Monday, September 16, 2013

What Would I Do Differently?

When confronted with Eli's presentation, someone asked my husband what we would've done differently in order to avoid having a boy who dresses like a girl.

How do I even begin to answer that question?  I have the sense and the clarity to understand that the question has nothing to do with Eli and everything to do with us as Eli's parents. I suppose, really, the thing to do is to recognize that it isn't even a question. It's an accusation. An accusation that Adam and I must've made some sort of horrific mistake in our parenting approach. That there is some fatal flaw that caused our child to be this way. That we broke him when we could've fixed him.

I wasn't there when that question was asked, but if I had been, this is what my response would have been:

What would I do differently? Not a damn thing. Not. One. Damn. Thing.

Eli is absolutely and completely perfect being exactly the way he is. Exactly the way he has always been. I do not wish to change him. I do not think there is something that I did to make him the way he is. I do not think he is broken. 

But...if there was an influence that came from me to give Eli the ability to be who he is without worrying about what other people think then I have done my job. I have done my job damn well and I am damn proud. 

There is also a caveat to my response because in all honesty, there are *some* things I would do differently...

When Eli threw tantrums to express his frustration with the world, I would have hugged him a little bit tighter, held him a little bit longer.

I would have taken him shopping for girls' clothes much sooner.

I would redo all those moments where I steered him in the direction of making a clothing choice that was the least embarrassing choice for ME.

If I could do it over, I wouldn't snicker at somebody when they had a strange outfit on. I wouldn't raise my eyebrows when I saw somebody with purple hair. I wouldn't nudge a companion and point out someone's ugly coat.

I wouldn't use the words "gay" or "retarded" in place of the words "ridiculous" or "stupid". EVER.

I wouldn't make judgments about people based on the way that they look. I would take the time to get to know somebody before I created my opinion about them. I would have taken the time to get to know them the exact same way that I am asking everybody else to take the time to get to know Eli before they judge him.

I would see the person before I saw their clothes.

Yes. I guess there *are* things I would've done differently. And the first would be to filter out people who ask stupid questions.

Now, look at those smiles...does it look like we should be doing something different to you?

Monday, September 9, 2013

My Son Wears a Tutu

Eli loves to dance. Like, really loves to dance. We refer to him as "Island Time" because he is always lagging about 20 feet behind us twirling and swirling and shasaying to make his way to wherever it is that we are going. It seemed only natural to enroll him in dance lessons.

On registration day, I noticed that there were some boys only classes, but knew that Eli wanted to be with "the girls" (because he'd told me). When we walked up to the desk to choose his class, Eli was dressed in head-to-toe pink, complete with one of his "wigs". The director smiled at Eli and we chose a class that would work with our schedule. As we were ready to walk out the door, I realized I needed to let her know about our unique situation. She handled it well, not reacting positively or negatively - although I did notice a look of surprise flash in her eyes for a brief moment - and promised to explain everything to Eli's teacher.

Easy enough, right?

The day arrived when we were to go back to Eli's dance school and buy the shoes he would need for his classes (tap, ballet and jazz). Normally, I have a plan, a somewhat rehearsed approach to make our situation understood in 10 seconds or less with minimal embarrassment to either Eli or Ethan or to the person we are talking to, along with my fierce emotions removed from the conversation. But on this day, I didn't have anything rehearsed. Or planned. Because I hadn't been able to decide how to handle it. Would Eli wear the "boys" outfit which consisted of black ballet slippers and plain old athletic shorts and a tee shirt? Should I buy the pink ballet shoes (since he was dressed as a girl on this day) and return them later for black?

It's days like this that I sometimes feel sorry for myself and wish that Eli and I could experience these seemingly normal, everyday experiences without the need for rehearsal, without the fear of drama, without drawing attention to ourselves.

When we walked into the crowded room, we were approached by a sweet teenage girl that offered to help us find the right size shoes. A quick scan of the room told me they only had pink shoes available.

" boys wear different shoes?", I asked.

As she began fitting Eli, she said that boys wear black ballet shoes but they would have to have them sent to us since they didn't bring any with them that day.


After finding the right size, she handed Eli a box of pink ballet shoes and asked if we needed tights.


" don't think...we...will...need tights..."

She grabbed a pair anyway and thrust them into my hand explaining that they were being offered here for much less than you could normally buy them and we should just buy one pair anyway. And with that she led us over to where the leotards were hanging and proceeded to tell us we needed to buy baby blue and showed us several in Eli's size.

Feeling sheepish, I pulled two leotards off the rack, found matching skirts and asked Eli what he thought of them. Of course, he was smitten.

After paying for everything, including a garish bright pink dance bag that Eli begged me for, the director approached us and asked if we found everything we needed. I opened the bag full of tights, leotards and ballet skirts and smiled wide and said "Eli's coming as a girl. And I bought skirts to hide, you know...." and gestured to a place below my belt buckle. I held my breath for her response.

The director smiled back at me. "We'll see you Tuesday."

That was it!? As we walked to the car, I kept looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was following me, to pull me aside and tell me that Eli actually wasn't welcome in class and that maybe we should find another dance school that was willing and able to meet our needs. But there was no one there. I kept blinking, wondering if I'd imagined how simple that had been.

I've navigated these situations enough times that I didn't toss and turn that night, wondering if I'd made the right choice for Eli. Because I already knew the answer. And if I didn't know that I'd done right by Eli, his giant smiles would've shown me that I did: