Baby boys and blue nail polish – a Kindergarten journey begins

blue nail polish on my 5yo son's nails

Yesterday was ds’ first day in Kindergarten. And he wore blue nail polish.

It was just on two fingers – but it caused enough of a stir in our household that I wasn’t sure how it was going to play in school.

Two days before Kindergarten, as I was getting dd’s nails ready for her first day of second grade, ds came over and excitedly asked, “Mommy, can you do MY nails, too?!” He looked so eager. Honestly, why shouldn’t he want his nails done? It looked like fun, it meant you got attention fawned on you – at least for as long as it takes for the paint and top coat to be applied – and it left you with colored, shiny nails. Who wouldn’t want that?

And then there’s society. Stupid, *phobic society. Society says only girls wear nail polish. Society says there’s something wrong with boys who wear nail polish. (Unless the boy in question is Steven Tyler. Or Johnny Depp. Of course.)

DH and I tried to convince him that he didn’t need nail polish for his first day of Kindergarten, hoping that holding him off with the excuse of “most boys don’t…” would be sufficient. We didn’t do it for us. We did it for him. And he totally ignored us.

There was pouting and confusion, and ultimately I gave him “shiny nails” – a coat of Seche Clear base coat, followed by a coat of Seche Vite top coat. I wanted him to see how he did with clear shiny nails first, I explained.

After he went to bed, I did some looking around on the Internet, trying to see what other parents did. Mostly, there was a lot of concern about kids being gay or transgendered. Um…SO WHAT? Nail polish love doesn’t mean you’re gay, transgendered or anything other than someone who likes to decorate their body. Most parents seemed to fret somewhat, but various behavioral health specialists pointed out that this was totally normal behavior for a young kid. The boy likes to wear stickers on his shirt, whenever offered one, so what’s the difference between that and nail polish?

As his sister put it, “Nail polish is for girls.” THAT’S the difference. People think nail polish is for girls. And if a boy wants nail polish (unless said boy is Mssrs. Tyler or Depp, natch), said boy must want to be a girl. OH. WE FEAR GIRLS and GIRL BEHAVIOR BY BOYS (except Steven or Johnny) is BAD BAD BAD.

The night before Kindergarten, he approached me again: “Mommy, where are the colors?” (they’d been out when I did dd’s nails)

“Mommy, I want you to paint my nails!”

I sighed and sat him down. I explained that not every kiddo would understand his nails and there’s a chance that they might laugh or make mean comments. He promised he’d say “Gee Whiz!” to them and that he didn’t care, but I know my sweet, sensitive little guy – and he’d care. It would bother him. I steeled myself and told him, “You know what, just tell them you’re a rock star.” He looked at me funnily and agreed, and then I let him pick from a curated selection of sparkly and shiny blues and greens.

He chose an electric blue Wet’n’Wild nail polish dd had gotten at a holiday swap. One coat of that on each thumb, and one more coat of Seche Vite to hold it all together.

But what would hold ME together if someone tried to make fun of my little boy?

I tweeted to my sister about it, showing her the picture, and telling her how fantastic they looked. Being the awesome auntie that she is, she totally approved. I suggested that she get bail money set aside, in case any of the kids in ds’ class decided to make a big deal out of it. Her response, “I’ll tell [my husband], since I’ll be right there with you, kicking ass.” See, I told you: an awesome auntie.

And then the day came, and I went off to work while ds waved to me from the living room. Off he went to his first day of Kindergarten, with his blue thumbs. I had remembered, as I painted his nails, that kids of MY generation often painted our nails with magic marker when we were younger. Boys and girls did it. We were decorating ourselves, as much as we decorated our binders or Trapper Keepers. Would it be the same for him?

When I finally got home, just before dinner went on the table, ds was beaming and couldn’t get out enough “Guess what?!” questions to satisfy his retelling of the day. So many friends, old and new, so many fun things, so many new discoveries, so many hopes for a great year.

The polish was still intact, and when I asked dh if there was a note from the teacher, he said no. Apparently, he’d asked ds how things went with the nail polish, and ds pronounced it as no big deal. Everything went fine.

I know it was just the first day, and I realize that there is always the threat of someone doing or saying something stupid to him about it, but I really hope that this bodes well. Whether he decides to wear nail polish on two fingernails or all ten, whether he decides that this nail polish does or doesn’t mean anything more than body decoration…it’s all up to him.

And what do I think of the nail polish? I think it’s freaking awesome. And I think he’s awesome. And anyone who thinks otherwise…well, the door’s to the left, and don’t let it hit you on the way out.

Having an “out of mommy” experience

Today, dd starts Kindergarten. It seems improbable that I’m the mother of a kindergartner. How is that possible?

It’s funny how, as she leaned on me yesterday morning – fussing and crying because I wasn’t coming with her on her school “visit” day events thanks to work commitments – I wasn’t even sure how this was happening. This was my child, clearly, and I was supposed to comfort her as best as I could for someone who had already RSVP’ed to a full-day meeting at a vendor’s site. And she looked at me and called me “mommy” and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how I had a child who was so grown. Just unbelievable.

For the longest time, before I met dh, I never wanted kids. They always seemed annoying. Loud. Sometimes cute, but more often than not, I was happy when I wasn’t required to do anything for them. When dh and I started dating, we (fairly early on) had to have “the talk” about how we’d ever raise kids. I shrugged and said, “Of course, any kids of mine would be Jews.” (Being Jewish, and being female, that’s the law, dontcha know.) He seemed confused, since he was raised American Baptist. Oops. Guess that’s something we’d have to figure out.

Eventually, we did figure it out – we’d raise them with both sets of traditions. And we do, muddling through it all as best as we can. Neither of us is religious, though we have religious identities and we both are spiritual people to varying degrees. We don’t attend synagogue or church, and we typically only do our big nods to organized religion on the respective high holidays – Passover, Easter, Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah and Christmas (I omit Yom Kippur from my list for various reasons which could be a blog post unto itself).

When we decided to have kids, and then got pregnant, there was a part of me that really went “Oh, crap” rather frequently. Once I was pregnant, there was no turning back for me, and it seemed inescapable that I would become a mother. What on earth did that mean? I remember crying on my pillow one night while pregnant with dd, snuffling over the fact that I was worried I didn’t have a maternal instinct. DH calmed me down and told me that there was no way that was true, and he was right. When I had people reporting to me, I often defended them like a mother lion protecting her cubs. If they went wrong, I’d set them straight, for sure, but I tried to shield them from other people’s BS as much as possible. In other words, just like a mom.

So then we come back to my moment of reverie: dd hanging on me, anguished and looking only for her momma. And that’s me. And though I know she’s mine, there’s something odd about seeing this tall, slim, gorgeous girl coming to me and looking at me as though I can make it all better. I wish I could…but even the most super of all moms isn’t able to make everything all better all the time.

And I wasn’t able to get her to stop crying completely before I left for my all-day meeting; she was wailing for me as I walked out the door. But dh assured me that she’d calmed down not long after I left the house, and later reports from both of them showed that she had a good time visiting at school with her new teacher and the people running the after-school program. And today, I get to walk her up to school on her first day.

So mommy will be there sometimes, but not all. And no matter what, mommy is me. It’s as undeniable as the air I breathe. There are clearly days where it will seem strange, as though I blinked and my life fast-forwarded years in a heartbeat. But as bizarre as it may seem to stare at this wondrous beauty of a girl who can’t possibly be old enough for elementary school – and yet clearly is – the look in her eyes reminds me of the perfect truth reflected in her eyes: mommy is me.

Why don’t schools support working parents better?

This isn’t the post I’d originally planned to post.

My first draft of this, written two days ago – the evening after I registered dd for Kindergarten – was far more cranky. Now, I’m not sure how I feel. Numb? Frustrated? Resigned to it all?

The long and the short of it is that I’m dealing with the emotional aftermath of realizing how much about our lives will change once dd starts Kindergarten. Of course, there’s a financial toll, but we’ve been paying such enormous sums of money to our day care center for so long that I’m just not as sensitive to that anymore. You could say that I’ve been broken down by it all.

What I’m trying to get past now is the fact that so many things need to be cobbled together in order to ensure that dh and I can continue to work.

Let me say that again: so that dh and I can continue to work.

Why should putting our dd in Kindergarten, in a public school – no less – have any kind of impact on whether or not we have jobs? After all, public schools are free and that should be an enormous help, right?

Well…not quite.

We live in a town with excellent schools, so private schools aren’t a consideration. I’m perfectly at peace with that; the quality of the school district was part of our decision to move here, and we’re both the product of public schools. Of course, our property taxes are through the roof, but that’s a function of the high quality schools and a NIMBY streak a whole town wide.

So, it kinda hurt when we found out that we have to pay for full-time Kindergarten. The half-day is free, because that’s a requirement set by the state, but full-time Kindergarten comes at a cost of nearly $4K before you get to any before and after care.

Why on earth would you need before and after care, you ask? Well, school only runs from about 9am-3pm. With both of us working full-time and still having commutes to contend with, that schedule is impossible to match. We typically leave the house around 7am to get both of us to work on time (with a day care drop-off by *somebody*), and I’m the first one to the kids at 5:15pm, if I’m running on-time. So, that leaves us in the unenviable position of needing both “before-care” and “after-care”. If we’re okay with paying for the before and after care offered at school, we can pay more than $5K on top of the Kindergarten tuition. As it is, we’re only on the hook for an additional $4K because of a before-care arrangement I struck up with a friend who lives up the street.

Now, that’ll cover us from the start of school (around Labor Day) to end of the school year (late June), not including various holidays, Christmas vacation, and two school vacation weeks in the spring term. There’s still a gap of however many weeks (9-12) during the summer where we need to have a better plan than leaving dd in the house with a window cracked. She’s pretty nearly outgrown her daycare, so next summer (and maybe even this summer) we need a camp. That’s another $4K-ish, with hours running from about 9am-3pm/4pm. BUT, you can pay for before- and after-care! Sigh.

I’ve started to price out camps, and the timeframes they offer span anywhere from 6 weeks to 12 weeks, in costs ranging from around $200/week to nearly $500/week. It’s all mind-boggling.

I feel like I have to pull together this patchwork quilt of solutions so that dd will be in an educational and engaging environment year-around, since quitting a job simply isn’t an option. The cost of living in the eastern portion of Massachusetts rivals that of New York City or San Francisco – I know only a handful of families with stay at home parents. I don’t feel like I can take out this frustration on any of the nice people at the school; they are all awfully nice and they could easily tell that most of us were deer in headlights: unsure of what questions to ask because we’re not even sure what all we’re getting ourselves into.

I suppose that, as long as I’m willing to open my checkbook and do far more homework than dd will have to do anytime soon, I can get all of these resources lined up. It’s just more than a bit overwhelming and I only hope that I don’t let anything slip through the cracks. The room for error, when you can’t just spend days at home to cover gaps that you didn’t plan appropriately for, is just miniscule.