My son Rowan is one of the happiest kids that I have ever met. He loves to sing and dance and run and climb. He likes to throw balls and he likes to twirl. He likes to watch movies about trucks and cars and he likes to watch movies about princesses. Sometimes he likes to roar like a lion, and other times he likes to flap his arms and pretend that he is a pretty peacock. When he sees me get ready in the morning sometimes he likes to play with my make-up brushes on his face. Other times he likes to throw my hair ties in the toilet and giggle. At times he likes to run around in only a diaper. Other times he is happy in his ruggedly handsome “boy” clothes. And sometimes he likes to take my scarves and shirts and wear them around his neck. He refers to these as a “beautiful dress.” You see, Rowan likes all kinds of things. And I LOVE that about him. I love that he finds ways to express himself. I love that he does not feel bound to like one particular thing or do things one particular way. He marches to the beat of his own drum. He is clumsy and silly and full of spit fire. Just when we think we have him figured out; he reminds us that he is full of surprises.
Rowan is a very emotional child. And I have NO CLUE where he gets that from (ok, I’m kidding…he may possibly get that from me. A little. Maybe.) It is very important to Rowan that people listen to him and include him in things. It is very important to him that you ask him questions if you are asking other people. It is very important to him that you acknowledge him and offer praise. If we forget to praise him he will say “good job Rowan” to himself. I love this about him. I love that he is proud of himself. I love that he wants the positive feedback. And I know that part of this is because Rowan is Rowan. And I know that part of this is because Rowan is the brother of someone with ASD. I know that too many times a day I have to distract myself from Rowan to address a need or behavior of Grayson’s. I know that sometimes we pacify Rowan longer than we would like with an iPad or a coloring book so that we can fix a problem that Grayson is having. I know that many times in a day Rowan has to “trade” with his brother because Grayson wanted the yellow plate. I know that at the end of the day Rowan is always left with the brown tootsie pop or the slightly broken cookie. I know all of these things. And these are the things that swirl in my head as I lay in bed at night. I think about all of the compromises Rowan makes for his brother. I think about the patience and understanding and compassion that this little two-year-old has already learned. I think about his adaptability. I am proud of his adaptability. I hope that he can teach his friends at school to be just like him. I hope that having a brother with ASD makes Rowan better. A better brother, a better friend, a better person. Because there are a lot of times that having a brother with ASD may make someone feel invisible; not my Rowan. Rowan will make himself seen. He will make his presence known. He will twirl into the middle of the room and he will hold his brother’s hand while he is sad. He will be wiser beyond his year. And because he is all of these things…I just simply do not care if he wants to wear princess underwear.
I do not want to launch a huge gender debate. In a changing time where we openly talk about “gender fluidity” I think it important for parents to understand their role in their children’s gender identity. Actually, I would like to see parents take less of a role. Let your kids be kids. Without rules. Without introducing your own ideas about what they should or should not wear. What they should or should not play with. Let your children do the things that make them happy. Teach them to be good and kind humans. Take away the negativity and stigmatism about things that are different. Create a life of openness for your children. Encourage them to express themselves. And then do not back away or balk at them when they do.
I am raising two very different children. I know that Grayson is Grayson and Rowan is Rowan. They have different interests, different tendencies, and different instincts. They like many of the same things, but sometimes in different ways. They play with many of the same things, but sometimes in different ways. They explore many of the same things, but sometimes in different ways. And we let them do this. In our house sometimes things are not always conventional. The people who come into our house embrace the uniqueness of our boys. All of Grayson’s therapists know that Rowan love to wear my scarves as dresses and they always tell him that his dress is beautiful. They are not worried about Rowan behaving “too much” like a girl. They only care that he is happy. Why? Because that is the environment we have created in our house.
This weekend Rowan hit a home run in the potty training department and it was time to purchase underwear. I went to the store in hope that maybe, just maybe, the world had evolved enough that I could find some of the more popular female Disney characters in the boy section of the store. After all, many of these Disney movies include a prince counterpart. And what is more manly than a rugged beastly man and the superhot princess he just landed himself? I was sadly mistaken. The girl’s area for underpants was about 3 shelves long, while the boy area was only half of shelf. Girls could choose from a number of different Disney packs, female super heroes, girl Nickelodeon characters, days of the week underwear, etc. The options were pretty much endless. Boys could choose from much lesser known male Disney characters, Mickey Mouse, Paw Patrol and male Super heroes. As I perused the aisle it made me mad that boys and girls did not have all of the same options available to them in their section. I had absolutely no problem grabbing one of the girl Disney princess packs for my son. I went to the store to purchase underwear that Rowan would like. And I could literally give zero shits about the color or content.
When I got home we pulled all of the underwear out…Spiderman, Nemo, Buzz Lightyear, Rapunzel, Cinderella, Ariel, Mickey, etc. He was so excited about each and every pair. They were all so different. The Mickey pairs were very bright primary colors. The Nemo pairs had a huge giant fish across the entire back. The princess pairs were colorful and swirly. I asked Rowan to pick his favorite and he said “Spiderman”. I asked him again and he said “Nemo.” I asked him again and he said “Rapunzel.”. He loved them all. Just as I knew he would.
Yes, my 2 year old son likes to wear dresses and sing princess songs and he sleeps with two dolls. And he is one of the sweetest, happiest, most intelligent two year olds I know. He loves what he loves; and I love that about him. I am tolerant of a lot of things. And the reason is simple…demonstrating tolerance teaches tolerance. Let us all take the time to demonstrate tolerance to all things in our lives. And in turn let us all learn to be more tolerant of all things. Yes, my son has princess underwear. And if that bothers you…I don’t really care.