The first day of school has always been a little nerve-wracking for me. Having grown up with a debilitating shyness, I'm constantly impressed with the bravery that Punkgirl ( 12) and Happyboy ( 10) show every year. Punkgirl, who came out at school last year as a lesbian, has had a particularly difficult time and has handled it with such maturity. She went off to school today the same way she did last year (albeit cloaked in a little more confidence now that she's in her second year of middle school.) She generally likes a mix of flowy and tight clothing, sort of punk rock but definitely "girl" stuff...but now, just like the beginning of last year, she's wearing very gender-neutral clothing. I call it her "flag." She throws it out there, to show the boys that she hangs around with that she's ok, she's one of them, that she's not into all that girly crap like makeup and pocketbooks (meanwhile somehow conveying to her girl friends that she doesn't judge them for liking makeup and girly crap, because sometimes she rocks a pocketbook and earrings just to switch it up.) My worry is that last year, her first at the middle school, she was devastated because as much as she wanted to throw out her flag, a few teachers and students mistook her for a boy.
She is gorgeous. I am not saying that as her Mom. So it's difficult at first to understand how anyone can misconstrue her gorgeous face for a boy's. But. She wears super-short hair (and this year we did, in fact, cave and allow a "faux-hawk.") Shapeless tshirts from the boys' section (in place of her usual tailored t's that are like-new hand-me-down Aeropostale or Hollister.) In a school setting, in the first month, where there are hundreds of new students...I would probably be looking more at the kids' clothes than their faces too. So I can't blame them for the initial reaction, or her tears afterward...and they certainly stepped up to the plate, because the guidance counselor made sure from that day that the Principal and teachers knew my daughter's name, and that she was a girl. That woman became my best resource and has my admiration still.
But her guidance counselor is on maternity leave. We start this year with a boy's tshirt, a vest, no earrings, and a unisex backpack. My heart is quivering, hoping that the self-assurance she found over the summer continues as she embarks on a new adventure this year. I offered her a pair of earrings, but she declined, her eyes telling me she knew that she might be mistaken for a boy, but she wouldn't cave.
Off she went, with Coffeeguy, to be dropped off at school, a smile across her face, which totally mocked all my fears.
And that was one down. Happyboy had been having the same first day since the first grade. He generally wears a combination of "girl" and "boy" clothing. That boy rocks a sparkly shirt or a pair of pink capris like nobody's business. But the first day always comes with "what if they make fun of me?" We have had a lot of conversations over the years between curiosity and rude behavior or meanness. Every year, about two weeks in, I get the same letter: we want him to join a play group with the School Psychologist to make some new friends. It's devastating.
But last year that changed. Yes, he still got the letter, but there were more conversations of "so and so played this with me at recess" and "so and so invited me to his birthday." While he had always had a few friends who were girls, now suddenly he had a larger group of friends,both boys and girls, all of whom accepted him for himself. He began to sport Angry Birds and TMNT along with his sparkles (as long as we still got the sparkles too.)
I thought that this had made him stop worrying about what he wore and what he liked, and if they would tease him, but as we shopped for school supplies I saw him longingly eyeing a blue sparkly peace folder. "You can grab that one if you want, buddy, it's not too expensive." He hesitated, and his eyes watered a little. "What if they tease me about it?" he asked. I thought for a second. Was he worried about the teasing or did he just not want that folder?
"Well," I said slowly, "that could happen, I won't lie. But your friends last year all seemed ok with you no matter what, right? And if someone makes fun of you just for what you like I'm not sure I want you to be that person's friend. But I also want you to be comfortable, so if you want to pick a plainer folder until you get to know the kids again, that's ok." He thought about it, and put it back for a plain black folder. I just said ok, as I didn't want to influence him, but I could see he was perturbed. We picked out the rest of his supplies and made it to the register, when he suddenly said, "Wait a minute, I'll be right back!" He ran down the row of supplies, grabbed the blue sparkly peace folder, and ran back. He switched it, and seemed content. He told me how much he liked it, and he didn't care if anyone else did.
Fast forward to this morning, where he was intensely stressed out about his supplies...until I moved the blue sparkly one behind a plain one I had bought as an extra. "There," I said. "Now you'll have it ready for when you WANT to show someone." He got a big smile, wrapped his little dragon wristband around his hand, and walked out to the bus.
That's two kids off to school with smiles, and a mommy waiting nervously at home. I hope they come home with the same smiles, and I hope I can continue to hold onto those fears for them, so they don't have to.
www.suckathomemom.blogspot.com I'm a 40 something year old with two tweens and a new baby. This is my effort to keep my sanity after leaving the workforce, taking up breastfeeding, and managing the kids. I'm mostly failing at it.