We have always raised our son without regard to gender stereotypes. We don’t mind that he plays with “girl” toys, because they are just toys. We are not upset that he dresses up in princess clothes during play time. They are simply costumes. In so doing, we hope and pray that our son will be true to himself, have integrity, and be a mensch.
Some time ago, a lovely, dear person who shares her name with a famous Disney princess treated us to a sojourn at Disneyland, and we went over winter break, as my son’s birthday gift. Along with seemingly 1/3 of the world’s population, we visited the theme park and took fabulous photos of our handsome 6-year-old with every fancy princess available.
With every interaction, his eyes grew wider with excitement. He told Snow White to avoid any old lady with an apple, and comforted Cinderella with the knowledge that her step-mother was just jealous and mean. When one called him a handsome prince, he was beaming. We even took a photo with an impeccable Cruella de Vil—our dear kid posed with a foot in between them and with one eye casting a wary glance to be sure she was behaving.
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Fast forward two weeks later, and my kid is back at his Jewish day school where he’s assigned to be the kid of the week. We spent upwards of two hours putting together a poster that would represent who he is and what he liked to do. We printed some of his favorite activities/events: going to a hotel, ice skating, camping with his awesome dad, and of course, meeting every possible Disney princess. We added “treasures”—little shiny crafty things—in green to show off his favorite color. We printed a picture of an FBI guy, representing the kid’s future job goal as chief of detectives. Odd, yes, but if it comes to fruition, he will be the living embodiment of my fantasy. (Apparently, I am not a good candidate to be a detective with my inability to find my way out of a paper bag.)
When I picked him up from school after he brought in his poster, he was especially clingy. I thought it was because his jacket was in his backpack and he was cold. When I asked how everybody liked his masterpiece poster, he was quiet. Eventually, he said that the boys hated it and made fun of him. One boy called it “disgusting” because of all of the princess photos. One drew a picture of our dear boy being thrown out in the garbage. One other kid pulled off some of the treasures from the poster.
It was all I could do not to cry. I didn’t want him to see my hurt from his pain, and then think that these boys’ words and actions had any significance. We discussed what it is to be a nice person, and I reminded him that he will always be better than somebody who bullies or is so mean just because someone dares to be an individual. I may have also called one of them an a-hole.
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I immediately got in touch with his teachers and the school, and they are taking it very seriously. But as I wait to find out what direction they take in handling this, I have faith that my son will be fine. He has friends who love him for who he is, and who fully embrace him. We spent a lot of time talking about the virtue of kindness, even and especially to someone who is not kind to us. We reinforced our love for him, and how much we appreciate his individuality. Then we had some chocolate and went to bed.
When I asked him if he wanted me to take back his poster the next day instead of leaving it up at school for the week, he said no. He said he loves his poster, and he was going to be proud, no matter what the other boys said. That’s the best outcome, in my mind.
But, I’m not going to lie.
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I saw one of the boys the following morning, walking in with his mom. He gave my son a once-over and smirked. I would have liked to clock him. Instead, I told my dear boy to have the best day ever, and I knew that he would!