I knew it. I knew all of my flexible, liberal, permissive gender morals were going to get me into trouble someday. You see as much as I hate society and everyone in it, I also love society, and everyone in it. I want to be a part of it. I want to be normal, while at the same time attempting to be as special and as abnormal as possible. I want girls to play with dolls and boys to play with trucks, but I also want it the other way around. To a point. Sometimes, no matter how progressive and utopian I imagine myself to be, I hit a surprising wall within myself and discover new things that make me uncomfortable. Which is where our story begins.
I have told you before about the advent calendar, which contains 24 doors, behind each of which is a set of presents that the elves have hidden for my two children. Often the two items will be quite similar, but sometimes they are very different indeed. Starting last year as more of a guideline, and thus cementing itself into family history as a stone-written commandment, is the idea that whoever opens the door on that particular day will get to choose which of the presents they want. This was meant for cases such as the infamous “grape or cherry” incident of 2013, and not for when the door reveals two wildly different items, such as a Lightening McQueen car next to Hello Kitty hair barrettes. These gifts are clearly meant for specific children and not available for swapping around. At least in my mind.
This year, on day 4, the elves left a hot wheels car next to some yellow Frozen nail polish, and it was my four-year-old son who got to open the door. He is evens this year. Ruby, being a seven-year-old girl, was very excited about the Frozen nail polish, since it would be her first real nail polish that she would ever own, and I think the elves knew this to be so. But she is also all about the rules, so with wide and bright eyes fixed firmly on the polish, she asked “Which one are you going to pick, Edward?” You could tell by her sad eyes that she was not pleased when he handed her the little metal car and pocketed the make-up.
So what bothered me more? That my son wanted to wear yellow nail polish? I have to admit that I had a twinge of discomfort at this idea. Would the kids at school tease him if he started wearing it? Did it have further implications, beyond that of a four-year-old who likes painting himself and being as messy as possible? Maybe a little. Though I can say, honestly, that if the elves had known he wanted nail polish, there most likely would have been two in there. What tore me up the most was seeing my daughter lose a gift that had been chosen for her. My wife, coming to the rescue, happily painted each of their nails yellow, because sharing, and this seemed to somewhat settle the sadness. But I still felt a disturbance in the force. All was not well in my universe.
Was it wrong to do what I did next? I don’t know. Maybe you have an opinion. I feel a little guilty about it, like I betrayed my son only to get my own way, so perhaps it was wrong. My inner moral compass probably knows better than I do about this sort of thing, but that afternoon there was an incident. On day 3 they had each gotten a bag of gumballs in the calendar, and Edward decided that, since he had eaten all of his gumballs in the first nine seconds after opening them, he ought to share his sister’s. Without asking her first, obviously.
“Daddeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!!” wailed my daughter, as my son stuffed her gumballs into his mouth, laughing all the way. So he got in trouble. And, as it stood to reason in my mind, if he took one of her presents from the calendar, then she got one of his. I took the nail polish away from him and gave it to his sister, as payment for the gumballs he had eaten. And he did not like this at all. He cried. He complained. He growled at me and tried to headbutt me into the next room. But no, I had made my decision. A toy for a toy. But had I done it for the right reasons?
Yesterday, as I went into his drawers to get some pants for him to wear, I found the nail polish hidden under the clothes. It was next to our kitchen scissors, a pile of candy, and a special necklace that his sister had made as a Christmas present for her best friend this year but hadn’t given to her yet. I removed all of these items, put them back where they belonged, and gave the nail polish back to Ruby, feeling increasingly guilty about the whole situation. Should I just let him have the nail polish? Why was it a big deal to me? I began to second guess my own values and doubt my generally accepting and positive nature. This seemed like some sort of parenting test that I had failed.
This morning was day 10, and Edward’s turn to open the calendar once again. He peeked into that little door and pulled out…another nail polish, along with a small toy snow plow of some sort. He looked right up at me and said “This is like the one that Daddy STOLE from me!” shaking the little bottle in my face. I tried to explain that he really stole it from himself by eating the gumballs, but such nuances are lost on the pre-school set, making me once again wonder why I even bothered with the punishment in the first place, since he didn’t really get it. Was this all about my own fears and prejudices? So this time, although I did note aloud that the snowplow looked pretty cool, I decided to stay out of it and let him pick whatever he wanted.
He took a long time to think about it. He held each item up in his hands and examined them closely. They were clearly two equally awesome presents. And then, in the end, he chose the snowplow, handing the bottle to his sister. Which made me feel at once relieved and ashamed. Now I wish I had let him keep the first one. Now his sister has two nail polishes, and he doesn’t have any. There are, knowing the elves, likely more polishes to come, but they will be on Ruby’s days, and she will probably never choose a car over anything with Frozen on it. Maybe she will have mercy on him (and my soul) and give him the yellow one back, now that she has another one, with more to come. She is very compassionate in that way, but you never know.
Edward spent the morning happily pushing his new snowplow through his kinetic sand pile, and nobody seemed upset at all with how things turned out. Except for me. I still feel as though, somehow, my children are better at being people than I am sometimes. But I suppose, if that’s the worst thing to come from all of this, it gives me hope for the future. And I can always learn and change. And maybe there will be some nail polish in his stocking this year. I’ll talk to the elves.
UPDATE: We gave him nail polish in his stocking. He was excited. He has never used it, but he loves it.