Adopting older infants, we missed a lot of firsts–first smiles, first teeth, first haircuts, first solid foods. I worked in a daycare years ago, and I remember a little girl named Moriah taking her first steps in our care. In fact, she walked for two weeks before her mother finally bounced in one morning and said, “Guess what? Moriah took her first steps yesterday!” Until then we’d been gently knocking Moriah over when we saw her mom pull into the parking lot–per the center policy.

With Moriah in mind, I reveled in the first time I got to see them do something new, no matter now long they had been doing it–the first time they smiled at me, the first tooth I sat up massaging through the gums, the first lock of hair I cut, the first time I gave them bananas. And, the firsts just kept coming–first airplane rides, first camping trips, first days of school, first roller coasters.

O is in the backyard now where I just witnessed another first–the first time he intentionally went underwater. He’s with my husband diving for pool toys in one of those easy-set, glorified kiddie pools. After 3 weeks of hiding behind me at swim lessons, and then another week at the pool where he reminded me every day that he wasn’t going to have anything to do with the instructor, O just decided, just now, that it was time to go underwater. Just like that. All that anticipation, and now he’s a breath-holding, torpedo-fetching pro. “I’m so proud!” he yelled to the trees.

G had a first this week, too, one I didn’t anticipate. For the first time, G went out in public dressed as a girl. Like O going underwater, he just decided it was the day to go for it.

Until yesterday he was quickly discouraged from dressing as a girl outside of the house. He’d ask, and I’d start with the prelude, “It’s your choice and we’ll defend you no matter what happens, but you should know…” and then I’d finish with “we might run into some school friends” or “there might be some people there who don’t understand about boys who like pink.” That was enough for him to start picking through the wide variety of boys’ t-shirts and denim. I want him to be himself, so I encouraged him to wear pink with those whom he feels most comfortable. I just wanted to make sure he knew what he was getting into–I didn’t want him humiliated.

And so I thought we had jumped a huge hurdle when he decided to wear a pink t-shirt to his grandparents’ yesterday morning. My in-laws are conservative, in the right-wing sense, in most aspects of life, but, perhaps from their years of teaching in the public schools, they’re incredibly loving and tolerant when it comes to kids. So I was glad that G felt comfortable in his pale pink tee.

I expected everything would go well, as it did, but I didn’t expect the phone call I received from my husband as they were en route home. G requested a skirt to wear to the Camp Rock performance we were attending that afternoon. Already running late, we didn’t have time for a discussion. Both G and O were in their swim suits and needed dry clothes to wear to the play. I grabbed shorts for O, and both a skirt and shorts for G.

“You can wear whatever you want G, but you should know we might run into some school friends there,” I said as I tossed both clothing options into the back of the car.

“I doubt it,” he replied, slipping on the pink butterfly skirt.

“But, we might,” I insisted.

“Okay, I know,” he said fastening his hair into a ponytail and pushing back his headband.

My husband and I exchanged nervous smiles. I had advocated with my husband for this, but I thought it would be something he would try on vacation–in a city with people we don’t know or on a camping trip deep in the woods.

When it came time to jump out of the car and walk the few blocks to the theater, I did what I always do–I grabbed my son’s hand and walked. He did what he always does–trotted alongside me. Nothing felt different. Nothing was different.

He continued to fidget and began to tic in the theater, and I didn’t know if it was the skirt or the Tourettes. I told him he looked beautiful, as he always does, and to relax and enjoy the play. No one around us seemed to notice the skirt. The tics attracted a few looks.

In the end, we didn’t run into anyone we knew. Nothing bad happened. Nothing at all happened.

But now my head is spinning. Will he want to do this again? What about the vacation with the cousins? Should I make sure he understands they fall into the category of people who won’t understand no matter how much we try explaining it? Should we put something in place to require a bit more warning next time? At the very least, should I get him some more flattering pink options? He’s not going to want to do this at school, is he? Are there parents I should warn in case he wants to go to their houses in pink? I could go on.

As for O, he’s already asking when we’re going to go back to the big pool so he can try putting his head under in the deep water. G on the other hand isn’t giving any indication of what’s to come. He stayed in his skirt until bedtime. He put on his PJs–a bright pink t-shirt and blue plaid boxers. He brushed his teeth. I asked how he felt about the day. He said, “It was cool.” I tried to push for details. He asked to read Goosebumps.

I stayed awake sitting in his bed watching him drift off to sleep, trying to calm my anxieties, reminding myself of my commitment to let my kids lead, to follow their timetables. Sure, we can make our kids do (or not do) something, but we can’t make them want to do it. I could have dunked O weeks ago. Or, I could have done what my mom did–told him kids drown in 2 inches of water in 20 seconds, kept him out of the pool. We can’t kill their desires–we can only make them hide them from us. At best we can postpone it. I used to watch the girls swimming and playing in the waves, but I felt glued to the beach. I finally learned to swim at 20–finally got to feel the weightlessness of soaring under the water. I didn’t really want G to have to wait that long to feel what it’s like to run down the street with a pony tail bouncing behind him, his long, soft skirt wrap swish his legs, holding his head up to show off his pink lip gloss. I didn’t want to push for this moment either because I know all the ways it could have turned out badly. Just like watching for O to put his face in the water, standing my with a towel in case he sucked up some water, I held a defensive stance with everyone we came into contact with at the theater.

In the end, it’s both harder to force and harder to discourage our kids than we want to acknowledge. So, at least for now, we continue to follow their lead, giving him as much information as we can, and standing by to cheer or comfort or both.

2 Responses to Firsts

  1. Rachel says:

    Wow… that is beautiful! What did I learn? Parenting is always challenging in the same way but it feels more challenging sometimes when it’s something we’re less comfortable with as parents. I don’t have a son who loves pink but I could totally relate and I was so happy for G and for O for taking their big steps. And, I was really happy for you at the end for being the kind of parent who recognizes not only the dangers in life but how important it is for children to enjoy life their way. Intense and beautiful!!!

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