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.
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!”
“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?