My daughter has always been very independent and danced to the beat of a different drummer. As an infant she was always eager to stand; when she learned to crawl, she crawled over to the coffee table and stood up and started cruising. By nine months she was walking and by one year old, she was climbing on everything. She was super active and liked all things that would be considered “boy” toys. The first movie she became obsessed with was Disney’s Cars and then Finding Nemo and wanted to have nothing to do with watching a Princess movie. Her absolute love was Thomas the Tank Engine and all her dreams came true when she met him at age 2.5. The only “girl” thing she loved was wearing twirl skirts and pretty dresses.
Even when Alexis (or Lexie) started school, things did not change. She still liked what she liked and didn’t seem to gravitate towards the “girl” toys, even when most of her class was girls. She did start to watch the Princess and Fairy movies and she did love pretending to be Tinker Bell. But she still loved her trains and trucks; she just added dress-up to the list. She also never seemed to be easily swayed and stood her ground with her classmates. At three, when a boy classmate told her he was smarter than her, her response was “so.” When he said, “so that makes me better.” Lexie’s response was, “That’s okay, I’ll catch up to you.” This was at THREE!! Needless to say, I don’t tend to worry about her following the crowd or being bullied easily. She is so confident that when I asked her who she was going to marry, after she told me she wanted to be a mommy like me, her response was: “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just marry myself.” Shocked does not even begin to describe how I felt after she said that; she was four!
Confidence is not something that I had to “teach” to her; she has always just had it. That was until this school year. She is in Pre-K and turns 5 in only two months and last week was the first time that I talked to my daughter about being proud of who she is. Every morning at school there is a “question of the day” on a small white board when we walk into the classroom. It is usually a “yes or no” question. Each child has a clothespin with their name on it and they “pin” their name to a “yes” or “no” can. Most of the time, the question has been asked by the teacher, but last week a few of the questions were asked by children.
This particular day, the question was “Do you like to play with dolls better than trucks?” Now anyone who knows Lexie, knows that dolls is not something that she has ever gravitated towards. It is the one “girl” toy that she has always snubbed. Stuffed animals are the toy of choice and while she does own a Tinker Bell and Periwinkle doll, they are not played with that much.
I figured that this question was easy, Lexie would answer “no” quickly and I would say good-bye and be on my way, right? WRONG! I noticed that she was very hesitant to put up her name; then I saw why. Most of the boys in the class had said “no” and most of the girls in the class said “yes.” Lexie can read all her friends’ names, so she knew who had answered each way. She started to put her name on the “yes” can. In that split second, I decided that this was a perfect time to teach a very important lesson.
I stopped Lexie from putting her name on the can and asked her why she was going to answer “yes.” She said it was because she likes dolls. I told her she had to answer the question truthfully and I read the question again. Each time she would look at the “no” can and she just could not bring herself to do it, and every time she tried to put it on the “yes” can, I would stop her. Now any parent knows that when you stop your child from doing what they want, most of the time a breakdown will occur. Sure enough, Lexie started to breakdown, which was hard for me because there were other parents around with their children. They just read the question and let their child answer the way they wanted and here I was stopping her from doing it. I almost gave in, as to save myself the stares, but I knew that I had chosen the “fight” and I needed to follow through.
I knew the exact reason why she wanted to answer “yes,” but I wanted to hear her say it and say it she did. Through huge tears she cried, “Because I want to be with the girls, I don’t want to be with the boys.” And there it was. The one thing I thought Lexie would not do: choose a “side,” just to be with the girls. It broke my heart. I remember being a kid. I remember choosing to do something, not because it was what I wanted to do, but because of what my friends were doing. But I also remembered that there were some things that I missed out on because I didn’t go with my heart but with the crowd, and I didn’t learn the “screw the crowd, I am doing what I want” until I was going into my Sophomore year at college. I wanted to start teaching Lexie now.
So I picked her up and took her away from the table with the question; away from the other parents and kids and asked, “Lexie, if there was a doll, a train or a truck sitting on the floor, which one would you want to play with?”
She smiled through her tears and giggled and said “The train.”
I smiled “See, it is okay to be different and like what you like, not like things because others do.”
She agreed with me, shook her head “yes” and smiled. I thought, “She is ready to put her name with the boys;” However, when we went back to the table, she just couldn’t bring herself to put her name with the boys. At this point her teacher had noticed what was going on.
I said again, “But Lexie, it is okay to like the truck and put your names with the boys.”
She cried, backing away from the table, “But I like both.”
At that moment, both her teacher and I suggested she put her name in the middle, right on the white board with the question on it, between the two cans. That made her super happy and she proudly smiled, wiped the tears away and put her clothespin on the white board. I gave her a big hug, told her that she was special because she liked both, gave her a kiss and said good-bye.
Now you would think that I would have walked out of there super proud that I had gotten my child to tell the truth and embrace her differentness. Not so much. I walked out of that classroom with this guilt running through me. Did I push her too hard? Did I make the right call in trying to teach this lesson to an almost five year old? Is she too young? It’s just a silly morning question. Riddled with these thoughts, I decided that I had to post this story on my link to the adult world: Facebook.
At the end of telling the story on Facebook I wrote:
“It is never too early, in my opinion, to start teaching our children to be who they want to be and be proud of it. Lexie knew I was right and I didn’t want her to lie. Yes, it is a silly question at school that maybe doesn’t need to be taken so seriously, but I took it as a time for a good lesson in being true to herself! Maybe if I start now she will be confident enough in the future to do what she loves and not what others are doing! It was super hard when she was crying and it broke my heart. But it was so important to me! I know in my life I haven’t stayed true to myself all the time and I wish I had. If I can keep her from doing it too much! Because in reality I know there will be times I won’t be there and she will choose to “go with the girls,” even if her heart is somewhere else. I just hope if I keep teaching the lesson when I can that more often than not she will choose to go with her heart!”
The response that I got was so overwhelmingly positive and it was just what I needed to validate my decision that day. Lexie was not the only one who walked away learning something that day. I did too! It is hard as a parent to know if what we are choosing to teach our children is at the right time or place. In the end, I learned that I have to trust my instincts and trust myself and not care what others may or may not be thinking. I have to do what is right for my family and my children.
In the future, Lexie may still choose to go with her friends, instead of choosing what she wants. But, I can only hope that what I chose to teach her during a morning question in Pre-K, will make her, more often than not, be true to herself.
By Sara Fieberg
Sara lives in Massachusetts and is a stay-at-home mom to Alexis (4) and Oliver (1.5). She has been married to her college sweetheart for 7.5 years but has been with him for 15 years. Besides taking care of her kids, Sara is also an Independent Senior Consultant for Thirty-One (https://www.mythirtyone.com/SaraFieberg/) and teaches a lyrical/contemporary/modern dance class for adults. In addition to dancing, Sara loves to be involved with community theatre when she is able to and loves to ski. She also loves all things Disney and travels to a Disney destination at least once a year!