As parents, we devote ourselves to protecting our kids. We stock the cabinets with food and clothes and medicine; we carry band-aids and books and water bottles; we do our best to shield them from danger.
But what about the things we cannot protect them from? Or, maybe, should not?
For me, this moment came when my 5-year-old son asked to wear a dress to his school picture day. He saw his 8-year-old sister try on her dress, and was so mesmerized by the sight of her twirling around the living room, that he asked for the same dress in his size. I was excited and proud of his choice. I strive to raise open-minded kids and to help them understand that we live in a world that is ever-changing, full of differing family structures and gender orientations.
That being said, when I ordered him the matching dress, I worried.
I live in Brooklyn in a fairly progressive bubble. But what about everyone else? It’s one thing for my son to don a frilly frock and wear it to a close friend’s birthday party on the weekend, or take a flannel nightgown to pajama day at his peace-loving preschool, but they wear uniforms at his new elementary school. We’re talking about 300 kindergarten through fifth-graders. A school full of strangers.
So, yeah, I worried.
I debated bringing it up with my son. Gently warning him that people might be mean, and that some people in our society are still narrow-minded. But that seemed like an unnecessary bubble-bursting effort.
Instead, I emailed his new kindergarten teachers. I was nervous, not knowing what their personal philosophies might be. What if they ignored my email, or worse, shut me down? Not that I was searching for praise. This was more of a heads-up to alert them of my son’s decision, and to express my hope that they might be accepting of it while also keeping an eye on the other kids; possibly intervening if any bullying or negative comments did occur.