I got them both to where they needed to be on the morning of September 10 and rushed back home to park myself on the couch under a blanket to catch up on reality TV, while obsessively and repetitively checking email and Facebook on my laptop and Instagram and Pinterest on my phone. Because that, my friends, is how I relax.
As I got myself situated on the sofa the silence of the house caught my attention. It was quiet. Really quiet. I got halfway through one episode of Teen Mom 3 and I had a bad feeling. What if, at that very moment, someone was trying to dull C.J.’s sparkle? What if he was being teased for his rainbow-leopard-print backpack? What if he was being teased for his pink, heart-covered lunchbox? What if he was being teased for his hair that is growing out? What if? What if? What if? I couldn’t concentrate on mindless TV.
I thought of that morning. I followed behind Chase as he walked onto campus. He was high-fiving people through the hallways and reinforcing why we call him “The Mayor.” He knows everybody and is full of a confidence that is more kind and innocent than cocky. He’s just a great, happy, friendly person.
Thirty minutes later we were at C.J.’s school and he was holding onto my hand for dear life. The transition from kindergarten to first grade is a big deal. Gone are the half-day of instruction, private playground, protective atmosphere and kids and parents who know C.J. is, well, C.J. This year he has to stand in line on the playground with 1,150 other first through sixth graders waiting for the bell to ring. He was overwhelmed. Understandably so.
When I picked C.J. up from school, his teacher had the class in a single file line and was dismissing one student at a time. I could see C.J. at the back of the line. He looked up at me and then immediately looked down. He was fighting back tears. I started to do the same.
When he got to me, I asked him how his day was.
“Fine,” he said as we walked. He was lying. We got into the car and the tears spilled down his cheeks.
“What’s wrong, baby?” I asked.
“I spent all day afraid that the big kids were going to tease me cause they don’t know that I’m gender nonconforming yet. And, it was the longest day ever. I’m tired. First grade is way too long,” he explained.
“Who did you sit with at lunch?”
“I sat at the boys’ table and it was so boring.” There are not boys’ tables and girls’ tables at lunch, that’s just how the kids divide.
“How come you didn’t sit with your girl friends?” I asked. C.J. only has girl friends.
“Because I didn’t want the bigger boys to tease me.”
“Did the boys say anything about your lunchbox?” I asked. He’d been not so patiently waiting to use it for weeks.
“I didn’t carry it to the lunch tables. I took all of my food out and carried it in my hands to the tables so that nobody would see my lunchbox.”
My heart broke as I envisioned him trying to carry a sandwich, juice box, chips, granola bar and sliced fruit to the lunch tables on the other side of campus.
We role-played that night during bath time.
“What if someone said, ‘Why do you have a girls lunchbox?’” I asked.
“See! You’re great! That’s what you would say!” I encouraged him.
“It’s harder when it’s really happening,” he said looking down. I couldn’t argue with that.
I offered to go get him a new lunchbox. He didn’t want to. He likes his pink lunchbox. But, the next day he took his lunch in a brown paper bag. And, he has everyday since.
On Wednesday, Chase came home and said that he needed to talk to me privately.
“A kid in my class made a racist remark at the lunch tables and I told him that it wasn’t very nice, especially since there was a person of color at the table. Then the same kid used the word ‘gay’ in the bad way and I told him not to do that because it’s rude and because my uncle is gay and my brother is gender nonconforming. He said that being gay is sick and bad and wrong. He said that I’m not a good Christian if I like gay people. It’s all really been bothering me,” Chase said.
He stared at me. I stared back at him, trying to keep my immediate reactions from flying out of my mouth.
“Wow. Okay. So that all happened,” I said as he continued to stare at me. I swear, I cannot get away from gender and sexuality issues. Even when I’m just trying to hide in my house and stare at three screens simultaneously, my kids are out in the world experiencing things that aren’t okay.
“Well, baby, above all else, God said to love others and not judge, so you should tell that kid to focus on that. Besides, he made a big assumption that everybody is the same religion. Then, maybe you two should agree to disagree. Not all kids your age have the same opinions and worldviews as you do. A lot of them don’t know about the struggle for LGBTQ equality yet. I bet that kid has never even met a gay person. You’re a little more worldly in that regard.”
I was making it all up as I went along.
On Thursday, pretty much the exact same conversation took place at lunchtime with two other kids joining in to tell Chase that being gay is sick, bad, wrong and gross and against God, Jesus and the Bible. They said that we are a bad family.
I emailed the teacher and principal.
Then, on Friday, C.J. got was upset that a girl from his class told him that his backpack is for girls.
“I told her that it wasn’t, that backpacks are for everybody and that is just my style.”
He was proud of himself. He was smiling.
“What did she say?”
“She said I was a liar and that it’s only for girls and I can’t carry it.”
“Backpacks are for anyone who has a back and needs a pack,” I said, shaking my head in pure exhaustion.
The first four days of school. My youngest is afraid of getting teased at lunch, while my oldest is actually getting teased at lunch. I’ve already had to be in contact with two principals, two teachers and one vice principal. We’ve already been called a bad family.
And, I’m still not caught up on my reality television shows.