Showing My Stripes


The water beat down on my head and I closed my eyes, savoring a few, precious, un-clung-upon moments on Sunday in an all-too-infrequent shower while Daddy played with the boys downstairs. Despite all efforts to clear my mind, I couldn’t stop replaying a moment from the last week when Lucas and I went to Target to pick out school supplies (from the list!) and the all-important backpack for school, which starts the next week. 

He rushed ahead of me as I pushed his brother in the double stroller. 

“Mom!” he called. “There’s one! With zebra stripes!" 

There was one indeed. A splendid specimen, hanging in the display case. It was nearly glowing in it’s newness. It was emblazoned with zebra stripes and pink cording on the edges. It was tremendous, and zebras are his favorite animal in the zoo. But wow. This was something, all right.

"Um, honey, have you looked around? That one is so… big. There are so many backpacks. Let’s see what else is here.”

He put it down and we walked around a while, examining dozens of models for what, I don’t know exactly, some quality that Lucas was looking for. And after a few more passes by his striped object of desire, he finally picked out a fairly simple gray and blue backpack, and an adorable monster-face lunch bag that fit inside it. And a ‘Hello, Kitty’ (who is not actually a kitty, what?) notebook. And he seemed totally excited and happy. 

So why did that zebra stripe haunt me? 

I feel like I’m an open-minded person and I know he’s just 3, so he has really no idea about gender roles (though he’s happy to exclaim in public places that, “I (he) have a penis, and you (me) has a 'gina!”). So Why did I care about that backpack? I paint his toenails when I paint mine on his request. We have very similar robes that we wear together on cool mornings. He knows he’s a boy and his brother is a boy and his father is a boy and I’m a girl. 

So why couldn’t I just let him have that backpack? That awful, crazy, traffic-stopping, zebra backpack?

He’s just 3, totally fearless and sweet. It was me who was afraid. Afraid that on day one, some awful, terrible child would break that fragile shell and tell him, “That backpack is for girls.” or something along those lines. And maybe he’d say, “No, it’s my backpack. I like it.” and it would be fine. 

Or maybe not. I couldn’t risk having his heart broken. Not yet. Not on the all-important Day One of Preschool. 

So he’s headed out tomorrow morning, with his new school shirt and new school shoes and new school backpack, filled with his lunch and folders and whatever else he decides he needs. And hopefully it will all go well for us both. 

I know I’ll have tears in my eyes as I leave him to his first truly independent adventure, the first of so, so many to come. And I know we will both learn how to be brave. Probably more of a challenge for me than for him. 

Stay tuned.