys wear nail polish too. Have you ever checked out a rockstar's hands?"

"Yeah, it's true," declared the insightful eleven-year-old. "And they sometimes wear lipstick and eyeliner too." I could have hugged him right there.

"I know," said the other boy, quickly. But he was clearly thinking about it; maybe for the first time.

I wanted to cry; both because society sucks and also because I can't protect my kids from it.

I'm not mad at the boy who told Spawnling he looked like a girl. First of all, there's nothing wrong with being female. Nothing. I'd like to think I'm a prime example of that, thank you very much. Secondly, he is a product of our society's biases. He's not a bad kid, and I know he didn't mean to upset anyone. We just don't see nail polish on boys very often. He thought Spawn was trying to be funny, or that it was weird.

I have watched my sons go from little children who pretended to birth and nurse their babies, to slightly older children who watched shows like Hannah Montana and didn't care who knew it, to older still, where they are purposefully filtering out anything  that would make them seem less male.

I'd like to think my husband and I are openminded, liberal people ourselves, who have tried to raise the Gremlins Three in a way that allows them to be who they really are and not what we expect them to be. We've never told them anything like "only girls do that," or "boys should act like this." Sadly, society does expect certain things about them based solely on the fact that they have penises instead of vaginas. It's not okay to wear girl things. It's not okay to watch girl shows. It's not okay to like girl music.

And it's certainly not okay to wear nail polish.

As I write this, I'm sitting with a ball in the pit of my stomach. There's a fine line between letting your kids be who they are, and worrying that you're sending them off to be eaten by the wolves. Do I live by our principles and support Spawnling's decision to wear polish whenever he wants? Or do I gently discourage it and feed the gender assumption machine? Both of those thoughts stress me out to no end. I hate the idea of his self-esteem taking a beating if he gets teased at school next week, but I also loathe the thought of contributing to the idea of "normalcy" that sometimes leads those who don't meet those criteria to take their own lives. The last thing I want to do is tell my son he can't be who he is.

Am I a better parent for protecting who he is, or protecting him from who other people can be?

I took Spawn aside a few minutes ago and said that, if he was worried that kids might negatively comment on his nails at school on Monday, we could always make sure to take the polish off before the weekend's over.

He confidently replied, "No, it's fine. If anyone says anything I'm going to tell them I'm a rockstar."

And so, the blue polish is staying unless he decides otherwise before Monday morning. This foolishness, this ignorance, this prejudice has to end. We need to take a stand for all kids, whether they fit the mould or not. We need to challenge gender stereotypes and support our children in being who they are. And in this case, change starts with some blue nail polish on a kindergartener.

Sorry, a rockstar kindergartener.


25 comments:

  1. You're a pioneer... And so is your son... Rock on!

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    1. I just love that little guy's confidence. It blows. my. mind. I might make him write me a self help book with which to help myself.

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    2. lol im a 13 year old transgender and i say let all gender kids mix genders a little...they need to experiance it!nail polish is a great start!do you think your son might be transgender?see how his emotions and stuff are cause transgenders can have the opposite genders mind and personality...if you start to think he is just email me at... 8827272@gmail.com and i will help as much as possible p.s you will find out when they are between 5-13 usally im a transwoman so i have a girls personality and a boys body!

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  2. I am so proud to know you, even if it is only virtually. When you put words to life's concerns, you seem to touch many who fear that only they have these issues in front of them. Your perspective and willingness to expose your own insecurities gives hope to others. We have many families in our lives whose children go through these "phases", and your description is like many stories we have heard. Your sons are receiving the best gift any parent can give (second only to unconditional love, of course), COMMUNICATION. I also see that you try to wait a moment to react, which presents you with some unexpected returns: that they actually LISTEN. I look forward to hearing how school goes with blue nails. I imagine he will rule the school as the Rock Star he is!!!

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    1. Thanks, Dennis. We are far from perfect, but our goal is to raise our kids to be who they really are. If we can manage that for the most part, I'll consider it a job well done - possibly my ONLY job well done!

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  3. Society sucks. I say we keep on raising our kids to challenge the "norms" and do what THEY want to do. My girls are both very aware of society's messages that girls should act a certain way and like certain things vs. boys. They both challenge this regularly. I saw it just today, in fact, when we went to a Halloween party. 9 of the 10 girls were dressed as characters from "Monster High" or other similarly feminine outfits -- skimpy outfits, make up, wigs, the whole nine yards. And there was my daughter, dressed as a "Skull Lord Ninja" -- an outfit that she got in the "boy's section" of the Halloween store.

    Gender stereotypes end one kid at a time. Rock on, Spawnling!!

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    1. This? "Gender stereotypes end one kid at a time"? BRILLIANT. And very true.

      Thank you for supporting your daughter being a skull lord ninja. I was just saying we need more of those in the world.

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    2. I'm just hoping someone will tell me what a skull lord ninja actually is.

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  4. Get him an earring and the rockstar thing is a lock! He's got some serious Green Day thing goin' on!

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    1. He really does, doesn't he? Green Day for sure! Spawnling is an awesome human. I don't know where he came from. Oh, right... from me. But that still doesn't quite explain it ;)

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  5. I have 5 boys...and I've painted all of their nails. I, too, have faced this situation when they've reached a certain age. Indeed, it is sad. Darn those societal standards.

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  6. I don't know how you parents do it....keep it together when you're so proud of your kids that you could just burst.
    Hell, *I'm* that proud of Spawnling right now! And I'm also proud of you and Geekster....and your exemplary parenting.
    We could all learn from this level of acceptance.

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  7. Is it mountains out of molehills though? Clearly the 9 year old was the minority voice in the room and even then, was turned in his opinion rather quickly and without incident...

    The blue looks great, but I also worry about the drying and damage to little fingernails.

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  8. I would be so proud of myself.. I mean my kids :) if they responded the way he did. You ARE a rockstar Gremlin 3.0!

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  9. Kids kind of say things without thinking soooo often. Alot of the time they don't "mean" to harm anyone, they just have no dang filter! Trying to teach them to think before speaking (because i'm SO good at that....awww crap...) is a tough job! Great post:) Your son's confidence is awesome!! He is SO cute!

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  10. That handsome young fellow most certainly does not look like a girl! He looks pretty badass actually!

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  11. Amazing post. My husband and I have this discussion fairly regularly. I love that your youngest is strong enough to do his thing and not care about others. I hope that my kidlets can be strong that like as well. My little guy just turned 3 so it is still easy for him to wear the nail polish or his sisters shirts but there will be a time when it won't be as easy.
    Jenn

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  12. Hooray! Good for your son! He sounds like a rockstar badass!

    And you did great handling that crappy double-edged sword.

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  13. Great post! I used to paint my son Judah's nails when he was younger. He is not a 6 year old 1st grader. He asked me the other day if I would paint his nails since his sister and I were polishing our nails.

    Sadly I didn't let him. I explained that kids at school can be mean and might make fun of him.

    My son is not as strong as yours. Judah is a sensitive soul and gets upset and cries when someone doesn't even want to play with him. So I don't know whether to warn him and let him do his thing, keep him from it, or meet half way and let him do black nail polish.

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  14. Man, this is an AWESOME post and you are an AWESOME MOM. I experience some of the same issues/fears/wars-in-my-head with a 4 year old son who sometimes prefers pink blankets or playing with dolls. You and your son are wonderful role models. Thanks for sharing.

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  15. Thank you so much for sharing this!! I so needed it. My 5 year old son is enamored with enamel right now and I was getting a little concerned about how to handle it-- as in, am I approaching it "right". I try to skirt society's gender roles (why must all "girl" toys be pink, including building blocks??) but, as you so eloquently point out above, they still exist. In all ages. His 3 year old sister got some nail polish as an early holiday gift this weekend so we played beauty parlor yesterday (at my son's prompting). Usually we just paint toe nails but I made the mistake of painting my daughter's finger nails so of course her brother wanted the same treatment. Bright red on one hand and orange on the other. To go with the rainbow colors on his toes. We joked about nail polish being for girls and then he declared, "When I grow up I'm going to make boy nail polish!" So great! Was so proud of him.... but then this morning as we were getting ready for school I think it slowly started to dawn on him that maybe not everyone would think it so great. Think he might've been conflicted on his choices yesterday. He put socks on saying "so no one can see my toes" and we talked again about nail polish being for girls but when he grows up he can invent "boy polish".

    It wasn't until we got to school that I realized he had his hands shoved in his pockets... uh oh. Mama guilt set in! I tried to gently talk to him about it if there was any particular reason why his hands were stuffed in his sweatshirt. "Because it's rainy and cold out." He had a big grin on his face which with hindsight I think it was a somewhat embarrassed smile-- so proud of his fingernails yet so unsure of the reaction! We got into the classroom and he huddled next to me, so unlike himself. I said he could whisper into my ear if he wanted to take it off and he whispered, yes, he wanted it off. Well, my mind made itself up like that! Made a quick excuse to the teacher that we forgot something at home (to which my son asked the whole way there and back what we "forgot") and removed the nail polish, saying we could do it again next weekend if he wanted because it was fun and then we'll just take it off again before we go to school. I also introduced the idea that some boys where nail polish, not a lot, and that's why it seems like a girl thing. He was much happier when we got back to school and I felt better even though I was late to work. I was also internally torn if I'd done the right thing!! Will he now think nail polish needs to be hidden?? Did I scar him for life?? Google, you magic eight ball you, tell me the right answer LOL!

    I love love love your story above and totally plan to share it with my kids! Such a great conversation piece to talk about what it's like to do something that not necessarily everyone else is doing and how to respond to it. And I totally plan to call him a rockstar the next time we play beauty parlor ;-)

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  16. great post. better yet your son has a great sense of self esteem that will serve him well for his future.

    women wear color and polish because mainly it's fun if they like it. some women don't. but they have the option to wear or not. culture gives men no option for that lest they be thought less than. that is wrong for no discernable reason. and on so many levels if especially women would think about that for a moment. so if women like color, why would anybody assume that men wouldn't or don't either? that they don't wear color is more about their fear of not being accepted. that too is weird because the culture also says men should be fearless and independent, yet then does just the opposite to convince them not to be.

    the visceral reaction to males wearing nailpolish is waaayyy out of proportion to objectively it simply is. it's paint, applied to a body, as a splash of color on an otherwise drab canvas. much like a tattoo, yet easily removed or changed at will, which makes more sense to me than a tattoo ever will. I don't have a tattoo.

    I do however wear nailpolish, openly, on my toes. not my fingernails as I'm really hard on my hands and would trash them quickly, and trashed art looks good on nobody. I'm a 58 yo straight, married fellow, 3 kids, and couldn't care less what other people think. as life has proved, someone somewhere will always find something to criticize or find fault with you, but they have no more validity for their views than you do for yourself. so be happy, do what makes you happy, especially when it harms no one else. at the very least you'll be more fun to be around. never fear what anyone else thinks about what you think or do.

    I think your son rocks!!

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  17. Love you and your son and I'm forwarding this to a teacher at our preschool who got reemed by a parent because she did NOT tell her son no during prince and princess day and put nail polish on him, BTW it was green "like the hulk"! :)

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  18. I know this is an older post, but this is exactly what I needed to read right now! My eight year old son is obsessed with anything pink and glittery, nail polish, stuffed animals and plays only with girls. He is also very sensitive to judgement from others. When I try to explain to my friends that I worry about him, they are quick to jump down my throat about how I need to accept my son for who he is. Rarely do they let me explain that I DO accept my son, but I'm absolutely terrified to think about how his friends/other children will react. No mother wants her child to feel like they don't belong. Your post said what I couldn't explain about how I was feeling, thank you!

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  19. After two attempts at getting into my nail polish, my little brother just colored in his finger and toe nails with pink marker. Today he and I went to the store and he picked out a gunmetal blue/grey nail polish. Sure, I remember what it was like eating lunch by myself at school because I loved books and girls instead of jewelry and boys - but I preferred it to being surrounded by a bunch of people who only liked me for the lies that I told them. I was lucky enough to have an open minded mother, but others are struggling with decisions of what's right for their kids when it comes to diversity and acceptance. So I think it's great to share stories like yours. Thanks a bunch :)

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Go ahead: feed the attention whore (just don't tell the zookeeper).