As those of us who are Otherwise Persuaded know, Hannukah came early this year.
Among other things, this allowed my kid to spend the Christmas holidays in New Orleans visiting her Christian cousins. The little girl cousins are much younger than she is – five and three years old. She enjoyed this visit a lot, but each night she would call me, ruefully. “Monroe keeps saying I need a bow.”
“When we’re playing. She keeps saying, You’re a girl, you need to wear a bow. I say, but you don’t wear a bow. And your mom doesn’t wear a bow. And your sister doesn’t wear a bow.”
“What does she says then?”
“She says, you need a bow.”
I laugh. “She just started pre-school, right?”
“Yeah. That’s when they get it. Don’t you remember? With you it was pink. Every day with the pink.”
The kid was silent. Then she said, “I forgot all about that.”
We put my kid in pre-school when she was about Monroe’s age – Dr. Skull had stayed home with her until then.
It was a religious pre-school, because those were the only affordable ones in our little Arkansas town. Just after school began, she started with the questions about toys and jobs: “Is this a girl-toy or a boy-toy?” “Girls can be firemen, right?”
“Boy toys?” I said. “What do you mean? There’s no such thing as boy toys or girl toys.”
“Yes, there are,” she insisted. “Trucks are boy toys. Dakota says so. Balls are boy toys. Blocks are boy toys. And balls. And dinosaurs,” she added, a little less certainly. “Can’t I play with dinosaurs?”
“Good God,” I said. “Of course you can play with dinosaurs.”
“Dakota says dinosaurs are boy toys.”
“Well, Dakota is wrong.” I was making dinner. I looked at her, standing playing with bread dough at her tiny red wooden worktable, the one her father and I built for her from a kit when she was five months old. Whenever I made bread, I gave her a fistful of dough to play with. She made it into a tar pit, and trapped her dinosaurs in it. Spike, our dog, a goofy terrier mix, sat intently by the table, waiting to see if some scrap of tar pit just might fall off.
“What does the teacher say?” I asked.
“She says don’t fight.” The kid ran two of the dinosaurs into the tar pit at once. They roared ferociously.
Then there was the color issue. Purple had been her favorite color since she started knowing what colors were. But one day when I picked her up from pre-school she announced that pink was her favorite color now.
Well, really it went like this:
“What’s your favorite color?” she demanded.
“Oh,” I said “Blue, mostly. I like gray, too, though. And green sometimes. But I guess blue. What’s yours?”
“Pink,” she said flatly.
“Oh, yeah?” I glance at her in the rear-view mirror. We are driving to the Harps. “I thought you liked purple.”
“No. I like pink.”
I considered this. “Okay. What kind of pink? Bright pink or light pink?”
“Girls like pink. Purple is a boy’s color.”
Then, about a week after this, at the first parent-teacher conference, her teacher, a child of about twenty-two, shiny blonde, dressed in white and shell-pink, told us that the kid learned well, that she had some trouble with skipping (who knew they graded on skipping?), and that she was working hard on her problems.
The teacher then smiled sweetly and said that the kid was “much happier” on the days when she was wearing pink and had bows in her hair.
“Huh,” I said. “Really.”
“Yes. We’ve all noticed it.”
In that classroom, girls liked pink.
And – a connected problem – boys could want any job when they grew up – fireman, doctor, soldier, farmer, astronaut, auto mechanic, whatever. Boys could play with any toys.
Girls had to want to be mothers. Or, just possibly, pre-school teachers.
Girls played with dolls or the kitchen corner. And Barbies.
Girls did gymnastics or the “Spirit Squad,” which seems to be a kind of dance team (spangled leotards, fishnet hose, high heels and heavy make-up – for four years olds). They did not do what the kid did, which was Aikido.
And girls had to like pink.
The kid said she wanted to wear pink because she liked pink, because pink was her favorite color, because she loved pink.
I didn’t argue with her. She was getting pushed around enough at school. But we kept having the same conversation over and over:
“What’s your favorite color?” the kid insisted.
I repressed a sigh. “I have a lot of colors I like. Gray. Green. Blue. I like blue a lot. I like green. Black is a really good color too.” Then, because I knew I had to, or we’d be doing this all night: “What’s your favorite color?”
“Pink,” she said furiously. “I LIKE PINK.”
Two or three times a week, we had this conversation.
Once or twice, I tried to have the enlightened liberal parent dialogue with her: “You know,” I said. “It isn’t true that certain colors are boy colors and certain colors are girl colors. Some people believe that, but those people are wrong. Yap yap yap blar blar blar you do get what I’m saying right? And who are you going to believe, some four year old git in your pre-school class, or me? Didn’t you notice I have a Ph.D.?”
“Yes,” she said. “But I LIKE PINK.”
Finally, I pulled from that pre-school and moved her to a (much more expensive) Montessori school.
Her teacher was still very young, and still a far-right Fundamentalist. Her fellow students still nearly all came from far-right, fundamentalist homes —but still, things got better; because although there were fundamentalist families, there were also Muslim families, and Jewish families, and Indian families. And there was also the head of school, a woman in her sixties who spent every summer in Alaska studying the behavior of Kodiak bears in the wild. And here the teachers taught about all the jobs people did, bringing in parents doing those jobs, parents who had jobs like doctors and police officers and soldiers, and these were parents of both genders and all races and religions.
And before winter break my kid told the kindergarten about Hanukkah. The Muslim kids told about Eid. The Christian kids told about Christmas. Everyone sang everyone’s songs. They all did art about all these holidays.
And the kid came home and said to me, “I like all the colors. All the colors are good.”
“Yeah,” I said back. “Me, too. Colors are good.”