When Mikey was younger, say, maybe 3-ish, he and his classmates seemed to have no concept of boy versus girl. They all played together without showing signs of preference over gender. Mikey’s little bestie was a girl named Hayley and they would run and frolic, as well as argue and hit, without prejudice.
But recently, I’ve noticed the boys and girls starting to separate, which I understand may be natural, but it’s still a little sad. Especially because Mikey and Hayley were supposed to get married and her mom – who became a friend of mine – and I were supposed to be in-laws.
Anyway, I have no problem with the fact that Mikey is starting to run with the boy pack, as long as he understands that gender or size are not an indication of strength.
For example, he and his friends were taking turns pushing each other on the swings and his classmate Olivia, who is a little peanut, stepped up to push Mikey and he said, “No, Olivia, you can’t push me. You’re too small.”
I reached over and grabbed the chains on the sides of the swing and brought my 5-year-old to a screeching halt. “Um, excuse me?!” I said, giving him my best “are you kidding me?” look. “Just because she is smaller that you doesn’t mean she isn’t as strong.”
“But, Mom, I’m bigger than, her so she won’t be able to push me.”
“Well, Spencer is bigger than you and you were able to push him,” I replied.
“Barely,” he said.
I decided to table the conversation until we were in the car on the way home, partly so I could better prepare my argument and partly because I didn’t want Mikey to say anything damning in front of the other kids… and their parents.
“Mikey,” I said from the driver’s seat as he tore into a package of Goldfish in his back booster seat. “Look, just because someone is bigger or smaller or older or younger, or taller or shorter doesn’t mean they are more or less strong. Spencer is bigger than you but he can’t do the monkey bars and you can. But Ryan is shorter than you and yet he can outrun you. And Grace is taller than you, even though she’s a girl, and she can also do the money bars. So everyone has strength and weaknesses, OK.”
“Yeah, Momma, but the Hulk is like, so big, and he can smash everything. No one can smash more than he can. He can, like, pick up big, huge rocks and smash them, and no one else can.”
Well, he’s not wrong, I thought. Crap.
Think, think, think… I tried to salvage the point I was trying to make the best I could.
“OK, so the Hulk is super strong. That’s his strength. But he can’t run nearly as fast as the Flash. And neither of them can fly, like Superman, right? See everyone is good at different things, and everyone has to keep practicing other things.”
“Yeah, but Momma, Iron Man can fly, too. But not as fast as Superman.”
“OK, well, I’m sure Iron Man does something that Superman can’t.”
“….. I don’t know, bud. I’m not as knowledgeable of Avengers as Dad is. You know what, let’s ask him when we get home!”
That settled the conversation for a while, and when my husband got home he was able to sort out all the various Avengers’ super powers into non-offensive categories and somehow magically put an end to all the questions and reasoning coming from Mikey.
But this whole situation brought to mind a conversation a friend had told me she had with her daughter, who must have been a little older than Mikey at the time. My friend was heading to the gym and her daughter asked her if she was going so that she could get skinny.
My friend told her daughter that she was going to the gym to exercise so she can be healthy, then she told her daughter that people come in all shapes and sizes. Some are “curvy,” like herself, some don’t have as many curves, and some are kind of in-between. But it doesn’t matter what you look like, as long as you are healthy – and you can’t always tell if someone is healthy just by looking at them.
This led to a rundown of everyone her daughter had ever met and whether they were curvy or less curvy. Then, at the supermarket or library or any other place they went to that had other humans, her daughter would proceed to point out and identify what category each person fell under.
Needless to say, that led to many other discussions.
Anyway, one day I was headed over to visit them (this was before I had Mikey), so my friend told her daughter, “Hey, guess what? Holly is coming over today!”
Her daughter was lost in thought for just a moment, then said, “Holly is curvy!”
Kids, man… They are brutal. But, to be fair, I’ve definitely been called worse.
Holly Crocco is editor of the Putnam County Times/Press and mother of a 5-year-old. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.