Red Nails and Pink Legos

It started, as so many important moments do, with a question.

Eitan had been watching television, one seemingly inconsequential kids show or another, when a commercial came on for a Lego model. He said immediately that he wanted to get it and Trudy and I, without batting an eye, said that we would be happy to buy it for him. Eitan smiled broadly, pleased with his instant victory, and resumed watching. After a moment or two, though, he turned back to Trudy and me, his satisfied grin replaced by a look of confusion.

“Why didn’t the commercial show any boys playing with the Legos?” he asked.

Trudy and I glanced at each other quickly before Trudy answered.

“Why do you think there weren’t any boys?” she asked, turning his question around in typical parenting fashion.

He thought for a minute before answering.

“Because it’s pink and they think only girls should play with pink toys?”

“You’re probably right,” Trudy answered. “What do you think about that?”

“I think that’s not fair,” Eitan said. “Boys and girls should be able to play with whatever toys they want. It doesn’t matter what color they are.”

Now Trudy and I were the ones smiling broadly.

img_3352I wasn’t the least bit shocked when Eitan asked for the Lego model; he is always looking for more Legos and Cinderella’s Castle was right up his alley.1 Plus, this wasn’t the first time we’d had a conversation like this with Eitan. Eitan has never been shy about enjoying so-called “girls toys,” including dressing up in Disney princess costumes, singing along with Mary Poppins and playing with tea sets. We’ve encouraged him to play however he wants and with whichever toys he wants, regardless of their colors or industry-dictated target audience. We don’t care if he’s crashing monster trucks or wearing a blonde Elsa wig – or doing both at the same time – as long as he’s enjoying himself.

Eitan’s so-called “feminine” interests aren’t limited to toys either. He’s been asking to have his nails painted for a year or two already and he’s gone with Trudy on a number of occasions to get manicures. Plus, last week, Trudy told Eitan that she would be going shopping for new clothes for him and she asked if he had any requests. He answered, without any hesitation, that he wanted some pink and purple clothes.

“I like those colors,” he had said.

I continue to feel a thrill anytime Eitan talks about bending conventional gender norms. “Because I like it” is reason enough for me to encourage him to pursue his interests, regardless of where they might fall on the gender spectrum. More importantly, though, there have been many incidents recently in which toxic masculinity has led young men to commit horrible acts of violence. I want to be a part of rewriting the narrative of how boys and young men are “supposed to act” and I love the idea of working together with my family toward that goal.

I’ll admit, however, that I sometimes feel nervous when Eitan says he wants to go to school with painted nails or wearing a pink shirt. Our home is a safe place for him to express himself however he would like but I’ve seen enough of the world to know that not everyone else has the same sentiments about gender expression that Trudy and I do. I’m pleased to say that the feedback Eitan has received from adults about his nails, at least, has been quite positive. Adults have told Eitan, “I love your nails!” and “That’s awesome that you got to spend time with your mom!” Other children, though, have told Eitan that “wearing nail polish is for girls,” for example, and I would hate for ignorant comments like that to make Eitan hesitate to express himself in public.

I can acknowledge why some people are uncomfortable with the idea of a boy painting his nails or wearing pink clothing. We’re taught as children that there are definitions attached to a person’s sex that extends to their interests, their clothes and their choice in a mate. When people go through years of that indoctrination and then become faced with a person who does not fit into one of the boxes they have constructed in their minds, they struggle to reconcile the two. And, while that discomfort might be understandable, that should not give people the right to force others to conform to their ideals.

Our society has become more accepting of non-traditional expressions of identity since I was a child but we have a lot of work left to do. We need to analyze why we cling to our views of “proper” behavior, especially when the definitions of proper are assigned based on a person’s sex. We need to help our children feel comfortable playing with whichever toys or wearing whichever clothes strike their fancy. If we have any hope of preventing future incidents of toxic masculinity leading young adults to committing acts of violence, we need to redefine masculinity in the first place.

1. I was a bit shocked when he finished building it in under three hours with almost no help (he’s five and a half!), but that’s a different story.

Lego Star Wars and #RoarForChange

“Is Chewbacca going to be there?” he asked, his eyes wide with expectation.

I smiled and shrugged my shoulders.

“We’ll have to wait and see,” I said with a wink.

He smiled back but didn’t ask again. I could tell that he knew to expect to meet the large Wookiee from Star Wars but he was apparently content to let some degree of suspense continue to build.

We held Eitan out of school on Friday. It was May 4th, the unofficial holiday of the Star Wars movie franchise1 and I’d received an invitation to attend an event in Manhattan with Lego and Star Wars. I didn’t give Eitan much more information than that – partially because I wasn’t sure what to expect – but he didn’t ask for much more. He knew that he wasn’t going to school and that he was coming into the city for a special trip with me and that was enough.

We got to the event a bit early. The PR people were still setting up for the day and there wasn’t much to see yet. Eitan burned off some energy in the meantime running around Bryant Park and we borrowed a Ping Pong ball from two nearby players so that we could hit it back and forth with our hands on an empty table. The air was thick with humidity and felt more like mid-July than early May. Eitan broke a sweat quickly and his young legs began to falter sooner than they would have in even slightly cooler weather. We walked over to Times Square to walk through an air conditioned store for some relief before sitting on a bench outside for a snack.

As we turned back onto 6th Avenue, I saw what we had been looking for. A rope queue had been set up, as well as two backdrops displaying Star Wars and Lego backgrounds. I could see a tuft of brown fur just over the taller screen and didn’t bother to hide the smile that spread quickly onto my face.

“I think I see someone,” I said, squeezing Eitan’s hand a bit.

Family Chewbacca“Really? Who?” Eitan asked excitedly.

I didn’t answer, preferring to allow Eitan to see for himself when we arrived.

We finally got close enough to the display for Eitan to get a better look. Standing in front of him was Chewbacca, the six and a half foot roaring Wookiee from the movies. Eitan grinned broadly and looked back at me, his eyes twinkling with delight. I picked Eitan up so we could take a picture with Chewie and he shook the Wookiee’s paw, the smile never leaving his face. At the PR rep’s prompting, I let out my best Wookiee roar and Chewbacca patted me on the back, apparently impressed. I asked Eitan if he wanted to try but he shook his head shyly.

We stepped back to allow other people to take their pictures and I drew Eitan’s attention to the odd looking pedicab that had just pulled up next to the curb. I explained that Lego engineers had assembled thousands of Lego bricks and attached them to the pedicab to make it look like Chewbacca and Han Solo’s ship, the Millennium Falcon. He listened with awe and began begging me to take a ride. I told him we already had an appointment and he began jumping with glee, unable to contain his excitement.

Lego MFTrudy and Shayna arrived shortly afterward and we were all able to board the “Millennium Falcon” together. Our driver accelerated to hyperdrive as we traveled through midtown traffic, avoiding nearby “ships” and “asteroids” (read: potholes). He committed fully to his role, making references to the characters in the Star Wars movies and puns based on the story and the sights we passed as we navigated the New York City streets.

We disembarked from the “Falcon” after the ride and Trudy and I thanked the Lego and Star Wars public relations representatives for the invite. Eitan gave Chewbacca one last hug and, although Shayna was not interested in any physical contact, she spent the rest of the day pointing out “Too-back-a!” anytime she saw him on clothes or in stores. We wished the crew a happy Star Wars day and said our obligatory “May the Fourth be with you” to everyone we met that day.

I was not compensated financially for this post; we received advance notice of the Lego Millennium Falcon and an appointment for a ride around Bryant Park, plus Eitan was given a free miniature Lego Millennium Falcon model. The opinions here are, as always, my own.

The event was coordinated as a partnership between Lego and Star Wars as part of the Roar for Change movement. Roar for Change is a global challenge from Lucasfilm and Star Wars: Force for Change that supports UNICEF’s lifesaving work for children around the world. Between May 3 – 25, 2018, Star Wars: Force for Change will donation $1 to UNICEF for each public post, like, or share on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter that includes #RoarForChange. It’s obviously too late to ride the “Falcon,” but please watch the video below for more information and post on social media using the hashtag #RoarForChange to boost the total donation to UNICEF.

1. Fans started the “holiday” because of the punned phrase, “May the Fourth be with you.”