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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Boas and Boys and Bigots, Oh My!

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Dear Calm and Sense,

What do you do when you see an expression of bigotry? I was dropping my three-year-old off at preschool, when I overheard a father of another child discussing his concerns about his child during “dress-up” time. He indicated sternly, to the preschool teachers, that he did not want his child, a three-year-old boy, to wear a boa, and that he "discourages cross-dressing." The teachers indicated that their practice is to let the children play with all the clothes and decide what they wanted to wear.

I’m appalled by this father. His son is merely at play, but the father can't seem to tolerate any variation from what he believes is the "norm." But I’m not sure what else the preschool teachers could have said. I really feel badly for the little boy, whose play is being controlled at such an early age by a man who seems to be fearful of gender-specific clothing. I see this father and his son fairly regularly, and it all just makes me so sad.

Free To Be

Dear Free To Be,

I commend the preschool teachers for not laughing outright at the father and managing a measured response. They were, after all, trying to make their paying customer happy. But in my fantasy, the teachers could have explored the issue more... Picture this alternative scenario:

Father: I don’t want my son to wear a boa.
Teacher: Okay. Why is the boa of concern? Perhaps it is too long? Are you fearing it’s a choking hazard?
Father: No... I just--
Teacher: Because we could just make sure there are skirts and dresses and shirts and pants available—they’ll build his life skills, we want all our students to be able to get dressed independently.
Father: NO! No skirts or dresses, they’re just as--
Teacher: Just as what? They’re not long and skinny like that noose-like boa, they have very large head openings... I don’t understand...

Now, of course, this scenario wouldn’t work in real life, as it's not the best idea to mock a person concerns. It is, however, important to bring attention to a person's fear. Gently, at minimum.

I wish the teachers had said, “we’ll try to redirect your son to other items in the dress-up box if the boa makes you uncomfortable.” Because that’s what this is about: the father’s discomfort.

As for you, a parent of that father’s child’s classmate: All I can suggest is that every chance you get, give that little boy a high-five, a warm hello, a smile, anything, every day, to let him know that he is always appreciated and valued for who he is and whatever he does. If he’s wearing a blue hat, say “nice hat.” If he’s wearing a pink tiara, say “nice tiara.”

Tell that father, when you see him, “Your son is fantastic. My child loves him. He’s such a bright, nice boy.”

When you see a bigot, teach him how not to be one.

Be the change!

Dear Free to Be,

Remember the outrage (!) just a few months ago over a JCrew ad and pink nail polish? Who knew it was so easy to bring down Western civilization? I'd have done it long ago. 

This came up when our children were in preschool as well. Occasionally at pick-up time boys might be wearing pink tutus or would have painted themselves in all manner of colors. Some parents were uncomfortable, but then three weeks later their children have moved from the tutu to the tank engine for the next two weeks. Young parents read a lot into the small things children do. She likes blocks: future engineer. He enjoys boas: destined to be Priscilla of the Desert. It seems the teachers were great to explain they offer a variety of dress ups and let the kids decide. That is what free play is about. 

As Renu said, just continue to be warm and set an example of acceptance and inclusion. Dad's eyes may open as he sees that others don't share his concerns. 

Be yourself,

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Speak Now, or Forever Hold My Peace?

Dear Calm and Sense,
My husband’s sister is ruining our long-planned family vacation with my in-laws. We had a full week planned at the beach, and now, “since we’ll all be there,” she’s throwing in a beachside wedding mid-week. Now our vacation is about her. To be clear, my husband is equally furious with his sister. Moreover, nobody is comfortable with her hubby-to-be. He left her four weeks ago, but now they’re going to get married in six weeks. This is his M.O: if there is a conflict, he picks up and takes off and has done this about twice a year for the past four years that they’ve lived together. I feel someone needs to stop this train wreck. I had a bad first marriage and wish someone had talked to me before I made that mistake. Should I talk to her? -- Conflicted

Dear Conflicted,

If you talk to her, make certain it is about her and not the ruin of your vacation. If no one intervened immediately about that plan, it is too late now to stop the wedding planning during your seaside escape.

Even with many, many reasons you may see to stop the love train, stepping in could permanently damage your relationship with your sister-in-law. She may decide to go ahead, but you will forever be the one who didn’t support her and tried to save your vacation at her expense. Ask yourself if you would have listened to anyone, had they expressed their reservations about your first husband just weeks before your wedding.

Good luck!

Dear Conflicted,

What a nightmare! And it really is a nightmare—like that kind where you see danger coming and you scream but your voice doesn’t work or you run and your legs don’t move?

Don’t scream. Don’t move. You’ll wake up soon…. With a sun-kissed glow!

Easier said than done, I know, but here’s the thing. Your sister-in-law has been dating a dork for four years now, endured heartbreak at least eight times by your count, and her family hasn’t yet stepped in to say, “Is this really the guy for you?” That’s probably because—at least in part—your sister-in-law is a grown woman entitled to make her own choices.

You too, are a grown woman, entitled to a nice vacation that you’ve planned for—one without drama and only relaxation. So have it. A midweek beach wedding sounds like a casual, laid back affair… maybe some extra people, but you weren’t going to be on a private beach, anyway, right?

You and your husband can have a little commitment ceremony of your own right before that wedding—commit to enjoying yourselves, no matter what the vacation becomes. Don’t let it be about her. Make it about the sand between your toes.

And wear sunscreen!

Mother, Heal Thyself

Dear Calm and Sense,
I am frustrated by my mother’s lack of attention to her medical condition. She knows what she needs to do in order to feel better and get better, but she still continues to ignore her doctor’s advice. I can’t make her take her medication or do the physical therapy. What can I do?
--Frustrated Daughter

Dear Frustrated,

Changing behavior around longer-term medical conditions is among the most difficult things to do. It took a massive heart attack to get our father to quit a 50-year cigarette habit, but exercise is still on the back burner for him. My mother-in-law does her post hip-surgery PT rather sporadically, even though she readily admits that it does make her feel much better.

Sometimes, it is helpful to get to the bottom of what is preventing the change. Is the medication causing other side effects that her doctor should know about? Does physical therapy hurt? Do dietary changes make her feel left out of family meals?

You can try just letting her know how much you care about her well being and support those efforts she does make. Small steps are better than no movement at all.

All the best,

Dear Frustrated,

Sometimes a patient is impatient. They simply want the medical problem they have to go away, or they can’t be bothered to follow treatment advice.

I speak from recent experience as an impatient patient—I told a paramedical team that I simply didn’t have time to go to the emergency room to have my kneecap re-located to its rightful position in my knee, as I had things to do. (Really. There are witnesses.)

Mothers, I think, can be very impatient when it comes to their own health. They’re often the primary caregivers in their families, tending to everybody around them and putting their own needs last, if on the list at all.

You should definitely try, as Rekha suggests, letting her know how much you care about her and support whatever effort she makes toward her recovery.

Depending on the relationship you have with your mother, I also wonder if a little reverse-guilt trip might be in order. I recall telling our mother that, in spite of her protests, we would buy some fancy ice packs for her knees (her doctor had suggested icing them, but she felt it was too much of a hassle). I recall putting them on her legs myself, expressing all manner of exasperation when she hemmed and hawed about using them. She laughed at my bossiness, and wore them, probably only to make me happy. But she wore them. And she felt better.

Now, if your mother is more stubborn and more impatient than you, your frustration may end up a chronic condition, too—nobody wants to fight with mom. What you do will depend on your own level of patience.

Good luck,