Have you ever had one of those moments when your quiet mommy time turned into some sort of life lesson? I sometimes try to convey the importance of mommy having alone time in the bathroom and make it a life lesson for my two-year-old. He really just thinks I’m inviting him to bring some toys in and make it a party.
The other day, I wasn’t expecting a life lesson to arise . . .
I stepped onto the porch to paint my nails. (My hubby HATES the smell of nail polish, so I try to be friendly about it.) Before I knew it, all 3 of my little ducklings had followed me onto the porch. My daughter Eisley (6 years old) picked up my polish and started painting her own nails.
My youngest son Asher (2 years) begged to paint his nails as well. I offered to paint them for him. He refused, of course, and wanted to do it himself. I made him sit on a trash bag so he wouldn’t get nail polish all over the concrete and set the tub of paint colors in front of him. He would hand one to me. I would open it. He would paint one nail, then hand it back. He painted his entire left hand with different colors, repeatedly. Then he went to work on his right foot. He was having so much fun!
But then . . .
My older son Lukas (age 6) started commenting on Asher’s nails stating that “boys don’t paint their nails.” He said he would paint his own nails except that then his friends might make fun of him He also said that it was ok for girls like Eisley to paint their nails, but if a boy paints his nails, then people might think he’s a girl or might think he’s weird.
His words made me sad.
When he was younger, he absolutely loved painting his nails. Rainbow style was his favorite as a two-year-old. He loved to be a Rainbow Tiger any time he could. But somewhere between ages 2 and 6, he has been told what a boy should look like and be like. He should carry nerf guns and lizards in his pockets. He should build with Legos and draw with the colors blue and green. He should sword fight with sticks, chase people around the yard with the water hose, squish spiders for his sister, and never, ever cry in the dark.
As he warned his younger brother of the dangers of painting a boy’s nails, I realized (for the 178th time) that gender generalizations and rules somehow weasel their way into our kids’ minds without us purposely teaching them.
Do I want my son to paint his nails? To not paint his nails? To dye his hair? To grow his hair long? To wear rain boots in the sandbox? To wear his birthday suit and climb up on restaurant tables while folks are eating? Do I want him to wear socks with his sandals or pick his nose and eat it? Sometimes I really just don’t care how my kids are dressed or how loudly they are fighting about who the best Pokemon is.
However, I suppose there are many things I do care about and this seemed to be one of them.
I try to instill good values and morals in my children. Certainly, I want them to grow up and be positive inclusions to society. I want them to have friends . . . to have a sense of belonging. But, really, if a six-year-old is afraid of being made an outcast because of the temporary status of his nails, then maybe something else is at stake here beyond the bonds of playground friendships.
I asked him, “Do you like to paint your nails?”
He said, “Yeah.”
I asked, “Does painting your nails hurt anyone?”
He said, “No.”
I continued, “If you like to paint your nails, and your mom says it’s ok, then it doesn’t really matter what anyone else says. I would hope that a man would be happy to do what he liked to do, and he would enjoy it so much that he wouldn’t even care about what people said about him. That’s why some men have long hair and some have short. Some men pierce their ears or wear any color they want. And besides that, it’s summer and you’re not even going to be seeing any friends for awhile because they’re all too busy or too hot to come out of their air conditioning!”
At some point during my diatribe, Lukas’ face stretched out in a huge grin.
When I finally grew quiet, he asked, “Can you pass me the blue?”