In case you’ve never noticed, there might have been a time or two in the past when I’ve lamented endlessly, droned on and on, alluded briefly to the fact that Kendrie is a **wee** bit of a tomboy. She prefers boys’ clothes, boys’ bikes and toys, boys' activities, boys’ shoes, etc. She says her hair is too long and she wants to get it cut “like a boy”. She says when she grows up, she wants to be “a boy”. The only reason I think a sex-change operation is NOT in her future is because she’s madly in love with her boyfriend Nicholas and says when they grow up they are going to get married and have eighteen children (Oh, my. How long my Christmas gift list will be!) But you get my point --- she’s a total and complete tomboy, not a girly bone in her whole body.
We are so accustomed to her wearing Spiderman clothes and Power Ranger shoes and baseball caps and carrying a Star Wars back-pack that we don’t even notice. *I* know she’s a girl, and if you could hear her little-girl voice, you would know as well, despite outward appearances. There were, however, three instances this week that brought to my attention that to the world at large, she really does fool people with her outward presence.
Instance #1: I took the kids shopping at Target for school supplies. She happened to be out of underwear (WHERE does all the underwear go? Is there some giant black hole, a vacuum in the universe filled with socks and panties that have lost their home?) and so I told her to grab a couple of pair. She asked for boys’ briefs but I told her no, so she chose Curious George panties. We went on to fill our cart with items from the school supply list; notebooks, pencils, folders, etc. Upon checkout, each kid was adamant that *their* items be rung up and bagged separately so they could carry their own because God forbid we get Kellen’s dark-blue wide-ruled spiral notebook confused with Brayden’s dark-blue wide-ruled spiral notebook (Deep breath! Count to ten! In through the nose; out through the mouth!) and as Kendrie was having her own school supply items bagged, Brayden spotted the Curious George panties in the cart, and said loudly, “Don’t forget your panties!” before tossing them on the conveyer belt. Without batting an eye, Kendrie said, “Oh, thanks” and handed them to the cashier. The Target employee had the funniest look on her face, and glanced at me, like, “Seriously? What is wrong with you? You’re making your little boy wear Curious George panties?? What kind of sick-o ARE you???” I actually felt self-conscious, and found myself fumbling through an explanation …. “Oh, yeah, really, she’s a girl, she just looks like a boy, um, yeah.”
Instance #2: Then, later that same evening, I took Kendrie, by herself, shopping for school clothes. We did have a bit of an issue this year, as she, as usual, only wants to wear boy clothes. Namely, denim shorts and t-shirts with various action heroes on the front and/or any manner or method of camouflage. I don’t care … I really, really don’t care …. but not the first day or two of school. I want her to go to tonight’s Meet & Greet the Teachers at the school dressed like a G.I.R.L. Is that so much to ask?? So we compromised on what we called “tomboy clothes” ….. things like cargo pants and polo-style shirts. (But I managed to sneak in a shirt with pink stripes!) Anyway, we were at the department store and needed to try the clothes on so I went to the saleslady to get a key to the girls’ dressing room. She looked at me, looked at Kendrie, looked back at me, looked back at Kendrie, and then said, “You know, they have dressing rooms in the boys’ section as well.”
Once again, I found myself fumbling through an explanation of how believe it or not, she’s a girl, she just doesn’t dress like one.
It doesn’t help that the shaggy-haired look is in now, thanks to those demon twins Zack and Cody from Disney. When Kendrie was bald it was easy for me to be indignant when people called her “little buddy” or “fellow” because “She has CANCER for pete’s sake, how can you be so insensitive?!?” And now, I’m trying desperately to grow her hair out longer, but so is every other little boy on the planet, so she STILL looks like a boy. The dinosaur shirts and Yu-Gi-Oh tennis shoes only serve to intensify the image.
And you know, the bottom line is that I don’t care if she wears boys’ clothes. I’ve said it before, it just doesn’t matter to me. But at what point does it matter to others?
Instance #3 comes with a bit of history …. When I was in the 8th grade, I was in the marching band at my high school. We used to have Monday night practices at the football field during the summer to learn our marching routines before school started and the first football game of the season. Being August in Oklahoma, it was hot. Center of the sun hot. Those of us who weren’t old enough to drive ourselves to and from practice had our parents drop us off and pick us up when it was over. Sometimes our parents and siblings would stay, or come back early and watch. My rosy-colored memory of Monday night band practices include parents sitting in the stands, proudly watching us hack our way through Billy Joel’s “My Life”, sipping lemonade and enjoying a warm summer night. I’m sure my parent’s memory is not quite so Normal Rockwell …. And more likely involves sweltering in the stands in the scorching temperatures and the grudging annoyance of a chauffeur who is forced to listen to the theme to “Superman” twenty bajillion times waiting for us to just GET IT RIGHT SO WE CAN GO HOME PEOPLE!!!
Anyway, there was a girl in the band named Beth, who was the same age as me; around thirteen at the time. She had two younger sisters; the youngest was probably six. One night, her mom drove up at the end of band practice and the sister came with her into the stands to watch us finish up practice. What I remember --- clearly --- is that she came to practice with just shorts on. No shoes, no shirt. (The six-yr old, not the mom!) Hey, it was probably 99 degrees outside, can you blame her? But apparently, at the age of 13, in between the hours I spent feathering my hair and applying my Bonnie Bell lip gloss, I also attended Parenting School. While I don’t remember actually going to any classes, or reading any books, I obviously was a star student and knew everything there was to know about parenting, because I took one look at Beth’s little sister, shirtless, and turned up my nose and deemed Beth’s mother as totally-crazy-in-the-head.
I mean, who DOES that? Who lets their six-year old to go out IN PUBLIC with no shirt on??? What kind of irresponsible, lazy mother would allow that to happen?
The answer to your question, in the year 2006, is: ME.
Yep, add boys swim trunks to the list of items Kendrie prefers. Preferably with sharks on them. She’s worn them for two summers now. I have no doubt they are way more comfortable than girls swimming suits, and hey, you never see Kendrie digging the world’s worst wedgie out of her butt like other little girls are doing. And you know what??? I. DON’T. CARE. Who cares? It’s not like she’s a sexual creature, coming out of kindergarten. Who really cares??? Well, my sister for one. TOTALLY offended by this when we were home this summer. So offended, that at her request I told Kendrie she couldn’t swim at her 4th of July party unless she was willing to wear a shirt over the trunks and you know what? Thirty-odd kids swimming and playing and laughing in the pool, and Kendrie passed on the whole thing. Just wasn’t worth it to her.
Anyway, we were at our friend’s community pool yesterday, enjoying our Last-Swim-Session-Of-Summer (have I mentioned to you that school starts TOMORROW??!?) and Kendrie needed to use the restroom. She asked me to walk her around to the bathrooms (hey, at least I know she’s not peeing in the pool, right?) and when we walked in, her wearing boys’ trunks, there was a little girl changing clothes who gave a small shriek and tried to cover up really quick, thinking Kendrie was a boy. I looked at the mom, apologetically, and gave my normal, “No, really, she’s a little girl” speech and you know what? She was looking at me the same exact way I had looked at Beth’s mom all those years ago ….. wondering what kind of freak lets her daughter go out in public, topless like that.
One the one hand, I could blame the whole thing on the cancer experience, and talk about how she wore girls clothes before she was diagnosed, but then how she preferred baseball caps when she was bald and it just evolved from there. But there are lots of little girls who go through chemo and still dress like little girls, choosing frilly, flowery hats instead of ball caps. And there are lots of little girls who’ve never had to endure cancer treatment who still prefer the t-shirts and tennis shoes of their male comrades. So I seriously doubt that’s to blame.
And on the other hand, let me repeat it in case you aren’t clear: I don’t care if she wears boys clothes!!!! Do. Not. Care!!! As long as she’s happy and respectful in her choices, what the heck difference does it make? Wouldn’t it be worse to force her into clothes she hates, just for the sake of what the public at large *thinks* is suitable for her to wear???
But the third hand is that I guess the time has come for me to put my foot down on the topless swim trunks. T-shirts, tennis shoes, camoflauge, and action heroes, OK. But the days of the topless swimming are coming to an end, unless we are vacationing in St. Tropez. Not because *I* care, but because she’ll be seven next summer and I suppose it’s not proper anymore.
(sigh) It’s a hard balancing act …. Letting kids be individuals and make their own choices, especially choices that aren’t hurting a blinking soul, but also trying to help them understand what is appropriate. I am SERIOUSLY hoping that by next summer, a shirt (or even, dare I to dream, a girls tankini!) is acceptable to her, and that she doesn’t just pass on the whole summer like she did this year’s 4th of July party.
But in the meantime, I owe Beth’s mom an apology. I had never been a parent and had no business judging. Now, I *am* a parent, and I get it. Twenty-seven years and one tomboy of my own later, but I finally get it.
ADDENDUM --She just came in here to tell me that NONE of the new "tomboy clothes" we bought are to her liking for Open House tonight .... she has re-dressed herself in a boys' t-shirt. This is going to be an uphill battle, isn't it?