Since his first day at daycare, my son and this little girl were sewn at the hip. Both gregarious and outgoing personalities, they weren’t exclusive by any means, but would make their affections abundantly clear at any given opportunity.
They were hot and heavy through daycare and preschool. With an eerie confidence, she laid claim to him as her husband and although my son didn’t seem like much of a swain, the feeling was completely mutual. When asked who he’d like to play with most on any given day, he’d bellow her name with gusto. I’d never seen such pure, ardent affection flow so freely from a couple of four-year-olds.
They didn’t know from gender and they didn’t care. He’d willingly play house and she was happy to play trains. Sure, they get into it every so often, as kids do, but every time he’d cry, she’d find and squeeze the blues right out of him. This chick had his back. And he had hers.
Naturally, her mother and I eventually grew close. A couple of times a week, we’d hang out during playdates and exchange salty anecdotes over a couple of beers. But at some mystical point in the school year, she got “really, crazy busy” each time we invited them over.
After a couple of months of this all-consuming busy-ness, we got the hint and stopped asking, even though my son really missed his best gal. And I really missed my friend. I replayed scenario after scenario in my head, wondering what went awry with our cozy little mutual admiration society.
To anyone with working eyeballs, it was obvious they had plenty of time to hang with many of the girls from school. Then, on his best girl’s birthday, my son witnessed a gaggle of these girls and their moms bouncing down the sidewalk to attend a party at their house, without so much as a hello or goodbye as they left him in the dust.
My son totally lost his mind, as he couldn’t understand why his sweetie would intentionally exclude him on this day, of all days. It took hours to put out that fire. But where there was fire, there were smoky embers beneath the surface.
“Why didn’t she invite me? She’s my friend!” he tearfully agonized that evening during tuck-in.
At times like this, I can usually manage to assemble some reasonable bullshit to comfort him, but I was still reeling from the shock myself. “I don’t know why, Honey,” I stammered through tears incited by his tears. “I’m really sorry, but I don’t know why.”
For a while, I opted to stomach rather than address this blatant dis, but I could only hold it down for so long. Whatever her reasons, a true mom-in-arms would’ve respectfully briefed me ahead of time, instead of leaving me on a street corner with a sobbing mess to clean up. I eventually asked her to come correct.
“It was just easier to make it all girls,” she said, the portrait of nonchalance. “I couldn’t exactly invite the whole class.”
My poor kid had been snubbed by virtue of his sex.
Right around this time, one of my best friends called me, upset that a little girl in her son’s kindergarten class made him cry when she told him he wasn’t invited to her birthday party.
“What is with this gender shit all of a sudden?” she spat, frustrated. “I could kick this mother’s ass. My kid cried all afternoon. They are BEST FRIENDS. She’s been to his last two birthday parties. He’d never allow me to leave her off his guest list. Since when was it a bad thing for boys and girls to be friends?”
Good question. Sure, it’s a given that around the age of five or six, kids naturally seek out same sex relationships. Boys eventually learn from other boys that girls are gross, and vice versa.
Now he brushes it off by saying he only wants to do “boy stuff” anyway. But if our kids weren’t quite there yet themselves, why encourage it? Even if my friend thought she was doing my son a favor by leaving him out of a marathon dress-up session, what if he was into that kind of thing? Wouldn’t it have been more kid-friendly if opting out was his choice? When you break it down, doesn’t this kind of segregation reinforce some of the archaic gender stereotypes our generation has supposedly overcome?
I guess I had trouble relating to her decision because I’ve always played with boys. In preschool, I was known to push a truck or build a block with the best of ’em. And since that sandbox, I’ve been blessed with many fulfilling, purely platonic friendships with men – many of whom I remain at least Facebook-friendly with to this day.
Because I have one kid of each sex, I’m probably more sensitive to this kind of situation because I feel it’s important for my kids not to have any kind of preconceived prejudice toward each other by virtue of their gender.
Since this debacle, my son’s faced this “girls only” thing on three or four more occasions, and I’ve come to understand that sometimes it’s nothing personal – just a way to thin the herd to a manageable head count.
And my son’s toughening up. Much to my chagrin, he brushes it off by saying he only wants to do “boy stuff” anyway. In spite of my valiant efforts in promoting gender equality, he’s getting the impression that big boys don’t cry.