November 25, 2009 at 1:30 am 5 comments

I keep having these days where I realize how completely not ready I am to be the mother of a curious almost-4-year-old.

At bedtime, we have this litany of all the blankets on her bed, and where they came from. They include one I made for her, and one made by a friend. We say, “and this blanket is from Mary. (She made it for me) She made it for you. Do you know why? (Because she loved me even before I was born) Because she loved you. Even before you were born.”

Except that my friend Mary, who was a constant presence in my life in the years before Ruth’s arrival, had moved away. And Ruth hadn’t seen her since her first birthday party. And Mary stopped by while she was in town last week.

So, at bedtime, the conversation changed.

And this blanket is from Mary.
(Mary is that tall boy)
my internal dialogue will be represented in italics. What? Mary is a… tall, skinny woman. Okay. Um.
Mary is not a boy. Mary is a woman.
(Mary is a boy. Why do you say Mary is a woman?)
Uhhh. There was a time when this would’ve been an easier question for me to answer…
Because Mary says that Mary is a woman. And, Baby, you don’t get to decide for anyone else if they are a boy or a girl. That is for them to decide. What if I decided you were a boy?
(But I’m not a boy, I’m a girl.)
But what if I decided that you are a boy. Because I say so.
(But I’m not a boy! I’m NOT A BOY, MAMA).
No. You are not a boy. And you get to decide for you. But Mary gets to decide for Mary. And I get to decide for me. You don’t get to decide for anybody else if they are a boy or a girl.
oh dear God, what am I doing here? Whatever. In for a penny, in for a pound…
Most people decide to be what their bodies are. But some people with boy bodies decide to be girls. And some people with girl bodies decide to be boys. And nobody else gets to decide for them.
(I have a girl body. And I decide to be a girl)
Me too, Baby. Goodnight, Baby.
(Blankets, Mama)
Ok, [continuing where we left off] and this one is from Mary. She loved you even before you were born.
(SHE loved me, Mama. Because she’s a girl)
Yes, Baby. And this used to be my crayon blanket. But now it is your crayon blanket, to keep you cosy and warm. I love you Baby. Goodnight.
(I love you, Mama).

I don’t really know how to talk about any of this with my kids. I suspect “decide” is the wrong word. I suspect we’ll be back over this ground again. I suspect this is more than she wanted to know. Next time I’ll have to ask her what she thinks makes someone a boy. (And then not laugh at her answer, because she can’t tell delight from derision). I suspect that if I continue with this tack, some day I will cringe mightily as she asks someone who eschews traditional gender markers if they have chosen to be a boy or a girl. (Cringe, and hope that the question is less irritating from a child than from an adult, or that the language of choice makes a difference.)

I’m on uneven and changing ground here. How do I teach her that bodies are all different? Lives are all different? Families are all different? That diversity is a good thing- we are stronger and better with more voices at the table. That other people’s identities are their own to name. And, more importantly, that her identity is hers to name.

Whoever she grows up to be. Even if she changes her mind about the whole ‘being a girl’ thing.


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A big load for a small donut My Mom Rocks Advent

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jodi  |  November 25, 2009 at 9:14 am

    Sounds to me like you are ready. I’m certainly no parenting expert (viewing the raising of kids from my position here on the outside) but your response to your daughter’s question encourages her to question and accept in equal measures. What better way to raise your children to have wide open, loving hearts?

    Incidentally, not 5 minutes before reading this I finished watching the end of “Boys Don’t Cry”. So your post made me cry a little.

  • 2. CTJen  |  November 25, 2009 at 9:28 am

    I love that ritual, it’s very beautiful. And your conversation with her was perfect. I think “decide” is a fine word for a four year old and as she gets older she’ll grow to understand that she didn’t “decide” to be a girl anymore than Mary did. Keep up the good work, mom. ❤

  • 3. Twistie  |  November 25, 2009 at 2:47 pm

    I think you did a great job with the question. You used concepts that make sense to a four-year-old, which is what you need to do when dealing with complex issues and very young children.

    As CT Jen says, different words will be needed later on, but for right now, ‘decide’ is one she can comprehend. Subtleties can be added as she is ready to handle them. The important thing is that the first time the subject came up, you spoke frankly to her on her own level in a way that encourages acceptance and understanding rather than fear.

    What you did was plant the seed that will allow her to come to you with other questions about gender, sexuality, etc. and expect both frankness and respect. She knows it’s safe to talk about these things with you. And if one day she comes to the conclusion that she’s really a boy or that she sees herself with a woman as a life partner, she will know that you’ll still love her every bit as much as you do now.

    (awards you a parenting gold star)

  • 4. Anna  |  November 25, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    -hugs- You’re a great Mum.

  • 5. Cleric at Large  |  November 25, 2009 at 8:10 pm

    Thanks, y’all for your kind and affirming words. I kinda needed that.

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