Adam and I are always very careful about how we talk about Eli's flair for the feminine when we are in front of Eli (if we even talk about it all). Knowing that, you can appreciate the story I'm about to tell...Eli is either very intuitive or has been up late at night reading my last blog post!
Last week, I took Eli to the Imagine It! Children's Museum where there was a fairy tale exhibit I knew he would love (which was complete with princess dresses to try on). We went right to the exhibit where Eli excitedly began to rifle through the boxes of sparkly, ruffled dresses.
He chose a yellow dress with pink roses and as he put it on I exclaimed, "Oh Eli! You look beautiful!". He glanced sideways and then looked at me and said "Maybe I should take this off". Perplexed, I said, "Why!?". He looked sideways again and pointed to a gaggle of young girls who were staring at him and he said, "Because they want me to act like a boy". My heart felt like a balloon that just had the helium leaked out of it, shrinking and twisting in a downward spiral. This is the conversation I've been dreading for more than a year and I was shocked that it happened so soon.
Trying to wipe the tears off my cheeks so he wouldn't notice I was crying, I dragged him off to a corner and pulled him down on my lap and squeezed him tight. I told him that it doesn't matter what anyway else thinks and asked him how wearing a dress makes him feel ("happy") and how it felt when he took the dress off ("sad") - and this is where I had to fight off the urge to go over and flip the lunch table that those little staring girls were sitting at. I told Eli I was so proud of him and that he looks beautiful in a dress and that we should go back to trying them on. Then he ran away from me and when I chased after him he said (and I am directly quoting here), "I just have to work this out myself. Not with you," and with that, he scampered off to play/hide in a little tunnel. Stunned, I sat patiently at the end of the tunnel and waited for him to come out, which he eventually did. After he crawled out of the tunnel and stood up, he said, "Maybe I will just wear dresses at home." I asked why and he said, "Because it's just weird." My mama bear instincts kicked into high gear and I practically shouted, "Who told you it was weird!? It is NOT weird! It makes you happy to wear a dress!". He just shook his head and said, "It's just weird."
It's days later and my insides still feel shredded and I have tears in my eyes just remembering his sweet, confused, disappointed yet determined little face. It hurts to see your kids hurt, but I'm grateful for the life lessons that all four of us are learning. Our experience at the museum made me realize how powerful just one little look can be and how bad it can feel to someone when they know someone is staring at them just because they may look or act a little different. It's not enough to be accepting, we also must be respectful. It's not enough to be tolerant, but we must also be supportive. These are good lessons to teach to our children, but also necessary lessons to learn as adults.