jetpack, self portrait with plants
Don’t worry, this isn’t a scary post, or a heart-wrenching post (not intentionally anyway!). This is a musing post. (Don’t know what the title refers to? Scroll to the bottom)
Jetpack’s bike is pink. I don’t think any of us consider him a “pink boy,” he just wanted this particular bike. And we don’t worry about gender binaries much around here. He also went to preschool today in jeans and a tutu, so. He’s a unique kid, and we like that about him.
Anyway. His bike gets him some strange looks from confused kids, but most of them don’t mind too much. He’s got two friends who have asked about it a couple times. They’re both girls, a year and two years older than him, and his closest neighbor friends. The most recent time, they were a little more forward about it.
“Jetpack, why do you have a girl’s bike?”
Jetpack, not even faltering in his bike-stride, responded, “It’s not a girl’s bike, it’s my bike!”
I tweeted about this at the time. I was proud of him for standing up for himself, for feeling confident. A few days later, at home, he sat down on his bike and then said, crossly, “[our neighbors] say this is a girl’s bike, and it’s not a girl’s bike, it’s my bike.”
I assured him that it was. We talked about how girls AND boys can like whatever they want. About a day later, we had a similarly-upset conversation about his hair. He likes keeping it longer, but informed me, with sad sniffles, that he didn’t want it to grow any longer because he didn’t want to be a girl.
We talked about how hair length doesn’t change gender (well, it was more age appropriate than that) and talked about all of our friends who had different lengths of hair and different genders.* I think it helped things get figured out, especially as Jetpack is still refusing to get his hair cut, so. Obviously his worries about turning into a girl (yes, that was his concern!) have lessened somewhat.
So I’m not saying in any way that our neighbor’s kids were intentionally harmful with their words. They are good kids, and they mean well. But sometimes there is power in our most harmless of words. I was thinking about this, and this HuffPo article, and how awful/scary/wonderful children are. Words have such meaning to them. As adults we like to pretend that so much language is water on our backs, that the only words that really matter are the few that really get beneath our skin. But when a kid is learning a couple new words a day** they seem like they mean something extra.
So the enemy is once again not an enemy at all, not a boogie man at all. I want the source of my child’s pain to be easily visible.
So I mean, now we’ve talked about this, he and I. I guess I was a little ill-prepared though, for these itty bitty 4-year-old microaggressions. Something about a small and really friendly preschool and a stay-at-home-parent made me hope/believe that it would take longer.
So, it’s not-really bullying, just unintentionally painful words, but it seems like the methods of conceptualizing his reactions and needs are similar to those of a bullied child. Some stuff I’ve found here on the intertubes:
10 Tips For Talking About Bullying. I liked this because it’s not quite as full on, “don’t make eye contact or react to your bullies!” as some of the other stuff out there. The first tip is “Keep your emotions in check. Parents are very protective of their children and it is only natural that you would have strong emotions regarding your child being bullied.” I’m pretty sure I need that as a tattoo across the back of my hand, like when I was in high school and wrote homework assignments on my skin.
Bullying: how to spot it. This is a little stronger, but I appreciated that it breaks stuff down by age. The questions it talks about asking your kids “when you suspect bullying” sound like really excellent questions to ask when your kid comes home from school, like, pretty much every day.
Stopbullying.gov is flipping huge and has a lot of stuff (and, uh, some dead links on the front page? Sheesh, .gov folks, even *I* know better than that…). But it’s worth perusing and keeping in the back of your head if you ever need it.
So who else has some resources? Ideas? Commiserations? Verbal eye-rolling?
Vocabulary! (lifted from wikipedia) Microaggression is the idea that specific interactions between those of different races, cultures, or genders can be interpreted as mostly non-physical aggression. Sue et al. (2007) describe microaggressions as, “brief and commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights and insults toward people of color.”
*Which is actually hard when your dear friends are a lot of queers who identify as genderfluid/genderflexible/genderqueer! One in particular has a fab short pompador-esque haircut and is queer-gender identified and female-bodied. I remembered their short hair, and brought it up before thinking the whole thing through. Jetpack’s response, verbatim, was “she’s a boy.” Not useful for that particular conversation (or maybe more useful than I realized?) but awesome, nonetheless.
**I actually got this fact off of Babycenter, which is about as statistically reliable as a real baby. So.