Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Thursday, November 25, 2010
I have often thought of bullying as a problem that faces children older than mine, but a recent conversation with my first grader has given me pause. Maybe it starts right here, right now with our little ones.
At summer's end, Katie and I went to Target to pick out her backpack, lunchbox and water bottle for the new school year. After great deliberation, she chose a Star Wars water bottle to match her Star Wars backpack.
Katie loves Star Wars, and she was very excited about her new items. For the first few months of school, she proudly filled her water bottle herself and helped me pack her lunch each morning.
But a week ago, as we were packing her lunch, Katie said, "My Star Wars water bottle is too small. It doesn't hold enough water. Can I take a different one?" She searched through the cupboard until she found a pink water bottle and said, "I'll bring this."
I was perplexed. "Katie, that water bottle is no bigger than your Star Wars one. I think it is actually smaller."
"It's fine, I'll just take it," she insisted.
I kept pushing the issue, because it didn't make sense to me. Suddenly, Katie burst into tears.
She wailed, "The first grade boys are teasing me at lunch because I have a Star Wars water bottle. They say it's only for boys. Every day they make fun of me for drinking out of it. I want them to stop, so I'll just bring a pink water bottle."
I hugged her hard and felt my heart sink. Such a tender young age, and already she is embarrassed about the water bottle that brought her so much excitement and joy a few months ago.
Is this how it starts? Do kids find someone who does something differently and start to beat it out of her, first with words and sneers? Must my daughter conform to be accepted?
The confusing part for me is that I know these first grade boys. I can't simply see them as random mean boys bullying my baby. They are good kids individually, and Katie often plays happily with them.
But when you put the boys together in a pack, maybe they start to feel vulnerable and insecure, which causes them to do unkind things, such as tease my daughter for carrying a Star Wars water bottle.
Maybe they do it to get laughs out of each other. Maybe they do it because if they are busy teasing Katie, nobody will tease one of them. Maybe they do it because they want her attention and have limited social skills at this age.
"Katie, it is okay to be different. Not all girls need to drink out of pink water bottles," I told her.
"I don't want to be too different," Katie lamented. "I'm already different. Nobody else in my class wears glasses or a patch, and nobody else was adopted. Now I'm even more different, because of my Star Wars water bottle."
Katie cannot control the fact that she is different due to adoption or poor eyesight. But she can control what accessories she carries to school, and she is trying to exercise that control. She has learned that there are degrees of being different, and she wants to minimize how different she is.
Being different is a complicated topic. We say that we celebrate diversity, and we preach tolerance. But at the same time, we as adults are often fearful of those who are different. I see people tease each other for being gay or poor or overweight. I see grown-ups bullying others for holding different religious and political beliefs.
I see people publicly lauding diversity and privately attacking those who are different.
It trickles down to kids teasing each other for the types of toys they prefer. So it starts now, with a couple first graders and a water bottle. Right here, right now, we as a community need to recognize the slippery slope of bullying those who are different. We need to show our support for each other's choices, as long as they do no harm.
I talked to Katie about all my musings. Talking about it is the best defense. I have urged her to bring the Star Wars water bottle if that is what she really wants to do, even if it makes her different. Today, she felt brave enough to bring it. I hope that she is able to eat her lunch without feeling nervous.
I would love to be able to show Katie that she is not alone, that other females appreciate Star Wars. If there are any female Star Wars fans reading this, please feel free to show your support for Katie. I will let her read your messages or comments, and I think she will be surprised by what I suspect is a vast number of female fans.
And if you have a little boy out there who wants to carry a pink water bottle, tell him about Katie and reassure him that if she can carry a "boy" water bottle, he can carry a "girl" water bottle. Let's help all our kids grow into confident adults who can appreciate being different.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
The other day I met with a student who surprised me.
I was talking to this student about his major and his life plans, and in that way, our discussion seemed pretty normal.
But then things got more serious.
Even though he is a creative writing major and loves to write, the student confessed he has always dreamed of becoming a chef. I want as many creative writing majors in our program as possible, but I also want our students to be happy, so I encouraged him to do follow his dreams.
Once he had let out that secret, I knew others would come out as well.
And so I wasn't surprised when he kept talking, admitting then that he had planned to go to cooking school all along but had chickened out at the last minute because he was afraid of failing.
At that moment, my heart leapt out to him—because I know as well as anyone what's it like to let fear hold us back.
But then things got even more intense. The student revealed he also had a desire to become a nutritionist, that he wanted to help people learn how to eat well.
And that's when he said something I did not see coming.
He said that he was afraid no one would take him seriously if he became a nutritionist. He paused then, as if working up the courage to continue, and finally said, "Because of my body size."
I guess I should add that this student is a pretty big guy. He kind of reminds me of a pre-diet Peter Jackson: a big and scruffy teddy bear of a guy.
I should also add that he has a huge heart, and he almost always puts it all out there, sharing himself without fear of judgment. That's probably what led him to reveal all of this to me.
And that's why I was determined to tell him what he needed to hear: that he should do whatever he wanted and do it well and not worry for an iota of a second about people judging him or not taking him seriously. And that if he was good at what he did, no one would think twice about his girth.
I told him exactly what I believe: I told him he had to go for it.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
Thursday, November 4, 2010
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
As a kid, I hated dressing up on Halloween.
I never like to be told what to do, and I think the idea that we HAD to dress up on Halloween always bothered me. Especially as a kid when not admitting you didn’t want to dress up would have made you almost as popular as you would have been if you had asked for more homework.
Some of my dislike with dressing up on Halloween stemmed from my dislike of dressing up like a girl, whether it was for school pictures, for holidays, and—worst of all—for tea parties. I completely loathed being forced to wear a dress and jewelry and makeup—YUK!—when I was young. To me, there was nothing worse. And to express my disgust, I even went so far as to wear jeans under the plaid Pilgrim dress my mother made my sister and I wear one Thanksgiving.
Then a funny thing happened . . .
. . . I grew up.
And I fell in love with dressing up.
Dresses, heels, make-up? Love them. And I’ve got the overstuffed closet to prove them.
But I always wonder, if I love it so much now, why did I hate dressing up so much when I was a kid?
Like I said, I think part of it was a control issue. I always hated doing things I was told I HAD to do or HAD to want to do.
But another part of it was about gender. I didn’t want to wear dresses because that would make me a girl, and when I was growing up, it was still acceptable to teach kids that boys were smarter, boys were faster, boys were better. So, of course, I was the quintessential tomboy—wanting to be as boyish as I could.
I suppose that changed when I grew up and realized how ridiculous it was to think boys are better than girls. And, thankfully, around the same time I learned to like my body a little bit (it would be years before I would fully accept it), making me want to wear more feminine attire.
Since then I’ve been all in favor of wearing clothes that make you feel womanly and even hot.
But what I still don’t get is the desire to dress like a prostitute on Halloween. Sure, I like to look and feel sexy, but I respect myself too much to wear a skirt that barely covers my southern hemisphere or a neckline that plunges to my equator.
But I must be the only one who feels that way because everywhere I looked on Sunday night, I saw young women—even girls!—dressed in “slutty” costumes. As another blogger pointed out, the female trick-or-treaters were dominated by sexy schoolgirls, dirty nurses, “Captain Booty Pirates,” "Sexy Scotty" (pictured above), and the “Playboy Touchdown Team.”
When did Halloween turn into a parade of tarts-in-training?
Yes, I grew up in an era of boy power, but I’m not sure I like the other side of the coin—girls empowering themselves to fulfill male fantasies—and I worry that growing up this way will make our young girls even more obsessed with body image thany they were.
Kind of makes me want to be a tomboy again.