It’s hard to show and tell at school when it has increasingly become a place where you have to hide and keep secrets. C.J. taught me that this week.
If you knew my son at home you’d assume he’s made for weeks like this, when all eyes are on him. At home he acts as if he’s born to shine, sparkle and steal every scene in this feature film called life.
When talking about his future, he’s gotten in the habit of starting every sentence with “When I’m famous…” At home, he’s no wallflower.
Things are much different at school: He works every day to blend in and avoid doing something that will call attention to himself and his gender nonconformity. He’s in constant fear that the wrong classmate will find out that he likes girl stuff.
And every day this week, C.J. is the center of attention.
We had the classroom teddy bear with us all weekend. We were supposed to have adventures, take pictures and include them with captions in the class journal for the students to see on Monday.
“Let me take your picture with the bear for the journal,” I said on Friday night as C.J. sat eating a bowl of ice cream.
“NO! Don’t take my picture! I’m wearing my nightgown! I don’t want them to know I like girl stuff!”
“Oh, okay. We’ll start taking pictures tomorrow,” I said.
Every photo taken with the bear the next day was well thought out and completely staged. At his request, we had to scan C.J. and the background for “girl clothes” and “girl toys” before he allowed us to take any pictures of him and that damn bear. We are horrible at noticing our boy dressed as a girl or playing with girl toys now. They used to stick out like a sore thumb. Now they don’t.
I gladly handed over the bear and journal to C.J.’s teacher on Monday. Then, I realized that for Tuesday, we had to create a custom collage of photos of C.J. and a list of his favorite things.
We had a questionnaire to guide us.
“What are your favorite things to do?” I read off of the questionnaire to C.J.
“Dancing and cutting my dolls hair and playing with my dolls and drawing me in beautiful dresses,” he said.
I started to write down his answer. I had a feeling that he would stop me. But, if he didn’t, if he was fine with giving his classmates the truth, I would be too.
“You can’t write that!” C.J. said. “That’s what I really like, not what I want the class to know I like. Tell them I like to play on the iPad. But, don’t tell them I play the dressmaker app. Or the makeover app.”
“Okay. What’s your favorite movie?”
“Tangled. But don’t tell them that. Tell them I like Toy Story.”
“Okay,” I said as I wrote. “Which Toy Story? 1, 2 or 3?”
“Three because it has Barbie in it, but don’t tell them that’s why. Just tell them I like three best.”
“Okay. What is your favorite TV show?”
“Jessie and Shake It Up. But don’t tell them that. Tell them I like Kickin’ It or maybe Good Luck Charlie is okay.”
The simple questionnaire was an exhausting process. The accompanying poster had to be covered with C.J.’s favorite photos of himself. C.J. insisted that I only use photos of him “looking and acting like a boy.”
I imagine that for the vast majority of parents of boys it’s easy to find a picture of their boy looking and acting like a boy. For me it’s not. I struggled and found nine from the last year. In three of them he’s wearing only the color pink—a polo shirt in three shots and board shorts in one. He allowed me to use those.
When we were done with the poster board C.J. said it looked “just okay.”
“What could we do to make it look better?” I asked him, wanting him to like it.
“Make it pink and rainbow and add glitter,” he said.
“We can do that,” I replied.
Today C.J. had to take his favorite book to school for his teacher to read to the class. At first he was afraid that he’d get teased if he took his actual favorite book, but he took it anyway and I’m glad he did.
He took Perez Hilton’s The Boy With Pink Hair.
“He was born that way, the Boy with Pink Hair. Life is not easy being pink. But when you have a best friend who appreciates your uniqueness and parents who are loving and supportive, you can do just about anything.” —The Boy With Pink Hair
Today C.J.’s supposed to take his favorite toy to share with the class. He won’t, though. He won’t take his cupcake princess doll, his ballerina nutcracker or one of his Barbies.
He’s taking a snow globe and will pretend that he loves it.
On Friday he’s bringing his family to share with the class. His dad, brother and I will stand up there with him in front of the class and support him proudly. No matter what he likes in private or public, we like him just the way he is.