When my son came out with a vengeance two weeks before his due date, it was as if he was saying, "Watch out, world. Here I am!"
And he lives up to this promise.
He, unlike his quiet, rule-following older brother, is loud, rough and rebellious. The now 4-year-old loves superheroes (or as he says, "superhewoes"), rocks backward baseball caps and, given the opportunity—which is often—loves being naked. This tough, truck loving, toddler wants to be the Hulk when he grows up and a volunteer firefighter in his free time.
But this rough and tumble tot is also my little boy who asks me to paint his fingernails blue to match his toenails. He is the gentle giant who kindly asks me to put his hair in a "boy bun" when he gets out of the bath and do his make-up like mama's because it looks pretty. After he barrels into the car and situates his baseball cap, he requests "the Elsa songs" and we belt out Frozen tunes all the way to school. He is my sensitive soul who tells me he loves the earth because of all the beautiful colors.
To be honest, I love the softer side of him. But, I can't help but wonder, what if the world doesn't? Is it my responsibility to tell him that usually, girls paint their nails? Should I tell him only girls like to sing along with Elsa and Anna? That certainly isn't true, though. Those are just gender stereotypes. And I hate the idea of pushing them on my children.
The night before his first day of preschool, he begged me to paint his nails both pink and blue, alternating fingers, of course. I will be honest; I hesitated. We must have been thinking the same thing because my son said softly, "Mom, will the mean boys call me a girl?"
Maybe, I thought to myself.
It's true. There are always mean kids out there. And I won't be able to protect him from them forever. I can certainly try. But if I spend my life protecting him, he won't grow up to be the strong, independent and loving man I hope him to be.
What I can do is love him fiercely and support him unconditionally. I can be his biggest fan regardless of his hair being long, short, in a ponytail or shaved. I can encourage him to be himself regardless of the decisions he makes that aren't in line with mainstream culture or predetermined gender expectations. What I can do is raise a little boy who doesn't seek validation from others.
I finished painting his nails, put his hair in a "boy bun" and tucked him into his dinosaur sheets. Before I said goodnight, I looked my sweet little peanut in the eyes and I told him that it doesn't matter what the mean kids say. It doesn't matter what makes the mean kids happy. What matters is what makes you happy. Be confident in what makes you happy. You do you, little one.
As a parent, I understand it is my responsibility to prepare him for the world that awaits, be it preschool, adolescence or adulthood. I know he will learn from his father and me. He will make the decision if he wants a ponytail like mom or short hair like daddy.
Right now, he wants his hair long and, honestly, it's adorable. Today, he wants his nails painted orange but I doubt that will last forever. Someday soon he won't be vying for my attention and may not want his nails painted like mine anymore. Right now, my job is not to make him into the person I think he should be or the person the world wants him to be. My job as a parent is to help him love himself now and whoever he grows up to be.
With time, and age, he will find his true self and I will love whoever that person is. This world is a confusing and scary place, the last thing someone needs is to go through it alone.