Why can’t boys wear dresses?

The other night, as I was tucking her in bed (our usual night time ritual), I had a conversation with my daughter. Somehow, we got on the subject of clothes.

“I love wearing dresses,” she said proudly. Full disclosure–Lily is very girly. She adores dresses the same way that I adored wearing shorts when I was little. At her age, my parents dressed me up in the frilliest dresses that they could possibly find and would parade me around our village. There’s a suspicion that my dad must’ve put me on his shoulder too many times to show me off, and that’s why I developed a fear of heights.

But of course, my daughter isn’t like that. She’s about as girly as they come. And she loves the attention she gets from wearing dresses.

“You know why I love dresses?” she continued. Whenever she begins her sentence with, “You know why...” it usually means that she already has a reason. I follow along anyway.

“Why?” I said.

“Because it’s pretty, and it’s sparkly, and I can twirl around in it!” she exclaimed.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yes, I love wearing dresses to school,” she added.

“Does anybody else in your class like to wear dresses?” I asked her.

“Hmm…” she pondered for a moment, then said, “Victoria,” (one of her friends) and then she rattled off some other names that I can’t remember.

“What about the boys? Do they like to wear dresses?”

“No!” she cried, as if baffled that I would even ask such a question. “Boys don’t wear dresses.”

“Why not?!? Girls wear pants and shorts, like boys do,” I replied. “So why can’t boys wear dresses?”

She paused for a moment to consider. Finally, she said, “Boys can’t wear dresses to school because the other boys and girls would laugh at him!”

Cha ching. She’s right on the money. At least she understands the dynamics of the playground, I thought. But I wanted to make her think even deeper, so I asked, “Would YOU laugh at him?”

She sat up on her bed, pursed her lips, moved her eyes back and forth for a moment, and I can tell she’s pondering her answer. But instead she said nothing. Her face had that look that says, “No comment.”

Smart girl.

I love having these short little conversations with Lily because I can ask her these kind of questions and she always gives me a very intelligent, thoughtful answer. I want her to think deeply about bigger issues that tends to pervade adults’ lives, things that begin its roots at the playground. Societal expectations of gender behavior is one of them.

I also want to teach her to challenge the status quo. Just because something has always been that way it is doesn’t mean that it has to be.

It’s clearly obvious that in our society, if a little boy shows up to school with a dress on, all the little kids would laugh at him. That’s the reason why, if a little boy wants to wear dresses, he does it at home, when no one’s looking. I’m sure there are plenty of boys who raid their mom’s closets and try on their pretty things. But we just don’t talk about it.

Let’s not forget that in ancient times, men wore togas and skirts, things that literally wrap around them. In some cultures today, robes and skirts are still acceptable (Scottish kilts, anyone?). In Vietnam, for example, men wear a type of robe that extends all the way down to their ankles, making it appear like a dress, when really, it’s just another version of the ao dai.

For now, I hope that our conversation helped her see the other side of the coin.

A girl can dream, right?

Yesterday, while driving to the library for storytime (one of our usual weekend activities), Lily declared from the backseat, “I’m going to be a singer when I grow up!”

“Oh, really?” I responded.

“Yeah.”

“I thought you wanted to be a teacher,” I said. She’s told me about her grown up dreams of wanting to be a teacher, then an illustrator, and now, a performer, all without me ever asking.

“Well, I do,” she said.

“You can’t be a teacher and a singer,” I told her. “How are you supposed to teach and sing?”

“I can be a teacher during the day,” she responded. “Then, after I’m done teaching, I can go to the theater and sing and dance!” She said this with the gleeful exuberance of a six-year-old daydreaming about multiple jobs as a lifestyle choice, not knowing that this concept is called a “side hustle,” something that my generation does quite a bit in order to be able to support themselves, sometimes by choice, but usually not. Of course, her dream of performing on the side, during off-school hours, are simply that–a passion.

“We’re going to be on the radio, TV, and phone!” she continued.

Images of Destiny’s Child and TLC flashed in my mind. “Oh, you mean you want to sing with a group?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “We’re going to be called The Sweet Girls!”

My daughter has the biggest imagination sometimes. She conjures up names, places, and things and puts them together in a story that makes it sound like anything is possible. I remember as a child, I had an active imagination too, but while hers involve future activities, mine was more on the present. I’d imagine the roles that I have along with the roles that the boys I was playing House with would have, and what we’d do in order to run the house smoothly.  And whenever I’d play with dolls, I’d dress them up in pretty clothes and imagine them in certain situations.

Recently, I read an article by Adam Grant, one of the greatest organizational psychologists of our time, in the New York Times called, “Stop Asking Kids What They Want to Be When They Grow Up,” in which he outlined his reasons for why we, as adults, should stay away from asking this cliche’d question. I definitely agree with what he said–about how we’re limiting our children to think only in the scope of careers whenever we ask this question. Sure, it’s cute when a child tells you that he wants to be a firefighter. What little boy doesn’t want to be a firefighter? And what little girl doesn’t want to be a princess? But as we all know, not everyone can be a firefighter, and not everyone is born as a princess.

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Future teacher, or performer, or both?

To my knowledge, I’ve never once asked Lily what she wanted to be when she grows up. (If I did, we didn’t go into detail about it). She’s always been the one telling me instead. I think it’s important to have dreams, even grandiose ones, and that’s why I’m recording it here–that as a six-year-old, my daughter wants to be a teacher and a singer–so that when she grows up and becomes a doctor, lawyer, zoologist, accountant, nurse, engineer, or anything else that is not even close to performing (or teaching) she will have a record of the dreams she once had. Part of my parenting philosophy is to record the moments, but like Adam Grant, I don’t prefer to ask my children the age old question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” because to me, it doesn’t really matter. What they end up being is of their own volition, as long as they’re truly happy.

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Lily, circa Oct. 2017. Even then she knew how to pose like a performer.

Like many parents, I want success for my kids, but I’m certainly not going to tell them that they can be anything they want to be either. I think that’s one of the worst things you can tell a little kid. I want them to be able to figure out that dreams are only a small string of what will hold you together when things go awry–when your dreams don’t become a reality, when your expectations are not met, when failure happens. Dreams will propel you far, but it won’t take you to the end. Commitment, grit (the unwillingness to give up), and connections will take you much further.

A recent conversation with my daughter

This afternoon, I took my daughter to the school yard around the corner of our apartment. As we’re walking along, she said something along the lines of, “I’m going to miss you when I’m 31, because I’m not going to live with you anymore.” She’s known to say weird things like that.

So, I responded, “Well, you’ll have your own family, so you won’t need me.”

Immediately, she said, “I don’t know who I’m going to marry!”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “You’ll meet him later.”

“I hope it’s not Long,” she giggles, like she’s just revealed a secret that she’s not supposed to reveal.

Long is a boy in her class who really likes her. And he’s pretty cute too.

“Why don’t you wanna marry Long?” I asked.

She giggled, but didn’t respond. Then she said, “Do you know who I want to marry?”

“Who?” I said.

“Miles, hehe.” She broke into a fit of giggles again. I gasped and pretended that I’d just heard the biggest secret in a long, long time.

Since I couldn’t remember who Miles is, I asked her, “What does Miles look like?”

She said, “He’s blond.”

“…And?” I prompted further. “What color is his eyes?”

“I don’t know,” she responded. “I think it’s brown, but I don’t really look at his eyes.”

“Oh, I see,” I said, making a mental note to check out Miles the next time I pick her up from school.

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I’m assuming that a lot of parents don’t have this kind of conversation with their six year old. Then again, their six year old probably doesn’t talk about marriage and husbands either. Lily is strange sometimes. She attracts the cutest little boys, so I don’t think she’s going to have a tough time with candidates for future husbands. I do hope that she’ll want to talk to me about boys with me in the future.

 

 

My not-so-proud parenting moment

One of the facts of life is this–none of us are perfect, we all have flaws, right? But for some reason, these flaws don’t make their appearance until we become parents. At least, for me anyway. When you’re young and self-absorbed, you tend to push your flaws aside, thinking that while you acknowledge their existence they don’t make a full impact in your everyday lifestyle.

Then you become a parent, and things start coming out of the closet.

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Just 10 days after turning 28, my daughter was born. I officially became a parent. My world from that point on changed completely. I learned to take care of someone else besides myself, and if you are one of these people (parents) then you know what I mean. I worried like most parents worry. I slept little like most new parents slept. I handled explosive poops and temper tantrums like most parents have to do.

Like many parents, I wondered how my daughter would turn out. And everything I did seemed to revolved around the thought of, “How will this look like in her eyes?” Her perceptions of me were more important than what other parents thought of me.

When Lily was three and a half years old, she started preschool. I remember dropping her off on the first day and feeling a sense of nostalgia–my baby was growing up, but I wanted her to stay little. She was a talking, walking and discovering little toddler, with thoughts and questions now. I gave her a hug and a kiss goodbye, and for the most part, she was excited to start preschool. She was perfectly okay with me leaving her there for half the day. As soon as we arrived at her school, she’d start in on an activity, as if to say, “Mom, I’m good, thanks. You can go now.”IMG_0918.jpg

Fast forward another year or so, this separation agreement evaporated completely. It started at home, when my husband told me one day that Lily had a problem with him going outside for a bit. He had to take out the trash, do the laundry, etc.–things that involved stepping outside our apartment. She’s always been one of those kids who were okay with this, but all of a sudden she was not.

Did it make it hard to do chores? You bet. Every time he had to step out, she’d dissolve into a pool of tears which ballooned into a full freakout. I was not there for the majority of these freakouts (because I was at work), but got the full frontal experience one day when my husband was at work himself.

As any typical day goes, there is laundry and trash and dishes to be done. After doing the dishes one Saturday morning, I had a bag of trash that needed to be taken out. Not only that, there was the looming presence of laundry–so full that it looked like it was about to burst out of the hamper, and I needed to take care of these things immediately.

This is the part where I feel like Homer Simpson whenever he goes, “Doh!” and slaps his head, because it was not very smart. I thought I could get away with it, if I was quick enough. And I planned on being as fast as possible, to not allow Lily to figure out what I was doing. I was a ninja in my head, I thought.

 

Homer Simpson Doh Sound Effect Download I15 image in Vector cliparts category at pixy.org

So, while she and her brother were playing in her room, I sneaked out with the bag of trash and laundry. I ran to the dumpster as fast as I could, dumped the trash in, and rushed to the basement of our quad, turned the laundry on, and felt relieved that I only took about five minutes or so.

As I stepped out of the basement, I heard what was no doubt cries–piercing cries coming from my apartment upstairs. I walked up the stairs, and not surprisingly, the cries were doubled. Turns out, whenever Lily freaks out, her brother also freaks out, because he’s a baby and other people crying and screaming that loud scares him.

I let out an exasperated sigh, and braced myself for the drama. Deep breaths, I told myself, but all I could feel was anger rising in my chest. I mean, for God’s sakes, it was only a few minutes! What the hell.

When I stepped in and opened the door, there she was in her full crying glory–babbling away incoherently words I didn’t understand, and her brother being completely freaked out next to her. By this time, things are getting LOUD in the living room.

It was then that I just lost it. I mean, completely lost it. I don’t remember the exact words I yelled, but it was something like, “What the hell’s wrong with you?!?! I was only gone for like five minutes! What’s your problem?!? Can’t a person go outside for a few minutes to do chores without coming home to this??? WHAT THE FUCK!!!” I slammed the door hard and demanded that she go to her room.

By this time, all three of us were crying–me because my toddler wouldn’t allow me to leave for a few minutes to do chores, her because of the fact that I did it, then yelled her at her, and James because he was scared at the commotion between the two of us.

Because the crying was amplified, my neighbor from downstairs came up to see what was going on. I had my door opened by that time, and she just walked in and immediately gave me a hug. She didn’t say very much, but I knew she understood because she’s a mom herself. I cried and cried, feeling resigned, like I couldn’t handle any more of this drama.

Then she left me be and went to my daughter, gave her a hug, and whispered something in her ears that made everything a little bit quieter. For the next few minutes, Lily and I were in separate rooms, stewing by ourselves. It was that toxic.

And that, my readers, is one of the lowest, if not the lowest moment of parenting in the past five years to me. You know it’s bad when the neighbor comes up to help you. The last time she did that was when James was born. That’s another story.

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In retrospect, that incident taught me a lot about patience. Heck, becoming a parent taught me a lot about patience! But when your toddler pushes you to your breaking point, and you don’t know what to do…well, there’s a sense of helplessness there. It’s a vulnerability that we all have, but a trait that rarely comes up for some of us. On that day, I felt a lot like Homer Simpson, not just because I had a “Doh!” moment, but also because I wanted to wring her neck. I felt like Homer whenever he grabs Bart by the neck and say, “Why you little…!!!”

With all dreams of abuse aside, I knew I would never do that. After all, she was going through what is typically known as the “terrible” ages–Terrible Twos transformed into Terrible Threes. Anyone who tells you that you only get to experience the Terrible Twos is lying. I think that the terrible ages last well into early 4th year. As soon as you start feeling like they’re on a good schedule, sleep-wise, they enter the Terrible Two stage, which by itself, is a test of your physical and mental endurance.

As I’m writing this, I’m happy to report that the phase she was in have dissolved. Finally, we can go out to the dumpster by ourselves! And down to the basement to do laundry! Or to the car to pick up something! Hallelujah!

I never thought I’d be so glad to say, “I can go out to the dumpster by myself,” but I am. There you have it.