C.J. was very “nervous-excited” for his big presentation. He took a bubble bath with lavender bath salts to calm his nerves. He decided to leave his hair down and put some mousse in it to accentuate his curls. He put on his black and white checkered shirt, pink tie and pride flag lapel pin. We headed out the door.
That night, dozens of parents, family members and friends packed into the classroom to be super impressed with the academic work of their elementary school student.
The students prepared a presentation highlighting six “skill challenges” they had conquered entirely in class in about an hour using their hands, imaginations, limited supplies and no assistance.
Parents weren’t allowed to help with the assignment, so Matt and I heard C.J.’s presentation and learned about his “skill challenges” right along with the other attendees.
“First, I did the ‘Apply Makeup’ challenge,” C.J. started his presentation. “I applied makeup to Emma’s face. The look I was going for was rainbow unicorn realness. I wanted her skin to look like a disco ball. To achieve the look, I applied five layers of highlighter to her skin. I wanted her eyelids to look like a purple rainbow unicorn that just got back from Coachella. To achieve the look, I applied purple and pink sparkle glitter eyeshadows. This was kind of a difficult challenge because it was hard to get both of her eyes to look the same. I finished off the eyes with a light coat of mascara. I think she slayed it.”
He proudly showed off a photo of Emma sporting a very (very) ((very)) healthy dose of sparkly makeup.
Matt and I really never know what C.J. is going to say – especially when he’s instructed and/or encouraged to be creative. We were surprised and amused. We looked around to see the reactions of the other people who were listening. There were polite smiles and some active-listening nods.
“My next challenge was the ‘make a puppet’ challenge. I made a unicorn puppet. My puppet is a fierce girl unicorn who just got back from DragCon. Her body is made out of poster board and is gleaming white, acne free and is shining like a diamond. Her mane and tail are made of rainbow yarn that reminds me of a cup of rainbow noodles. The person wearing this puppet puts their fingers through the holes and can make it prance and dance like it’s living in France. This challenge wasn’t too hard, but was a lot of fun,” C.J. said.
C.J. looked at us proudly. Matt and I were trying not to laugh. I was biting my lip and Matt was pretending to stifle a cough. Other attendee were looking at each other and whispering. We smiled at C.J. and each gave him a thumbs up.
“Another challenge I did was the ‘sew a bag or pouch’ challenge. I sewed a small bag or purse. My small bag or purse is more like a small evening bag. I used a hot pink leopard print fabric and black thread. I used black thread so that you wouldn’t be able to see it. This bag was supposed to look like something a Hollywood star would use – maybe even to go to the Oscars! Who knows?! This bag looks like a bag that is ready to party! This challenge took some time and effort because when I put the needle through the fabric the needle wouldn’t go through easily. I would have done better if I’d been able to use my sewing machine,” he said.
At the end of each challenge description, Matt and I instinctively looked around to see the reactions of the other attendees. How often do people hear an 11-year-old boy talking about doing a classmate’s makeup to look like she went to Coachella? Or, making a puppet that just got back from DragCon? Or hand sewing a purse that “is ready to party?”
It dawned on me during his presentation that, for so many years at times like these, we’d looked around for negative reactions to C.J. and his creativity. But, on that night, I was looking around for positive reactions. I was looking around to see if there was anyone present who was amused, entertained and appreciative of my son – who was the only one in his class to the do the makeup and sewing challenges, while most of his male peers did something Minecraft-related.
That night I didn’t care to see the people who thought my son was weird (or worse). I only cared to see the people who thought he was different, colorful and quirky. And, we found some new allies. Some of “our people.” People who are fine with C.J. applying highlighter liberally to their daughter’s face while talking about drag culture. Thank goodness my eyes and heart had been looking for the right kind of people, or else I would have missed them.
That night and C.J.’s presentation helped me realize something.
I realized that when we stop looking around to find our adversaries, we finally have a chance to look around and find our allies.