Sometimes I do a double-take when I look at my children. I cannot believe how big they are. Nene is almost up to my shoulder. Sometimes photos of them come up on Facebook and I cannot believe how little, how chubby they once were.
More to the point, how their personalities have developed. Nene is still the sporty kid, the kid who can run and jump and acquire a skill that requires balance easily – he went from a bike with trainers to without in a few tries, he could stand up on a surfboard before any of us. He is still into the mechanics of how things move. But this year, he has developed a new fixation – all things shiny, especially if it can be translated into monetary value.
He became obsessed with Monopoly fairly quickly, and I’m sorry to say, that when our family plays, I’m unfailingly the loser. Nene has both luck and daring on his side – the latter he explained to me is needed to win. You need to be fearless and go all in, he told me in not so many words. Okay, fine, but how come I keep landing on the tax spot over and over again?
That taste for the big ones escalated into a fascination with gold. Well, I might have contributed. He became obsessed with ‘crystals’ – these semi-translucent rocks he picked up in the park – and then with diamonds. I explained to him that if you might as well buy gold, as unlike diamonds, it can appreciate in value. He grasped that quickly, although he’s not quite got over his crystal obsession. So rocks, gems and jewellery are his current obsession. I mentioned to him that he has some gold of his own gifted to him when he was born stored in our locker – he badgered me to show him. All this went down very well with his Malayalee grandmother who promptly got him a thick gold chain and earned a place forever in his heart. At last a kid who appreciates the kind of gifts she’d like to give.
He is obsessed with going into jewellery shops, particularly gold shops. Since we are not buying, the reception is mixed. I took him to the silver shop I used to patronise as a college student, and he picked out a ring for himself. The other ladies in the shop giggled, but once the shopkeeper clued in, he was quizzical but friendly.
He has his own jewellery collection – a jade necklace, a (fake) pearl necklace, (fake) diamond earings and some bangles – that he wears at home, and then he dips into my jewellery drawer. “I’m a bit sad, mummy,” he confessed one day. “Because I can’t get holes in my ears and wear earrings.”
I saw V’s ears perk up. V and my helpers have been every now and then lobbying for Mimi to get earrings. I have always been against it. Well, most people do the piercings when the girls are babies and I was not having it. There is so much to do for a baby without having to deal with the very real chance of infected piercings. Ditto for children. I feel earrings are an unnecessary accessory and whoever wants to get them can do so when they are old enough to manage the pain and deal with its aftermath. And I had anticipated a situation where my male child would ask for earrings too.
And so it came to pass. My girl shows no strong interest in getting her ears pierced. The pain is enough to deter her. My son on the other hand clearly would like to have earrings. The pain doesn’t faze him. But he is aware, as he told me, that “boys don’t wear earrings.”
I told him that while it’s not common for boys to wear earrings, if he really wanted to, I would support him. “Mr J wears earrings,” he said of a teacher at his school. “There you go,” I said. But, I added, I am not for piercings at his age, whether for boys or girls. When he is older, he can decide if he really wants to go ahead.
The fact is that I am aware that my boy will be taking on more than the pain and the chance of infection by piercing his ears. He will have to deal with the inevitable questions and teasing. None of his boy friends share his passion for jewellery. Once when he stood outside a jewellery shop, a salesman came outside. “He likes jewellery,” I explained. “You can buy some for your girlfriend,” the man said. “I have my own jewellery,” Nene replied, and there was a hint of defiance in his voice.
The narratives of transgender kids and the desire to stretch the boundaries of gender echoes in my head. I will not force my kids into conformity, even though we do follow gender norms. However, breaking certain taboos is a harsh battle and they need to want to break them enough for me to encourage it. It is also apparent to me how easy it would be to shame them into conformity. My helper, for example, is appalled by the idea of Nene wanting earrings and has told him so.
Nene’s love for jewellery may well be a quirk. I asked him today why he loves jewellery and he said, “because it’s shiny and it’s valuable.” Jewellery is at the intersection of two of his strong interests – making money and shiny stuff. In fact, I know my father-in-law is into jewellery too, although he doesn’t go so far as to wear much of it. Let’s see.
The other thing that Nene has progressed in is reading. He reads so fluently now, it’s hard to believe that he was in an English support class when he started school (his school has quite a rigorous programme for Reception kids while Nene attended a kindergarten that was pretty la di da academically). In fact, I believe it is the ESL class that really helped him take off in reading, and I’m glad they didn’t push him into the regular ground where he would have struggled.
Because Nene is the sporty type, I had pinned him down as non-academic. However, he actually is doing well academically. I had also pegged him for the shy guy – which he still is among strangers – but he was picked to play an elf with a few lines of his own for the school play and he did well. He also is quite popular – he told me the other day “mum, you know everybody likes me … I have so many friends.” Happy as I was to hear that, I used the occasion to remind him to be nice to everyone and try to include kids who don’t have friends.
To be continued …