I met today’s guest author about a year ago, at the gym through a mutual friend. We met again–and I hope she’d agree we struck up a friendship–the day this generous act of kindness took place. And I appreciate her post today because my adolescent boys absolutely preferred Dora to Diego when they were small and both had something of a crush on Elsa as they watched Frozen over and over. Fuchsia and sparkles are way more fun than khaki and no two people need to fit the same mold. She inspires me with her fierce love, protection, and stewardship of her most precious treasure: her children.
Create Challenge #18 – A.J. Brown
“I want an Elsa party,” said my three-year-old son.
“Sure! We can do a Frozen party for your birthday,” I replied.
“Not a FROZEN party, Mommy, an ELSA party,” he declared.
When I hear the word, “creativity,” my mind and heart instantly jump to my little boy, Cooper. Most people in town know who we are because of Cooper’s big sister, Finley, who publicly (and victoriously!) battled cancer this past year. Much of my writing over the last year has centered around Finley and her journey. However, this post is about creativity, and for that, I need to tell you about our boy. Our special, imaginative, magical, creative little boy.
Cooper sparkles. Literally. From the time he was old enough to dress himself, Cooper has had a fondness for sequins, glitter, and all things rainbow. And, really, why shouldn’t he? We dress our boys in navy blue and khaki, and our girls get all the glamorous stuff. Cooper has always figured, “Why should my sister have all the fun?” I mean, after all, what’s not fun about sequins? And isn’t fuschia a much more fun color than the ‘traditional’ colors we dress our boys in?
I manage a dance studio. My kids are often at work with me. Hence, Cooper has been around tutus, costumes, glitter, and lots and lots of girls since he was a newborn. Is it any surprise that he would gravitate towards what he sees around him? Probably not. Then again, plenty of boys with older sisters don’t.
When the movie Frozen came out a couple of years ago, Cooper in particular was enchanted. For the better part of two years, he’s been stripping off his preschool ‘boy’ clothes before he’s even in the door of our house, leaving a trail of discarded clothing from the garage to his room, from which he has emerged daily in full “Elsa” regalia. His Elsa dresses have been worn so much that my girlfriends and I joke that at times he looks more like homeless, crack addict Elsa than the movie character Elsa. Dirty, torn, tattered, hanging off one shoulder…he wears his Elsa dress proudly. It’s been replaced several times, but never lasts more than a few months due to the constant wear and tear.
He understands that boys don’t wear dresses and skirts to school, but that hasn’t stopped him from pilfering his sister’s “prettier” shirts. For Christmas, he got a different “Elsa” shirt for every day of the week, so that he could wear one every day if he wanted. Currently his favorite shirt is not actually an Elsa shirt, but a bright pink number with a unicorn and a rainbow on the front that says, “Be yourself, unless you can be a unicorn.” His bestie at school, a darling little girl named Sophie, has the same shirt. They like to wear them together.
He sleeps on a rainbow unicorn pillow at night, and never ever misses an opportunity to play with mommy’s makeup. He knows almost all the choreography from The Nutcracker, and goes through stretches where he will watch the DVD daily, pausing it after each number to do a costume change. He could care less about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but Barbies are a hit. On his fourth birthday, he emerged from his bedroom in the morning in a black sequin jacket, black sequin fedora, tights and a single sparkly glove, announcing that he was Michael Jackson.
In the fall, the kids were fortunate enough to have their rooms redecorated by a fabulous organization called “Rooms of Hope,” which does dream bedroom makeovers for kids fighting yucky stuff like cancer. One of the best things about this organization is that they don’t forget siblings. Cooper, of course, announced that he wanted an Elsa bedroom. Not that I have any objection to that, but as their rooms likely won’t get redecorated again for several years, I wanted to steer him towards a theme that he could happily grow older with; I have a hard time imagining eight-year-old Cooper still obsessed with Frozen. After poring over Pinterest together, he decided on a safari theme. “But,” he said definitively, “it HAS to have something pink, and at least one butterfly.”
At Christmastime, we made the traditional pilgrimage to visit Santa. When it was Cooper’s turn, he was ready with his list. “Santa, I would like an Elsa shirt, an Elsa doll, an Elsa nightgown, a new Elsa dress, an Elsa car…”
“Ho ho ho,” boomed Santa. “What about sports, young man? Don’t you like sports?”
“NO, Santa,” admonished Cooper. “Only ELSA. Oh, and sparkly rainbow nail polish.” I smothered a giggle with a cough. My four-year-old had firmly put Santa Claus, apparently a silly, narrow minded old man, in his place.
The reactions to Cooper’s unconventional expression of his own creativity have been varied. Many, even within our own family, frown upon our ‘indulgence’ of his whims. I’ve been advised on many occasions to not allow him access to ‘girl’ dress up things, or to only give him ‘boy’ toys as gifts, as if this might turn the tide somehow. Well-meaning friends and relatives give gifts of trucks and action figures and ‘boy’ costumes, all of which end up donated, untouched by our boy, who could not be less interested.
So, when Cooper declared that he wanted an Elsa birthday party, of course we said yes. Elsa plates, napkins, cups, etc. were purchased. Cooper excitedly donned his favorite Elsa dress, swooping around the house singing Let It Go. The doorbell rang…our first guests had arrived. Cooper swung open the door, and the adult party guest on the other side visibly recoiled. “Is that seriously what he’s wearing for his party?” she said.
Cooper backed away, uncertain. I sent him off to the bouncy house, and turned back to our guest. “There is only one thing that matters today,” I said firmly, “and it is not you or anyone else or what they think. The ONLY thing that matters today is that little boy’s happiness, and anyone who doesn’t like how we make that happen is welcome to turn around and walk right back out that door.” Yep, mama bear has claws. No one’s going to put my cub in a corner.
I’ve done a lot of research and reading about gender creativity in the last few years. There’s a fantastic book I wish everyone who knows and loves Cooper or who knows and loves a kid like Cooper would read called, Raising My Rainbow…Adventures in Raising a Fabulous, Gender Creative Son. This book might as well have been written about us. The thing about childhood gender creativity is that it may or may not be a phase. It may or may not mean he’s gay. If it isn’t a passing phase, what IS for sure is that if he doesn’t feel totally and completely accepted at home, he’s about a thousand times more likely to suffer from depression and have problems with substance abuse. The suicide rate among kids like him who grow up in an environment that tries to change them, making them feel isolated and freakish and unaccepted, is extremely high.
What his behavior for sure means is that he’s creative, artistic, and imaginative, and I LOVE that about him. I absolutely love it. When he came out of his room on his fourth birthday, dressed to the nines like Michael Jackson, I was proud as punch. I don’t know any kid as creative as Cooper. And creativity, to me, is something to be treasured, and nurtured, and applauded.
From the day my kids were born, I’ve always believed that it’s not our job to turn our children into who we think they SHOULD be, but rather to hold their little hands as they grow into who they are MEANT to be. God has a plan for each of them, and we are just the caretakers. They are not mini versions of me and their dad; they are wonderfully unique and one of a kind, like snowflakes. Cooper may grow up to be a Broadway star, or a fashion designer, or, if his fascination with the women’s shoe department is any indication, the next Manolo Blahnik. Judging from recent observances of his solo playtime, he might also be an architect, or a scientist. Net net, I don’t care WHAT he grows up to be, as long as it’s something that makes him happy. I don’t care what gender his life partner turns out to be, as long as it’s someone with a good heart who makes him happy.
My goal is for this house, this HOME, to be a safe place for my family. A safe place where any expression of creativity (as long as it’s not physically harmful to anyone) is accepted and encouraged. A place where lip gloss, and sequins, and tutus are always welcome. When and if this phase passes, I think I’ll miss it. As his fifth birthday approaches, I can only hope that he comes out of his room in the morning wearing something fabulous and sparkly. The rest of the boys in the world can keep their navy blue and khaki. I’ll take mine in hot pink, please.
AJ Brown is wife to Aaron, mom to Finley and Cooper, and manager of the California Academy of Performing Arts in Moraga, CA. She would also describe herself as friend, mama bear, sister, daughter and lover of wine, margaritas, tropical vacations, flip-flops, yoga pants, and moms’ nights out.