Monday, January 28, 2013

The right to choose

Me, age eight, having caught my first fish. Some might say fishing is not a feminine pursuit, but that sure didn't stop me or make me any less excited!
About a week ago, I greeted one of the youngest preschoolers in the morning, and she responded with "I Thuperman!" (a declaration she assertively makes on a regular basis).

"Oh. Hi, Superman," I responded, and was prepared to carry on with my day, when the oldest of the preschoolers took great exception: "NO! You can't be Superman because you're a GIRL!"
"I THUPERMAN!" the girl insisted, her temper rising. I looked into the scowling face framed by platinum blond ringlets. Superman had never looked so beautiful to me.

The boy kept arguing that Superman is a boy, and you can only be Superman if you're a boy, not a girl.

"Wait a minute," I interrupted, as the argument grew more heated. It was clear that both were absolutely convinced of the truths they were speaking, and neither was going to be convinced. "I remember when you wanted to be a princess. Did anyone tell you 'NO!' because you're not a girl?" He looked embarrassed, but stopped to think for a moment. 'Princess Tommy' had made an appearance during Music Class only two days earlier, turning his sweatpants pockets inside-out and dancing with exaggerated hip-swinging motion, but has also visited in the past, decked out in a yellow princess gown, purple-and-pink tiara, and sparkly blue-sequined purse. My response to every assertion of "I'm a princess!" was "Oh. Hello, Princess Tommy."

"Nonsense! That's despicable!" protested the boy, but he let the matter rest.

Later, during a meeting, I sang a song that involves rhyming verses with the children's names. I sang "I know a girl whose name is..." and produced a clever rhyme including "Superman's" given name, and she leveled her gaze on me, and calmly said "I a boy."

"Oh," I responded, as I always do when children make statements about their own identities. "You're a boy today?"

"Yeah. I a boy."

"Oh, okay." And I let it go, although several times, she approached me throughout the day to verify that I would accept her assertion, sometimes repeating herself at increasing dynamics while I was occupied with another conversation, until I acknowledged her: "Yes, you're a boy. I hear you."
That afternoon, the children were lining up to go outside (we always leave the room lined up with partners, as the hallways are public space, and travelling in this way helps us stay together and stay safe) while I talked the last straggler through the last steps of a washroom routine, when I heard angry voices coming from the lineup. I offered my services as a mediator: "You sound angry. What's going on?'

"I a boy," came the sober explanation, followed by several shouted objections from classmates.

"You're a boy, I remember; you told me that earlier."

The other children stared at me in shock for a few moments.

The oldest girl met my eyes and spoke up, her tone plaintive. "She can't be a boy; she doesn't has a penis."

"That's okay," I said, "If she says she's a boy then she's a boy. I'm not about to argue with her about that. I'm not going to argue with her about that any more than I am going to argue with someone who tells me she's a unicorn, a princess, a fireman, or a dragon. Everybody has the right to decide that stuff for themselves." (Poor grammar, I know, but my point was made).

All of the children were silent and wide-eyed. "Superman" beamed proudly at all of her friends. And no one denied her claim "I a boy." There will be time enough to sort all of that out later. In preschool, it's the time for trying on different roles. And only the child can decide how well those roles fit.

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