Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Be the onion

Someone close to us, put these articles in front of Adam and I today:

They came at the perfect time for me (isn’t that always the way it works?). I've needed the reminder that this isn't a journey we are taking alone. Things are becoming more complicated as Eli is becoming more aware of his differences from other kids. His preferences for identifying as a girl everywhere but school are starting to weigh on him I think. Mothering him has been so easy. Until very recently, where I’ve seen him struggling and becoming anxious and now there is nothing easy about it. He wants to be a girl at school but understands that being himself comes with a hefty price tag. He tiptoed into it by asking his teacher if he could “wear his hair” (his signature braided headband with hair flowing down on both sides…wearing this is when he feels the most comfortable, so much so, that I bought two cases from the Dollar Store). She gave him permission to wear his hair (I love that woman something fierce) so on Monday morning, his face lit up when he remembered he could wear his hair to school. Sadly, his face had fallen when he got into the car after school and told me some boys in his class made fun of him. The sadness and anger this incites in me is without measure, tempered only by the long laundry list of names of kids and teachers who told Eli how much they loved his hair.

Despite the support he received at school and at home about his fabulous hair, he chose not to wear it the next day. He had been making references to the day when he would wear dresses to school but has since told me he would “just keep being a boy at school”. He has had tummy aches at school and the light has left his eyes ever so slightly. Thinking of Eli’s happy spirit being subdued crushes my soul.

We read a story the other night about an onion that didn’t want to be an onioin anymore, so he decided to be an orange by wearing a discarded orange peel. Being an orange was physically painful for the onion. The peel squeezed him too tight and was scratchy on his smooth skin and being encased made the onion feel hot and stuck. I think this must be how Eli feels in boys’ clothes. Physically uncomfortable. I hate that for him. And even more, I hate that the three small voices of disapproval echoed louder than the many kind voices of love and support.

My challenge now is to get Eli to listen to the right voices. To be who he really is, not who other people think he should be. And to be comfortable with doing that. I feel completely confident at home, teaching him the freedom of expressing himself, but when taking on the world, now that he is noticing the reactions of others, I feel utterly inept.

There was a bright spot in the days that seemed shadowed and came in the form of  a glimpse of hope that perhaps I am not screwing all of this up after all. It came from Ethan, my sweet, reserved boy whose thinking is quiet and deep. I gave Eli some new clothes to try on, including a sundress for the warm weather days ahead. Eli put it on and immediately was transformed back to the happy, sparkling spirit of himself. As he gleefully twirled around the kitchen, Ethan came over to see what the fuss was about. He saw Eli and exclaimed, “Wow! Eli! You look SO pretty!”  Eli beamed. And then Ethan came over to me and said, “Mommy, I mean it. I’m not just saying that to be nice. I think Eli looks beautiful. He really does!”

At the end of the story we read the other night, the onion realizes how much he likes being an onion. He learns to love how his skin looks and sees it as beautiful and shiny. He understands that it is better to be who he is rather than try to be something he isn’t. I hope that Eli can realize how to be like the onion at the beginning of his story, rather than wait until the end. I hope I can help him figure out how.

Be the onion, Eli. Be the onion.


cheryl said...

This made me cry, oh how I cried. I NEVER want to see Eli lose that happy, excited sparkle that lights up the room. Hopefully my little one will figure out what to do without too much pain.

Susie Lazega said...

Ass always, your unconditional love and consideration for your family and your boys is clear. This little boy is so lucky to be in your wonderful family. I do think that someone in town would be able to talk with you guys and offer support so that you won't feel you are doing this alone. Many kudos for Eli's lovely teacher. Kids say nutty stuff to other kids no matter how small the differences are. Eli's are unfortunately easy targets. Maybe you could offer to have a parent meeting - kind of sensitivity training for the voices in those little boy's heads.