I find myself, as many parents in these weeks, worrying about my boy who has just started school. He loves it, he announced after his first day that “school is awesome!” And, boy, I couldn’t agree more. I get two whole mornings child free and a section of my afternoon when the girl child naps. It is awesome. My concern though is not over the usual thing, well some of the usual things….is he having fun?, is he choosing healthy food for lunch?, is he being polite?, is he able (sorry) to wipe his own arse…? Ok so some of the usual worries (I know I’m not alone in that last one!) but my concern is over a cardigan. When I looked up what the uniform list was I was relieved that the list wasn’t too long and most of it you could actually get unbranded and from the supermarket if you chose to. I was also relieved that, for now, I don’t need to contend with the girls uniform list, which is longer, has more options and will inevitably cost far more when it comes to that time….tunic, summer dress, white socks, grey socks, tights, cardigan…….which in itself is wrong, but I won’t get started on that. So off I went on a little pilgrimage, a parental right of passage if you like, to the industrial estate where they have the cavern of delights that is the school uniform shop.
Fortunately it was quiet and I could rifle in peace, wondering how exactly it had come to this. I chose to get him a crew neck and, knowing how incapable he is of taking on and off said item, I chose – rebelliously – to get him a cardigan as well…. it has pockets, no discernible “feminine” features and from a practical point of view, he can take it off, put it on, use it as bat wings or even an elephant trunk. Now, when I presented him with the option he said he liked the cardigan so I ironed in his inconceivably long school name label and it was put in the drawer with the rest of his uniform while the summer passed. School began and he wore his crew on the first day and the cardigan on the second and third. However this morning when I presented him with the option he told me that some boys had laughed at him. This was at lunchtime when, I assume, there’s a big mix of the years, and my heart sank. He wasn’t perturbed by the incident at all, he said they went on to laugh at something he said (not at him, genuinely, he said “oh nuts” which he’s heard on a film and they found hilarious, coming out of a four year old’s mouth). Still, I sent him in his crew today, for which I was sorry, but I didn’t want it to escalate or upset him before I could bring it to the attention of the staff.
I’m reminded of the beautiful Rosemary Wells kids book “Timothy Goes to School” in which his mum makes him a brand new sun-suit for his first day of school. There’s a mean, popular kid called Claude who repeatedly makes Timothy feel bad for what he’s wearing, despite his mother’s efforts to send him in something that will be deemed appropriate. In the end he meets a peer who is being upset by another overachieving student and they bond over how mean and silly the other two are and create a great friendship. All very heartwarming and mature of the kids but I know it’s not that simple. I’m not sure that the school can do much, other than keep an eye on our son. I would like to ask them to alter their uniform list so that it simply lists all the uniform and doesn’t dictate what girls and boys can wear.
Kids should be kids and free to choose. I guess this is quite topical, a few weeks ago with John Lewis scrapping their boys and girls clothes ranges in favour of gender neutral labelling and, this week, Mr & Mrs Rowe are taking action against their son’s school where a little boy is choosing to wear a dress to school a few days a week. They claim that it was making their child ‘uncomfortable’ and ‘confused’, but fear is not the answer, neither is making the child seek medical help for the ‘problem’. It’s interesting that none of the kids in the class seem to be bothered by this behaviour other, seemingly, than the son of the parents who take issue with it. Now, this is not the same thing, not at all. But I would like to think that if my son chose to wear a dress at home or at school, at a birthday party, then he damn well should be able to express who he is without judgement.
Childhood is for exploration and discovery but the problem is that they are also influenced by the views of their parents, naturally, and society around them. I guess you could argue, as my husband did this evening, that it is not our son’s “crusade” (I do take issue with phrasing it like that, I’m not on a crusade, I just believe in equality and, in this case, practicality) and that I have influenced him to chose the cardigan by buying it in the first place. But someone has to break the mould, to show other kids that, really, it’s just a cardigan, an item prevalent in men’s fashion, my husband’s wardrobe included and presumably those of the parents in the school yard. We live in an area, disturbingly like so many, of baby blue and baby pink so maybe I’m hoping for the impossible but I’m glad for the opportunity to talk to my son about these issues, though obviously not at the expense of his happiness or security at school.
Echoing Pink’s phenomenal VMA speech, I put it to him “does mummy have girly hair?”, “hahah no!!!”, “does mummy wear pink or frilly dresses”, “hahahah no!”, “no, I shaved my head and I wear blue and green and red and grey and black….”, “and PURPLE!” and I love that we can have that conversation. I feel happy that, although I am the archetypal stay at home mother (and full time carer for my daughter), I am strong, passionate, all about equality and I give no fucks whatsoever what other people think of me. But I am torn, kids can be very mean and my husband is worried that the teasing now (I don’t think it’s there yet, merely remarks, but they could still be hurtful) could last with him through the school years.
It’s hard to divide my own resilience that has been built over time from how it felt to be that age, especially in a new environment but I think I will probably continue to give him the option. I don’t want to let the gender stereotypes win, I want to show him that it’s ok to break the mould, I’m just not sure the cusp of 5 is the right age for it. At 10 I was wearing a shirt, tie, crew neck and a mini skirt and (fake) DM’s so I could play football at lunchtime with the lads, but I was 10…. so I’m still torn and I know that kids will be kids.