Who sends their kid to school with a target on their back? The parent who is trying to strike a balance between protecting her kid from being bullied and letting her be herself.
Like Carrie Goldman, a mom from the Chicago area who has been blogging about how the Star Wars water bottle her daughter, Katie Goldman, so proudly picked out months ago has made her a target of schoolyard bullies, this is the stress that's been clouding our house this month.
Our daughter has grown up playing with toy cars and trucks. My entire Hess truck collection from childhood migrated from my parents' home to ours after I gave birth, and she's vroomed them across the living room, used them to transport dollies, and packed them in her overnight bag for trips to Oma and Opa's house.
Silly me for expecting I'd beat the gender wars before she hit 5.
But part of my job means toys are sent to my house to be played with and thoroughly put through their paces to determine whether they'd be a good fit for other parents. When two vehicles showed up at the house, I expected her to attack the boxes with her usual "ooh, what did I get?" vigor. What kid says no to new toys?
Instead, the two toy trucks sat in the playroom for days, completely untouched.
I had to drag it out of her. "Girls," she informed me, "don't play with trucks." Which would have been a heckuva lot more convincing if she hadn't sat there, staring longingly at the two boxes I'd placed in front of her.
This wasn't our first rodeo. Nearly a year ago, we were driving to pre-school, a giant monster truck in her lap, when the other little girl in our carpool used those very words. "Girls," she told my daughter, "don't play with trucks. Why are you bringing a truck to show and tell?"
I cut that one off at the pass. "Some girls do play with trucks. Just like some girls play with mermaids," I said, picking one of her favorites that had appeared in my backseat more than once on the way to school. Watching her happily spinning monster truck wheels in the rearview mirror, I was fancying myself a bit of a superhero Mom at that moment.
Then came kindergarten and new friendships and hours spent in a school where I have absolutely authority over the other little cretins kids. The girls there, apparently, don't play with trucks, and they make it very clear. It wasn't a clear case of bullying. But she was pretty clear that there were expectations among the girls about what made a girl a girl, and our house wasn't fitting the mold.
As Carrie Goldman asked about Katie and the Star Wars water bottle:
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?
So I did what any parent who was completely desperate would do. I opened up the Tonka Chuck dump truck playset. Then I pulled out the Ricochet, a remote control car (also Tonka, it would happen) that was supposed to twist like a snake. And I played with them while she sat there and watched.
Have you ever played with a remote control car or sent a truck flying off a race track? It's hard not to make someone else want to get in on the action.
Call it bribery. Or call it good old-fashioned leading by example. She was soon off and vrooming, and I had a decision to make. Get preachy and use my teaching moment or back off and let her enjoy it.
I backed off. She had fun and declared them "very cool toys." And I started floating Christmas ideas. Would she like ponies? More Littlest Pet Shop?
Not surprisingly, I got a yes and another yes. And then she added another request: "I want Stinky the Garbage Truck," she told me, naming a Matchbox truck I've been hearing is the "hot" toy for boys this winter. We'd seen Stinky a few times, she's even played with him and decided he was "hilarious" (he talks), but for a kid who starts talking Christmas lists in June, this was the first I was hearing about him.
So I stopped playing it cool and asked her how we'd gone from "girls don't play with trucks" to "I love Stinky."
"I can play with trucks alone," she told me. "That's OK." Apparently I still hold sway over her, even if I can't stand on the playground and dish it out.
It's not perfect, but it's a start. She may not take Stinky to school, but she's only 5. Showing who she is at home is a start.
Have you struggled to keep your kids' from giving up on their passions because of other kids? How have you handled it?
Image via cogdogblog/Flickr