So it’s been a bit since I stopped to reflect on my family and wonderful trials of parenting.
Luckily, I haven’t had major dramas to sort out, all year. How magical is that?
But something cropped up, recently.
The other night, my older, gender-fluid kiddo went to bed seemingly without a care. Later, my partner poked his head in and kid crying in bed. Though I was in another room, my antennae snapped to. I knew something was up.
I poked my head in right as older peanut explained why he was crying to my partner.
As an avid reader of my blog, you might recall (ahem) that we had a bit of bathroom anxiety at the beginning of the year, which my kid admirably solved for himself. But unbeknownst to us, he’d been using the girls’ room for the past few months.
From what we were able to decipher through the 1stgrade sniffling, our kid peed in the bathroom and another girl (we’ll call her Anna) was “in” the bathroom. For some reason, that freaked my peanut out (for whatever reason…and perhaps ironically.)
Then, in the play yard directly after, Anna whispered something to a friend and was clearly talking about my kid, which bothered him.
Through tears he said, “And that’s why I don’t tell secrets. Because it hurts peoples’ feelings.”
We ran the gamut from “she probably wasn’t talk about you” to “you know boys can go in the girls’ bathroom and girls can go in the boys’ bathroom”.
Our kid seemingly bought it and placated us by saying “ok” and probably felt a tad better getting it off his chest.
But I wasn’t satisfied.
On our gender-fluid journey, I’ve fundamentally felt that honesty, openness and truth will be our biggest assets. I think we need to address how our kid is and what his truth is. That doesn’t mean boxing him into a category, but might just mean, “we aren’t sure, but we are supporting him to figure it out.”
And I think that needs to go for him, too. Because secrets don’t make friends, but addressing secrets might help dispel the secrets, too.
I snuck back in and had this conversation:
Hey, buddy. Can I talk with you a bit more?
He nodded ‘yes’.
Can I crawl up into your bunk and snuggle with you?
I crawled up.
So, Bud, can you tell me more about your problem with Anna?
She was in the bathroom with me and then she told a secret about me.
And what do you think that secret was?
I can’t think of anything but bad things.
He started to cry, here. I bit my own lip.
What’s the worst thing it could be?
That she doesn’t like me.
Oh. Well, Buddy, that might happen. It’s not possible to think everyone in the world will like you. But let’s think about all the people who do like you.
At this point, I started to name people off. But then I stopped myself. We all know it doesn’t matter how many people do like you as a 1stgrader – or hell, a 42yo – it’s that one person who doesn’t that bothers the most. So I changed tack.
What else might she have said?
She might tell one teacher and then another teacher and then another teacher and then another…
Might tell a teacher what, exactly?
That a boy was in the girls’ bathroom.
Hm. Interesting. My kid is still identifying as a boy. Ok. Noted. And also – really? – this is what bothers you?
Honey, guess what? All the teachers already know who you are and which bathroom you prefer! And they all love you! Also? All your friends in your class love you for who you are and what you are. (Thank goodness, this is true. No problems in class, this year. They all seem to “get” him.)
We lay in silence for a little bit.Then he went on…
Also? She might be jealous.
That she wasn’t at my school, last year.
Hm. Maybe you’re right. And then – spark.Also? She might just not understand you, entirely…
And here’s where I might have gone off the rails or have had a stroke of genius.
…Buddy? You’ve made some slightly complicated and confusing choices, this year. You like to wear dresses, and that’s awesome, but you know not every boy does that and sometimes it’s not what people are used to. And maybe Anna’s confused or even a little scared. And with your choices, you might have a little responsibility to teach people and be open to them so they will understand you.
This might be way over my kid’s head. I dunno. But you know? – I do think we underestimate our children’s intuition and nuanced understanding of social dynamics. I took it to another level.
And then I reverted to my normal verbal diahhrea and kept talking.
Also, Buddy? – remember that bullies are often people who are bucket-dippers (if you haven’t read “Have You Filled A Bucket, Today?”, you probably should. It illustrates beautifully for kids the notion of bullying and hurt feelings) and maybe Anna needs you to reach out and be her friend and let her know who and what you are. Maybe she needs you to fill her bucket because hers is empty and she’s trying to dip into your bucket to be happier?
I droned on.And finally I shut myself up.
Does this make sense, buddy?
I’m thirsty. Can you get me a water bottle?
After all that, my stroke of genius (or torture…burdening my 6yo with more social responsibility than anyone should handle) takes in my words and responds, “I’m thirsty.”
I’ll take that as a sign that he felt slightly less burdened.
So…I dunno. As ever with our ambiguous journey down gender identity, I know we aren’t in uncharted territory, but it feels that way for us. Have I done the right thing? Anybody out there with more wisdom?
I feel good about our conversation. And in checking back in with my kiddo over the past couple of nights, he seems fine, too.
Update: three days later, my son said, Daddy! I said ‘hi’ to Anna, today.
Oh? And? How’d that go? Did she respond?
But my kid was so proud for doing something that brave.
I gave him a cookie.
Gavin, I think you are doing a great job parenting. Your instincts seem right on to me. Your kids are lucky to have such a loving and caring dad!
Jeepers he is brave. I know I was in my 30’s before I figured out that when someone seemed they didn’t like me, I just acted like I thought we were famous friends. Told them jokes. Stood next to and put my arm around them in groups. Complimented and confided in them. And most of the time, they melted. It seemed they had assumed that I wouldn’t like THEM. That bucket book is right. People’s problems with you are rarely about you. Your Peanut has a BIG head start on self esteem with you for a Dad ❤. I do wish someone had told me from the start it was ok for some people not to like me. Hard to hear, but would have been a big relief.
This post did something very important for me. It put a human face on an issue that
I had given very little consideration. Prior to reading this, I had just blown off the
whole issue as “over-hype” based on isolated instances in North Carolina. Now
I understand what it really means to have to make a choice about which bathroom
to use and the risks involved in making that choice. I have compassion for people
who experience that dilemma where before I didn’t feel much of anything. I think you handled the parenting dimension extremely well. Most importantly you taught your child to try to understand the child who
was put off….and not to dislike that child just because she had hurt him. It’s so
tempting to put down the child that has hurt your own child but it’s not the way to go.