Occasionally, a moment will just melt my freaking heart. It happened to me last week and my heart is still all warm inside.
My son was up in a tree house with a new friend he had met just hours before. C.J. was wearing a dress that had a big, full lilac skirt and a bodice made of black velvet with delicate purple and pink flowers embroidered on it. His new friend, C.K., was wearing the most amazing Cinderella knock-off I have ever seen, complete with gathered tiers and a sweetheart neckline. They were both barefoot with faces stained from their homemade berry popsicles. They sat with their backs to us two moms. They whispered to each other and giggled often. I could have died of happiness at the sight.
C.J. and C.K. both have older brothers, who were approaching the base of the tree house. C.J. hopped up, threw open the white shutters and yelled “Hey! You boys! Stay out of our garden!”
“Yeah, stay out of our garden!” C.K. yelled from behind C.J. The white shutters slammed shut and uncontrollable giggles wafted over to the deck where I was sitting.
The older brothers looked at us moms and we just shrugged. Yes, I thought, stay out of their garden, stay out of their way, they are having the best day ever.
A few weeks earlier, C.K.’s Mom had been looking for play groups in Orange County for gender nonconforming kids (there aren’t any) when she found my blog. What are the chances that we live just seven miles apart?
We talked via phone, email, text and scheduled a play date. I told C.J.‘s Dad that we were off to play with a boy who likes to play with girl stuff, left the address of our destination and set out with managed expectations. Before I knew it, the front door opened and we walked into a house that is home to no girl, two boys, lots of pink, an enviable dress-up collection and a four-foot-high, multi-floor, all-pink castle. A pink princess tent takes up most of the family room.
C.K. flitted down the stairs in a pink terrycloth sundress. C.J. looked at me. I knew what he was thinking and I nodded and smiled at him, silently acknowledging that, yes, he owns the same exact dress in turquoise.
C.K. is petite, with olive skin, dark hair buzzed for the hot days of summer and the sweetest way about him. There’s an innocence about him that you want to protect and keep intact. Something about him asks politely to be treated delicately; and when you’re with him, you can’t imagine treating him any other way.
The four brothers started playing immediately. C.K. had requested via text — because that’s how kids do it these days — that C.J. bring some “girl stuff” to play with. C.J. brought his life-size plush ballerina doll (which was $14.99 at Ralph’s in December and is quite a nappy embarrassment at this point), a Sleeping Beauty Barbie (who also looks like she’s been through the ringer) and Ghoulia Yelps from Monster High (who lost her top sometime ago and usually has her red bowling shorts around her knees, but don’t you know her wedge sneakers are always perfectly in place!). The two boys discussed in great detail My Little Pony, Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake as the older brothers sprayed each other in the face with the garden hose and chased each other with plastic snakes.
C.K.’s Mom and I compared our lives. When did C.K. start liking “girl stuff?” Age two and a half or three. Same with C.J. Does C.J. like to dance? Oh, yes. C.J. wears a tutu to dance class?! Yes. Can’t C.K.? No. How sad! We worry about the older brothers. We worry about bullies and we worry about school. Is it jarring now for you to see him in boys clothes? Yes! Doesn’t it feel so much more natural to see them in feminine attire or doing some thing feminine? Yes! We worry about who and when to tell that our son is gender nonconforming. Do you like the term gender nonconforming? How about gender creative? How about gender fluid? How about gender independent? How about gender identity disorder? No!
Spending time with this family felt natural and easy. Over the course of our marathon, three-hour playdate (which I assumed would more closely resemble a 5K), C.K. changed once every hour. From pink terrycloth sundress to black leotard with tutu to full-on Cinderella ball gown to close the show. C.J. wanted in on the action; he wanted to slip out of his tie-dyed rainbow shirt and into that lilac and velvet number he spied on C.K.’s miniature garment rack.
Ever the gracious host, C.K. showed C.J. to a room where he could change in privacy. When C.J. emerged, all dolled up and glowing, C.K. gasped out loud.
“C.J., you look beautiful!” he said in sincere amazement.
“Thank you,” C.J. said. He was trying to be modest, but he was feeling it, he felt beautiful.
C.K. offered C.J. some of his jewels. C.J. slid a heart-shaped, pink-stoned ring onto his finger. C.K. clipped on chandelier earrings and applied some Clinique lipstick. C.J. had serious 99 Cent Store earring envy.
“Man, I just can’t stop thinking about those earrings,” C.J. said later, on the way home. He was in the back seat with his legs crossed, right over left, like my mother always told me a lady should sit.
“Sometimes it’s hard not to think about something,” I said, as I pictured the two small boys making their way up to that tree house, with that garden that those pesky older brothers wouldn’t stay out of. They were way up high, dressed to the nines and my heart melted for my son in the late afternoon sun.
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Other things you should be reading this week:
Pretty In Pink: An article by an amazing dad of a gender nonconforming son. It begs the question I’ve been asking a lot lately….Does standing up for human decency make a person an activist?
What’s So Bad About a Boy Who Wants to Wear a Dress?: My answer is “nothing,” of course…Nothing at all is bad about a boy who wants to wear a dress.