The other night my son and I were sitting on the sofa together, his dark blond head against my chest, our fingers intertwined. As I do every day, I try to get him to talk to me about his day, about his friends, about whatever is going on in his imagination. Usually I have to wrestle and tickle him until he’s tired out and flopped on the sofa, feet up where his head should be, head tilted upside down over the side like a worn out puppy to get him to talk.
It’s funny, if you’d asked me five years ago who I would worry most about, I would’ve said my daughter’s name in a heartbeat. But as she’s gotten a bit older I’ve learned that a little piss & vinegar and dogged determination will take a kid with challenges a long way. So it is not my daughter I lay awake at night thinking about. It’s my son.
It is hard to get my boy to talk. If you know him well, his eyes will tell you everything you need to know. I’ve always said he was an old soul with those big dark brown eyes and sweet, thoughtful disposition. From across the room you can tell if he’s happy or sad, worried or confused just by looking at his eyes. But this kid holds a lot in, and I want him to learn to put his feelings into words.
Ever since he was really little, my son was different from the other little boys we hung out with in playgroups and preschool. He didn’t like to play with cars or army men, GI Joe or pretend guns. He was bookish, enjoyed puzzles and cracking plastic eggs on the lip of a tiny pan in the small wooden kitchen at school.
When other boys were joining soccer teams or going to basketball camp, my son stood back, preferring to play with the girls (or some of the quieter boys). So when my son was resting his head against me the other night and I asked him who he played with a recess that day, it didn’t come as a surprise that he said a bunch of girls’ names.
I asked if he still played with any of the boys he used to mention on occasion. He said, Not really. I’m different from them. Twisting my thumb gently, he buried his head against my shoulder. That’s okay, I said. I pretend like I’m friends with the boys so they won’t notice, he said softy. And then, Sometimes I like girly things. His breath warmed my chest as he waited for my response. There are plenty of guys who like girly things. There are men who knit, who sew, cook, play piano, go shopping…
And before I knew it he had rolled off the couch and started flopping around on the floor like a goofball while making silly kid noises. As he tried to tickle me with his feet I said, You just be yourself and be proud of who you are because you are so loved. I think you are the absolute greatest thing since chicken nuggets.
But here, again, my heat broke a little. Be yourself and be proud of who you are is not easy in a world that is filled with fear and hatred, with closed minds and judgmental hearts. Here is a kid who already knows, instinctively, to fake it around other boys. To deny who he is so he’ll fit in. To deny who he is so he won’t get bullied or hurt.
Even when I gave him a catalog to look through for holiday gift ideas, I saw him take his time and really pour over the pages of girl’s toys. I told him he could pick anything, anything at all. Even a doll, or Polly Pocket, or a kitchen gadget, it didn’t matter. I just wanted him to have what would make him happy. But he fell back on his default choice even though I knew it wasn’t super exciting to him. I wanted so badly to go to ToysRUs and fill up the cart with all of those pink things that caught his eye and put them in his room, but I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable either.
So I ask, how do I best support my son? How do I help him to accept who he is and not feel shame? I don’t know if he’s gay or straight. It doesn’t matter to me either way. I just want to keep him strong and help protect him from the challenges he may face in the future by parenting him in the best way possible now.
There is no simple way to wrap up this post. I would love comments, and if you know someone who might have helpful thoughts, please feel free to share this with him or her.
Also, wanted to share this beautiful song called Everything Possible. Great lyrics.