So there we were. It was Friday morning and the kick-off to 4th of July weekend. I just finished up an 8-mile run on the bridge, boardwalk, and beach and returned to the beach house. I figured I would eat something, take a quick shower, and head out for a nice beach day with my wife, son, his mom-mom, and his grandmom (great grandma). Instead, I walked into a conversation about taking our 2.5 year old son to the nearest Urgent Care. He had a fever a few days earlier, but it seemed like he recovered. Now he started developing a rash on his hands and feet. It was hurting him to walk and he was very fussy. We discussed, decided, and off to the doctor we went.
Let me start by saying that our little guy was an absolute champ waiting for over an hour in the waiting room. We finally got into a room and saw the nurse who gave us a diagnosis within 2 minutes of talking to us. Hand, foot, and mouth disease, which is a virus that includes a rash and painful blisters. The nurse told us it would clear up on its own and that we just had to wait things out. She was awesome with Landon and interacted with him in a way that was genuine and caring. She asked if he liked stickers and of course he said yes! What kid doesn't like stickers? She left us to wait for the doctor and frantically Google everything about the virus while she retrieved the goodies for Landon.
A few minutes had passed and the nurse re-entered the room with the promised treat. Landon had a choice between Mickey Mouse and Toy Story stickers. Not surprisingly, he went right for the Toy Story set. The nurse informed him that he could pick any two that he liked. His first pick was Buzz Lightyear because he's a pretty awesome spaceman. His next choice was Bo Peep, or at least that was what he wanted. He pointed at the picture with a cute doll wearing a pink dress in a bright purple background and asked for that sticker. Without flinching, the nurse immediately countered his request and asked him if he wanted Rex, the dinosaur. Landon was in a very compromising mood (blame it on not feeling well) and he took the different sticker with no issue. Mommy and Daddy, however, felt differently.
Landon's favorite color is purple with pink coming in a close second. When we went mini-golfing with him the night before, he chose a purple ball for himself. Items that are purple and pink always get top priority with him. Ask him what his favorite color is and he will tell you it is purple with a big smile on his face. If he wants something purple (or pink or any color for that matter), he can have it. It doesn't matter to us what colors he likes. He knows what he likes. So why would the nurse deny him the sticker that he really wanted?
This exchanged happened so quickly and it caught both my wife and myself off-guard. When the nurse left the room, my wife and I looked at each other, surprised and disturbed. We both agreed that the reason for the redirection was because the sticker had an image and colors that were "for girls" and wasn't something a boy should want. The new suggestion of Rex was probably the most boy-appropriate choice. Either knowingly or unknowingly (we will never know), this nurse placed Landon into the boy box because of her own preconceived notions about what is feminine and masculine.
I wish I could say that I did something admirable, like challenge the nurse on her suggestion or make sure that Landon received the sticker that he really wanted, but I did not. Honestly, I was so surprised by her reaction and suggestion that I didn't know how to react in real-time. In that moment, I failed. If this ever happens again, I will be ready.
As a parent, educator and human, I try to accept kids (and people for that matter) as they are and appreciate what makes them unique. If a boy asked me for a "girly" sticker or if a girl asked me for a "boyish" sticker, I would honor that request without a second thought. Or would I? Maybe my son has really opened my eyes more to things of this nature. He has always liked purple and pink so now I don't even think twice about it. Would I be this open and aware if he had not opened my eyes? I would like to think so, but there is no way to know.
Regardless, there are ways for us to improve. Here's the thing about engrained stereotypes and fixed mindsets: they are firmly rooted in us. Nobody is immune from these thoughts. We receive exposure to them over and over as we grow and they do not go away on their own. We must first recognize that they exist and that they are present within us. Only after making that realization can we work on adjusting our way of thinking and our approach to handling situations. It's not easy and it takes time, but it's essential. We owe it to ourselves, the students we work with, and the people we interact with to increase our awareness and be better. It's okay to struggle with this, but we must lay aside our own conditioned beliefs and opinions to do what is right for others. Unconditional love and embracing of our differences is what will change our world. I'm all in!
Maybe this nurse has not had that "AHA" moment. Maybe she has had it and makes a conscious choice to discourage bending of gender stereotypes. Who knows? I have no clue and I hold nothing against her. What I do know is that my son loves purple and pink and is his own person. He has amazed us every single day in his 2.5 year existence on this planet. He is kind, compassionate, loving, funny, energetic, and adventurous. We love him for who he is because he is a beautiful boy, both inside and out. We do not need him to fit into any mold. We want him to create his own mold and be the person that makes him comfortable and happy.
He's a happy kid when he gets to make his own choices, especially with pink & purple options!