Lessons from My 4th Grader

When I was a fourth grader, I met the first true iteration of my insecure self. I was developing quicker than my female classmates, and my face had not yet caught up to my nose. My wavy hair frizzed in humidity, never responding with the sought-after Barbie bounce when flicked over my shoulder the way it did for Kelly and Nancy, those classmates of mine whom the cute boys brought bracelets and asked to be theirs. I observed their recess encounters from the periphery. I longed, like most prepubescent girls, to be popular, to have hair I could flip over my shoulder, to have boys following after me with gifts and awkward smiles. 

I still carry remnants of that insecurity in my thirty-six-year-old being–the desire to turn heads with a slim body and glowing skin, to be so adored by my husband that he won’t reach middle age and tire of me, to be radiant enough that people want to hover in my circle of friends. And all the while, I am mostly falling short of my ideal self.

So when I watch Weston, my own fourth grader, I am both baffled and utterly impressed by his complete self-assurance. He’s not afraid to claim his tastes and interests. He’ll tuck his t-shirt into his jeans and rock it with snow boots. He prefers his blonde locks grazing his eyelashes and wears an anklet like he’s preserving some former surfer life. He’s taken to wearing my new watch despite it being too large and feminine for his wrist. 

This past weekend he amazed me further when he went with my husband, Stephen, and I for a pre-baby spa getaway. Weston wanted to be included and requested to join for pedicures, something even Stephen hadn’t experienced. The woman working on Wes’s feet finished without polish, assuming because he’s a boy that he wouldn’t want polish. She didn’t even ask. While Wes was too polite to request it after the fact, Stephen inquired for him and then went a step further to state he’d paint his toes, too. Stephen opted for a bold purple, and I couldn’t have been prouder of that move, that statement for Weston, for our gender-biased culture, for those women carrying out our pedicures with incorrect assumptions. 

Weston was so happy to have teal toenails and had no qualms about being a boy with his toenails painted. There shouldn’t be anything wrong with that. Fun nail colors shouldn’t be reserved only for girls, but we continue to perpetuate gender bias. Our society does it, and many of our own families do it. Growing up, my three brothers would’ve been berated and ridiculed with homophobic digs if my dad had seen them with painted nails, or if they had merely hinted at wanting a pedicure. “Real men” didn’t do that, and so we grew up believing those false stereotypes. Stephen’s upbringing was much the same, and so at thirty-eight, it still took more guts for him to paint his toes than what Weston likely felt nine. 

It gives me hope for future generations. It helps me believe our children will be that much more open and accepting of each other and of their own unique, quirky selves. They are kinder to each other and to themselves. That level of kindness and embracing of who we each are in our most authentic forms is a lesson we can all stand to relearn.

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