Thursday, August 25, 2011

"I'm Britney?"

From 2000 - 2002 I taught preschool to a diverse group of energetic children. Every morning one boy would enter the classroom, throw down his stuff and run over to the dress-up corner to slip into a wedding gown.

His enthusiasm for the loveliness of this dress was unabashed.  Wearing it made him happy. He wore it when building in the block center, playing with make-believe guns ("no guns in school"), reading books and eating breakfast.

Sometimes he would roll around on the table singing Britney Spears songs. I once said to him "Okay Britney, time to get off the table" to which he ecstatically replied, "I'm Britney?"

None of the other children in the class had a problem with his wardrobe choice. It was a non-issue.  The teachers in the room didn't make a big deal out of it either.  

For Christmas that year Toys "R" Us offered to donate a gift to every child in our class.  Each student read through the catalog and chose an item.  This little boy circled a Barbie doll. It was all he wanted.  He had asked his parents for one but they said no.

What to do?

We decided that we would put his order in exactly as he wanted it.  The day the Barbie arrived in school he was grinning from ear to ear.  He spent the rest of the day holding it, playing with it and loving it.

The next day when he came to school he did not run in to get the wedding dress.  He was not smiling his normally infectious smile.  He was sad.

"Mommy threw my Barbie in the garbage" he replied when we asked him why he was so upset.

He even wrote a song about it that went something like this...

"I got Barbie.  I love Barbie.  Mommy threw Barbie away."

Eleven years have passed since this incident but it is something that sticks with me, especially in light of some recent posts that touch on similar issues (you can read them here and here.)  I'd like to think that a boy can play with a Barbie and wear a wedding dress nowadays without his parents flipping out.

Granted, it is probably a lot to swallow but isn't acceptance better than teaching shame?

20 comments:

Barbara said...

What a great post (as are the two you mentioned). My heart went out to the child in your class. I hope his parents have learned just a little tolerance and understanding. Society can be cruel enough. Children at least need parents who support their beliefs and desires.

Gary said...

Barbara, this little boy really touched my heart. He was so unaware that he was doing something considered wrong by many people. He was just being himself. I hated to see his spirit crushed but I wasn't surprised it happened given his parents and our society. Simply heartbreaking. He has since been back to the school to visit and seems to be a happy 16 year old. When he gets older I would love to talk with him about what he remembers from his preschool days.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

how i hope and pray that in the ensuing years this little boys parents have become more accepting!

acceptance yes! shame no!

the story reminds me of the incredibly powerful film "ma vie en rose" - although i saw it years ago it still stays with me. thanks for the reminder perhaps i can see if the library has a copy and view it again....

Steve Reed said...

Wow, that IS a great post. Poor kid! I'd like to think that parents now, 11 years later, might handle that situation a little differently. Seems like people are getting wiser about such things overall.

I'm glad to hear he seems happy now as a teenager.

(I used to spend hours playing Barbies with my stepsister!)

Gary said...

Kimy - I googled the movie and was happy to find it is available to watch online. I only watched a snippet so far but it REALLY connects with this post. Thanks for the heads up. This boy has visited my class as an older boy and his parents must be happy he was in pants and I am happy to report his spirit still shines.

Steve - I loved how this boy, so full of energy and love, had no qualms about getting into this dress. It struck me, who has lived through small minds and prejudice, as so innocent. A great lesson in being joyful and okay in your skin. And I hated to see that spirit crushed in what I assumed was the first of many lessons like this he would probably have to endure throughout his life. But, yes, things appear to be getting better or at least these things are being brought more into the open and discussed.

I never played Barbie dolls, stuffed animals were my playthings and friends but my scissor happy twin brother had fun as hairdresser to my sister's dolls. Poor things never had any hair.

Hilary said...

Great post, Gary. He's going to encounter a lot of negative attitudes throughout his life. The last people who should be crushing his spirit are his parents. Those are the folks with whom one children can be themselves, no matter what. That's unconditional love. Hopefully, they've learned something over the years. In any event, I'm impressed with the collective acceptance, understanding and caring of the school admin and teachers. And of course, of you.

Pauline said...

Poor little guy - no one ever ridicules or scolds a little girl for playing with cars and trucks. Makes you wonder where that intense fear comes from, of one's son not being "manly" if he loves dolls and dress-up. Is it fear for the child who might be threatened by others as he grows or is it fear of what "everyone" will think of you as a parent of a gay son?

Pauline said...

The verification word for my comment was "angst" !

TexWisGirl said...

poor, dear sweet boy! glad to see by your comment he seems happy now...

came over from hilary's to say congrats on your POTW...

Daryl said...

Great post, over from Hilary's, congrats on POTW, well deserved .. when I was growing up a younger male cousin loved having his fingernails painted bright red .. his mother, bless her heart, felt it was perfectly fine ... he grew up to be a very well adjusted straight man. Wearing dresses, wanting a doll or even nail polish doesnt mean your kid is gay . and if he/she is? So what. Being happy and loved is so much more important.

ladyfi said...

I live in Sweden and no one bats an eyelid if boys play with dolls, dress in dresses and tights or even, as my son did, go to swimming parties in a frilly girl's swimming costume.

Great post!

Moannie said...

This is a lovely but heart-rending story. Thank you for the post script.

I am grateful to Hilary for making you a part of her POTW...[for which, congratulations] how else could I have found you?

Gary said...

Hilary - It is always crushing when the people who are supposed to love and protect you are the ones who do the greatest damage. I try to remember that most parents are doing what they feel is best for their child whether I agree with their point of view or not. Love can make up for all kinds of mistakes and hopefully this boy felt love rather than judgement. Not sure it was unconditional but...

Thanks for the POTW support! You are very kind and it is appreciated.

Pauline - I think parents like his definitely see it as a negative reflection on them if they should have a gay son. I have known kids who do these things and grow up straight and others who are stereotypically "all boy" and are gay as adults. This one thing doesn't determine the future. I do wonder how this boy identifies (gay or straight) now and I would enjoy a little update about his family.

Angst indeed!

TexWisGirl - Thanks for visiting and for the congrats. Hilary is sweet to give me a shout out.

Daryl - I agree. This reminds me of the hoopla surrounding that ad (for what I don't remember) with the little boy who was wearing nail polish. It was such a big issue - do you remember that? Who made up these rules anyway?

Ladyfi - Kudos to Sweden and, I must say, to your son for his outfit choice. It is amazing to think that this didn't get criticism, titters or stares. I simply can't imagine that happening in America. Congrats to your POTW.

Moannie - We have found one another (thanks Hilary). Glad you visited. I am off not to check out your blog.

Daryl said...

Thanks for the visit Gary .. I am guessing you are another UWSer? If you'd link your email to your comments it would be easier to reply to you .. in any case, thanks for visiting mine!

Tess Kincaid said...

Excellent post, Gary...yes, a little acceptance and tolerance goes a long way in parenting, as well as everyday life.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

great to hear you found the film....but better yet to learn the boy spirit is still shining no matter what his folks may be putting in his path.

thinking of you and hope you survived irene and didn't have the power/flooding issues of your neck of the woods.... expect getting to work was hard with the train being offline....

namaste.

christopher said...

Diversity is wonderful. Sad when people fight it.

Gary said...

Thanks Tess!

Kimy - Irene did not cause the damage that I was anticipating but she did cause stress nonetheless. Glad she has moved on.

I certainly agree Christopher. Thanks for visiting FYB, commenting and following. Much appreciated.

Angella Lister said...

This post breaks my heart. How much smaller the world became for this child. Why can a girl play with trucks but a boy is made to feel shame for playing with a Barbie? great post.

Gary said...

Angella - Your heart would really break if you heard him singing that song which was so innocent. A mix of hurt, puzzlement and sadness that was sung without any self-pity. He just couldn't understand why. Sigh.

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