Until I had my son, I had the rather naive view that it was society that forced boys and girls to be different, that ultimately, they were the same little beasties underneath. In my defence, I did say that I was naive!
What I encountered (terrifyingly enough!) was a child that would automatically make weapons out of sticks, blocks, cutlery (there’s a reason there are no knives in our kitchen drawer), vegetables – you name it, he was into it. The boy had an innate love of building, he would be overjoyed to bang on some timber with some nails, assist in any way possible. He also helped out in the kitchen, loved cooking, played with dolls and I even got to buy him a skirt once ’cause he wanted to wear skirts. His father and I did not care about any gender issues. If the boy had grown into a little person who thought he was a girl, he probably could not have picked more prepared parents for that role. We had role models all picked out, no matter what.
So it shocked both us to realise we had a boy’s boy on our hands. What to do? Just keep swimming has been our motto pretty much since he was two.
We have encouraged him to explore what is of interest to HIM, not his friends, not what we want him to do. It doesn’t always work. Prep saw him being teased for being a girl – we had stern words with him, not to the other kids. He needed to be able to shrug that off and appreciate that these little kids hadn’t had the same level of exposure to HIS normal. He’s been dancing since he was three – when he asked (demanded) that he learn how to dance.
The mothers at school have said before that we are “so brave” “letting” him dance because he might “turn gay” or that their husbands would never let their son dance as it is emasculating. To which I mentally think (but have never said) “What the HECK?” Seriously, dancing turns someone gay? Homophobia is still far too prevalent in our society.
What those mothers don’t see in this lesson is that the girls move their bodies so differently and have such a different awareness of their bodies that the boys struggle to do things in a similar way. What is easy for these (particular) girls looks awkward, uncoordinated and ungainly on these particular boys. They are constantly aiming to catch-up. Catch-up, catch-up, catch-up. And as a mother, nothing makes my heart sing more. As a feminist mama, I am overjoyed to see my son working hard to accomplish something that is challenging for his body and being shown by a phenomenal female teacher where the girls around him are his teachers, too. There is no rivalry in the class ( we got to sit and watch yesterday), just intense focus and support from everyone, they jostle each other into place and laugh when funny things happen. There is no laughter when the teacher takes you through steps you have difficulty with, just concentration as everyone else tries to see how to improve. I could not be more pleased to have my son in that class.
He’s a fast runner, got great throwing ability, but dancing movements? He’s got a long way to go. And he’s come a long way. Yesterday he received an “encouragement award” from his teacher for how far he has come in two terms – I almost cried. He has cried during lessons for how hard the work is (he works at a level that is about 1 – 2 years higher than where he should be, for the boys to all be in one class) and wanted to leave dancing because of its difficulty. He looks around and the girls his age are astoundingly co-ordinated, so together. My boy is a perfectionist (I know the signs, I spent my childhood highly agitated as I tried to be perfect) and not being able to get things right the first time frustrates him. I have debated within myself whether or not encouraging him to finish the term is a good idea. I feel pushy, but then I observe him in class and he’s giggling, smiling as he dances and having a fabulous time. And I don’t feel that I am pushing him into dancing so much as pushing him to realise that he isn’t perfect.
On Saturday, in Target, amongst the women’s clothes on the way to the Lego, I asked him again if he wanted to dance again next term. He paused, considered it and answered “No thanks, Mum. I don’t think I will.”
So his father (who hadn’t been able to attend a dancing lesson the entire year but was working from home and took his lunch break to attend) and I trekked to his lesson yesterday, prepared to tell the reception staff that this was his last lesson. We got to actually sit in the classroom for the duration as it was “parent watching day” and we proudly sat, leaning against the mirrors, watching our beautiful son work through his movements. We treasured it as his last lesson and were a little sad as he’s been there for three years now and I see the studio as part of our support network. Our gorgeous son. So, so, so beautiful as he leaped from one end of the room to the other, his teacher gently correcting his footwork and him practising in between turns. Both of his parents were overjoyed and proud. Mother and Father, heart bursting with the joy of their little son taking on the world.
On walking out of his lesson yesterday, clutching his very special award, he said “Mum, I really need to get new dancing shoes. These ones aren’t comfy for dancing”
My son, the walking conundrum, is stepping into another term of dancing in a new pair of shoes – confidence.