I read about little Sunnie Kahle here, and it scared me. It scared me because I am a Christian, and because I have a little girl who is a tomboy. Lord knows, I haven’t always come to the defense of Evangelical Christianity and all it stands for. It’s becoming clear even to me that I definitely land on the progressive side of the cross. But as I read this story, I raged for little Sunnie, and I also wanted to shout out, Not all Christians are like that!
My little girl has refused to play with dolls from before she could talk. Even when she was a toddler, she refused them for things that went fast, for balls and cars. As soon as she was old enough to express herself, she eschewed all things girlie and pink. It all culminated in a Christmas Eve party when she acted incredibly rudely to someone who had given her something distinctly pastel and feminine. I had to bring her upstairs for a good talking to about how we react when someone gives us a gift, even if we don’t like it. It was all very emotional and I finally asked her, Do you think you have to like girl things? And she finally let it all come tumbling out.
I explained the difference between liking what we like and showing gratitude and saying thanks. Luckily the folks who had given her the gift are close family who adore my kids no matter who they choose to be. So we went down and explained it to them, my daughter apologized for throwing a tantrum in response to getting a gift, and ever since they’ve brought her books on science and nature, sports, and my cousin John has even coached her soccer team.
Here’s the thing: maybe if toy manufacturers made cooler toys that were marketed for girls, that were (gasp!) not bathed in all possible shades of rose and coral and salmon or mauve, that engaged her brain and let her move her powerful little body with grace and speed, maybe my daughter would be interested.
Perhaps if girl clothes weren’t always rhinestoned and sparkly, were comfortable and had powerful colors like red and black and royal blue, and didn’t have cutesy little bows or the only acceptable alternative to pink (purple) design elements, my daughter might wear them.
Boys just have cooler things. And I’m not talking about penises. I really don’t think my daughter wants a penis. She just wants TOYS THAT AREN’T PINK.
My daughter dresses like a boy. She has a shortish, page-boy like haircut. Most children just accept her exactly as she is. But every once in a while, there’s a mean one. Once we were at a birthday party and some little brats on the other side of the table started asking her Are you a boy or a girl? It wasn’t the question so much that bothered me. Delaney and I had long ago had a conversation in which I told her look, you have a choice. You can dress the way you want to dress, but then you’ll have to understand that sometimes, people will be confused. Or, you can dress so other people know you’re a girl, and then you won’t have to deal with the questions. She thought about it for about 30 seconds. And then she said, I want to be myself.
It was one of my proudest moments as a mom.
Anyway — these bratty girls. It wasn’t the question that bothered me — it wasn’t the open, unashamed curiosity of children. This was a nasty tone of voice and a mob mentality. It was three against one, it was a taunting, teasing kind of voice, and it was unacceptable. I stood behind my daughter, who was, I think, trying to understand what this was — she is not used to cruelty, and it was unrecognizable to her. I looked those little brats (you realize I want to use a TOTALLY different word there) right in their nasty little faces and I spoke over my daughter: Delaney, you are beautiful and smart and strong and perfect exactly the way you are. Don’t listen to them. You are perfect and awesome and I love you. I kept looking at them, speaking over her like that, trying to cancel out each of their horrible words.
Eventually, one of the Brat Mothers came over to shush the girls. But she never apologized to me or, more importantly, to Delaney, who very much deserved an apology. Because I’m a grown up and all, I continued to give those little hellions dirty looks until we could finally escape that horrific landscape of sticky ice cream cake and cheap plastic choking hazards.
Delaney was fine. She is an incredibly resilient little girl (until her Daddy wants to put some of her stuffed animals in the attic. Then she falls into a sobbing puddle on the floor. And I mean deep, grief-stricken sobs. I saved her stuffed animals from her very confused looking father just in the nick of time).
So — now that you have some back story, let me tell you about a different Christian reaction to my little girl. I go to a church filled with beautiful, wonderful people who have taken my children under their wide, warm wings with so much love. Seriously, these kids can’t walk through the hallways of church without getting big welcoming hugs and smiles and being made to feel like they are so wanted and loved when they are there.
A few weeks ago, when I went to pick up my kids from their classrooms after church, Delaney’s teacher pulled me aside to tell me that she had been sitting at the table with some boys who had started in with the same stuff those girls at the party had done — Are you a boy or a girl? Nasty — not curious. Mean.
And the teacher — her Christian Sunday School teacher — stood over her, just as I had done that time, and spoke words of power and love over her. She’s a girl. She’s the coolest, most awesome, most amazing girl in this room.
The teacher told me she was mortified at their behavior. This is church, she said indignantly, as if something like that should never happen at church.
And it shouldn’t.
And I’m so happy that at my church, it didn’t.
Later that night, I spoke to Delaney about it. I said, “So what happened at church today with those boys?” She shrugged and tried to change the subject.
I pushed — I wanted to make sure she was okay. “Were they being mean?”
She shrugged again and said, “I dunno.”
“Don’t know, don’t care?” I said.
She started laughing joyfully and said, “Exactly!”
I laughed, too, and let it go. And reveled for a moment in pride over this strong, beautiful little girl. And wondered at the fact that somehow, some way, my husband and I seem to have done something right, because we seem, against all odds, to be raising a little girl who is confident being exactly who she is.
I think about her future now, and I think, My gosh, she just might be alright. She is going forth with this confidence that I just didn’t have when I was her age. I think about how many mistakes I made that maybe she won’t make because she won’t be trying to please other people. And I love that. I LOVE IT.
Maybe she will change her fashion choices. Maybe not. I signed her up for Girls on the Run and — even though there is not a boy to be found in the program — she’s always smiling really big when I pick her up. Because, you see, she gets to run fast. And when they handed her a pink water bottle, she didn’t hold it gingerly between two fingers as if it had spent a week in the sewer. Imagine my surprise when she asked me to fill the hot pink thing up with water for her second practice. I tried to act normal.
So, little Sunnie, please know that there are other Christians who stand in solidarity with you, where you will be welcomed to the table with Jesus, my little girl, my boy-child who loves rainbows and sparkly sun-glasses, and all the rest of us in our strange glory.