When Playing Dress Up Can Be An “Issue”

I can’t speak for every single child on the face of this earth, but I can tell you in my experience with children this is true: Dress up is awesome.

Some kids seem to find more joy in it than others, but I haven’t yet met a kid who didn’t want to put on a costume of their favorite Disney character, or wear a cape and pretend to be a favorite superhero, or put on a hat and call it a “crown.” It’s completely natural, and in fact a sign of proper development, to “play pretend.”

In our house, dress up is a given. At any moment, there is a very, very, good chance that Alex is either wearing a costume or at least pretending that he is someone else. His current costumes include: Buzz Lightyear, another Buzz Lightyear, Captain America, Batman, a Vampire and a Knight. Of course, those are the actual costumes and don’t include the other characters that he will become when wearing one of them. It also doesn’t include his pajamas, many of which are costume-like: Spiderman, another Buzz, Woody. And it certainly doesn’t include his imagination; all of the times when he just says, “I’m _______ now!” and runs off and suddenly is that new character.

This past weekend Alex and I went to a birthday party. A sixth birthday party, to be exact. In this big beautiful house were approximately one bajillion kids, mostly in the five to six year range. Those one bajillion kids were loud and busy and did I mention there were at least one bajillion of them?

Naturally, because this was a birthday party at a girl’s house, the costume selection was, well, “girly.” A fairy here, a princess there. Costumes abounded with frills and poofs and cuteness.

Naturally, my child who is obsessed with wearing costumes wanted to wear a costume. So, he did.

For a long while he was Tinkerbell.

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A very cute Tinkerbell who also happened to be “damaging” everything around with a “sword,” which was the wand. Alex ran around the house in that costume at top speed, chasing kids, being chased by kids, “BOOM”ing and “SMASH”ing everything in his way. He owned that costume.

I would be lying if I said, “I didn’t think anything of it!” because, well, of course I did. I’m about as open minded as you get, especially when it comes to gender norms, but I am not an idiot. I know that there are many people who have issues with a boy wearing something pink or frilly, or playing with barbies, or, in this case, dressing up as a female fairy. And, I’ll be honest, I almost said, “No” when Alex asked me to help him get the costume on. Not because I care, but because there were lots of kids and some parents there; kids and parents who I didn’t know.

The kids and parents there who I do know didn’t bat an eye, thought it was adorable, sweet, who cares?, wished their more “conservative” husbands could see it, etc. I got one eye roll from a parent I didn’t know, but I am even more sad to say that I saw multiple children making fun of my son.

It took everything in my willpower to not say something. To not pull aside those little kids and scold them for being mean. To not explain to their little five-and-six-year-old brains that making fun of anyone, ever, is not okay. That just because you think something or someone is different doesn’t mean it’s okay to make fun of it or she or him. But, I didn’t. I didn’t because Alex had no idea. He didn’t know that those kids were not simply stating a fact: “Look at that boy! He’s in a girl’s costume!” He didn’t catch the tone. He didn’t see the giggling and pointing.

He was having a blast, so I didn’t say anything.

I think it was the right decision, but I’m not entirely sure. They weren’t my kids to scold. They certainly were not my kids to attempt to teach. It just makes me sad that, in Kindergarten, these things start. That these kids may not have parents who think it’s important to teach their offspring that not only is different okay, but also it’s good. Maybe their parents are still a few decades back in their thinking, and it can’t be my business to try to change them.

Or maybe it means none of that. Maybe one kid was a little mean and the rest just followed suit.

I don’t know. But I do know that Alex had an amazing, wonderful, time that day. And I do know that the kids of my friends there didn’t care that he was in a costume, which reinforces that I am lucky to be surrounded by such amazing women and amazing children. Alex didn’t want to leave the party. He loved wearing some new costumes and on the way home continually asked me when he could buy a new one for his house. He told me: “I forgot to play with Alexis because I was so busy playing with her cool costumes!”

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“I am not Minnie Mouse. I’m a princess. I’m a princess because now you have to bring me the food I want to eat. And chocolate! And I don’t have to clean. And you do my chores. And I can stay up forever.”

What kid wouldn’t want that?

All Locked Up

I had no idea that having every weekend off would be the most amazing thing in the world.

I knew it would be great. I expected it to be wonderful, lovely, enjoyable, fun. I planned on the fact that having two full days off, at the same time as My Boys, would be a fantastic addition to our lives. I fully expected that I would love it, and that Zach would love it, poor guy having to be the one and only parent every other weekend and for days (and days!) at a time.

But the fact of the matter is that it is seriously, truly, beyond amazing. It is better than anticipated.

And the cool thing? It is going to stay that way. From now on, at least with this job, I won’t be working weekends. No longer will I have to work every other Saturday and Sunday, leaving my family behind on their only days off of work and school. No longer will I have to say no to friends and family when they want to stay out late on a Saturday night. I don’t have to turn down every other birthday party, gathering, baby shower, enjoyable event in life that occurs on a weekend because that is when normal people aren’t working. No longer will I be working overnight, missing out on both bedtime and wake up rituals with Alex.

It isn’t going to stay as perfect as it has been these first few weeks. I’ve been able to work mostly 7:30-3:30. I will have to work some evenings each week, two to three, but never overnight, and never weekends. Never holidays! It is with great joy that I can say that I will not have to work Easter, Fourth of July, Christmas. The “hazard hours” will not be fun, and missing out on dinner will be a bummer, but on the days that I miss dinner I should hopefully not miss breakfast too.

Instead, I get to be slightly more normal. Even though I will be staying up late some nights, I will not have to completely change my sleeping schedule every week or two. I won’t be screwing with my body’s natural rhythm, missing out on a million and one milestones in Alex’s development, declining events left and right.

If I hadn’t been home all of this week, I would have missed out on this:


The “L” sound! And at the beginning there is an “R” in there! My little man is growing up, day by day, and I hope that I can start to miss less of it. I got to hear him say “Thor” appropriately, and “Lock” with an actual luh instead of a wuh. As silly and inconsequential as it sounds (and, yes, it kind of it), it made my day. And I don’t want to miss these little things.

Like the constant costume changes. And the need to be playing characters all the time. And the literally nonstop talking. I don’t want to miss it, even though, I’ll admit!, it drives me nuts sometimes when he says my name over and over and over again. “Mommy, do bats fly, Mommy? Uh, Mommy? Did you know that bats are nocturnal, Mommy? Mommy, did you know dat? Did you know dat about bats, Mommy? Mommy?” (No, I am not even remotely exaggerating. The name he is using, whether it’s Mommy, Daddy or a grandparent, will often be the first word and last word in a question or statement.)

Captain America

But I don’t want to miss a thing.

Worries

There was a time when I was concerned about Alex’s language. I worried that he was not developing his language at an appropriate rate. I worried that he didn’t know enough words. I worried that his lack of clarity was, well, worrisome.

There was a time when I was concerned about his lack of cuddling. His total disinterest in cuddling made me instantly concerned that something was wrong.

There was a time when I worried that Alex wasn’t smart, wasn’t developing his gross motor skills fast enough, wasn’t something something. I worried a lot. 

While I was pregnant, I devoured parenting books. I had an entire stack of them that I read, word for word. I read parenting blogs, was a member of parenting online communities, and made sure to listen to any and all advice that people gave me. I knew, even while pregnant, to not actually use all of the advice that was thrown my way, but I genuinely listened. 

I considered everyone else more knowledgeable about parenting than me. I don’t know if it was because I was so young; perhaps it was because Alex wasn’t a “planned” baby; whatever the reason, I thought that I wasn’t prepared to be a mother without educating myself. 

So, I read. I listened. I read some more. I searched and found and read some more.

And all of that made me worry. “Why can this other one year old run when Alex can barely walk? Why does this baby seem to understand directions? Why isn’t Alex saying more than simply ‘mama’ and ‘dada?'” 

I worried that it was my fault. That I wasn’t nourishing him appropriately. 

I don’t know exactly when my worrying changed. It probably wasn’t overnight, but at some point I just let go of it all. I let go of comparing Alex to other kids. I let go of reading “expert” opinions on child rearing. I stopped paying attention when other people gave me advice about how to get my kid to sleep. 

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It just stopped mattering at some point. 

At some point I learned to trust myself. I learned to believe that I could be a parent, regardless of the fact that I was young and inexperienced and blah blah blah. 

I would be lying if I said that I never worried. I still worry. I worry that Alex, as a boy who will be the youngest in his class, will struggle in Kindergarten next year. I worry that Alex, who we may decide to keep in preschool for an additional year because of those worries, will do worse in Kindergarten because of boredom. 

But I no longer question my ability to parent. 

I think part of this change has been recognizing that, regardless of my faults, I have a really amazing little guy. As parents, we are obviously doing something right. 

Alex

Painting is Serious Business

We started off with a blank picture of Toy Story characters. Alex was determined to make it look real.

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“What color is the shirt supposed to be? Is slotted pig very pink? The brown doesn’t look very nice, but I think there is a lot of brown in this picture.”

It was all very serious. “Mommy, I don’t think we have all the colors we need.”

So, instead of having white to paint Rex’s teeth, Alex decided brown would be an okay color choice.

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“Rex’s teeth are brown. He doesn’t brush his teeth.”

And then the brown continued as he painted Jessie’s face. “Rexie doesn’t brush his teeth, but Jessie is just dirty.

Painting

A Sensitive Soul

He can be rough. He can be crude to the extent a four-year-old can be, e.g., nonstop talking about pooping and farting and throwing up. He can, occasionally, be rude. “I don’t care what you think, Mommy.”

But at the end of the day, Alex is a sensitive little bugger.

When singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” this year, he consistently pointed out that the reindeer were not nice to Rudolph. That it is not okay to make fun of someone just because they are different. That if he were Rudolph, he would be very upset with the other reindeer. And, most importantly, just because Rudolph ended up being “cool” at the end, the other reindeer were still not nice. “They should have been nice always.”

And even though sometimes he gets in trouble at school for pushing, or teaching his friends a naughty word, or most likely not listening, for the most part he is very gentle. His teachers often tell me how polite he is, and how instead of fighting back with the other kids he will come to a teacher, often in tears, and explain what happened. He certainly needs to work on his ability to stick up for himself and work out issues on his own, but I am very happy that he chooses to “tattle-tale” rather than fight back. I am thrilled that he is a “softie” and is more likely to cry than take a toy back from someone smaller than him.

The other day, a sleep-deprived, hungry, Alex was being, well, a sleep-deprived, hungry, Alex. Whining, fussing, moaning, near tears, making a big deal out of every.single.little.thing. He was driving me crazy.

Often, his terrible crankiness can be broken by making him laugh. Make a kid laugh and every problem instantly disappears, I’ve learned. In my attempt to make him laugh, I used a typical strategy: calling him silly names, like “crankasaurus” and “crankapotamus.” Instead of laughing, though, he burst into tears.

“Mommy, that’s not a very nice thing to say. It makes me sad when you say that. ::sob:: Please don’t say that ever again.”

(I won’t lie: I had to walk away because it was quite hilarious.)

My sensitive little guy.

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