Today was the last day of school. C.J. has bid kindergarten adieu and will spend the summer gearing up for first grade. There are tears — in my eyes, not his.
I’m sad and anxious, as I have been at the end of every one of C.J.’s school years. I don’t know what to expect next. Who will his teacher be? Who will his classmates be? Who will accept his gender creativity? Who will make him feel small because he likes girl stuff big time?
C.J.’s kindergarten year was amazing. His teacher, Ms. Valentine, deserves much of the credit. She greeted him on the first day with her big blue eyes, perfect blonde hair, sweet smile and leopard-print shoes. She knew who he was. He was the gender nonconforming boy. The boy who likes girl stuff. The boy whose mom is sometimes seen as a liability…what, with her blog and all.
Ms. Valentine had, as I hoped, read the letter that I wrote to her and posted on my blog days before school started. She took it all in with an open heart and an open mind.
I met with her early on to talk about C.J., his gender nonconformity and how it all affects his learning and time at school. She was kind, optimistic and excited to have him in her class. C.J. was safe in her care; I knew it from moment number one.
“Does my teacher know that I like girl stuff?” C.J. asked every day for weeks leading up to the first day of school and for a few weeks after it started.
“Ms. Valentine? Yes, baby, she knows,” I reassured him.
“What did she say about it?”
“She thinks it’s awesome.”
C.J. smiled that red-haired, freckled-nose, dimpled-cheek smile that always makes me smile too. He loves it when people know and accept that he is gender nonconforming.
The first day of school, Ms. Valentine started a new tradition of not lining the students up by sex. There would be no “boys’ line” or “girls’ line” in C.J.’s class. She winked at me. I smiled and nodded my head in gratitude.
All of the other moms struggled with the concept. They had a hard time comprehending what was happening. If there wasn’t a line for girls and a line for boys how would anybody function? How would the kids walk into the classroom and around campus? How would the earth continue to spin? For the first week of school the other moms tried to divide the lines based on genitals every morning. And, every morning Ms. Valentine would remind them that she was doing things differently this year.
C.J. instantly felt safe in Ms. Valentine’s presence. She had pretty hair, sassy shoes and she smelled good. He was sold.
He spent the year self-editing more than ever. Not prompted by anyone — not us, not Ms. Valentine. It was totally his decision. I had been told that gender nonconforming kids start to conform more once they enter kindergarten. C.J. did just that at school. At home he remained our sparkly son.
In kindergarten, he drew himself as a boy for the first time in his life. He decided at the last minute not to wear his Rapunzel pajamas on Pajama Day. He stopped wearing the necklaces and bracelets that he beads in his free time.
He did, however, continue to wear “girl socks” every day tucked into his “girl shoes.” His Monster High lunchbox is thrashed from a year of daily use. And, he got plenty of compliments the day he wore his purple, glittered Wicked t-shirt to school.
He hated the week when he was “Special Bear.” Five days were all about him and he was supposed to share about himself, his family and his home life every day. He didn’t want to. He has his public self and his private self. Sometimes the two overlap, but sometimes he doesn’t want them to. And, that’s fine.
He did, however, love the Mother’s Day fashion show when we got to walk the runway in his purple plaid shirt, magenta bow tie and pink boat shoes for everyone to see. It was his first legit catwalk and it felt like home.
If you ask him, he’ll tell you that his favorite subjects in kindergarten were playing on the playground with his friends and doing crafts. It’s the academic portion of school that he struggled with.
You see, when your focus is on self-editing and self-preservation, learning your ABCs and 123s don’t seem important. He’s concerned about being teased about liking girl stuff and not about identifying numbers one through 30 out of sequence. In the end he qualified to move on to first grade. He meets state requirements, but there was the option of having him repeat kindergarten.
His dad and I had to struggle with the decision to push him onward and upward or hold him back. A mom who I met through PFLAG told me that her therapist believes that LGBTQ kids are usually a year behind their peers academically because they are having to deal with all-consuming social and life issues while staying on top of school work. It can seem overwhelming.
I’ve also had people tell me that LGBTQ youth are typically more gifted than their peers.
Who knows who is right?
In September C.J. will strut into first grade; into an unfamiliar classroom helmed by a teacher who we do not know. Will she have an open heart and an open mind? That’s all we ask for. But, we’ve come to realize that those are two big things to ask of someone. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.
Whoever C.J.’s first grade teacher is, we hold out hope that s/he will be as great as Ms. Valentine has been. We also hope that Ms. Valentine has a bitchin’ summer and that she’ll K.I.T.