We’re at the beach, at my mom’s beach house, escaping the swampy DC area summer heat that exacerbates the challenge of COVID restrictions. I was watching my kids play in the sand and sea, in their quirky ways, contentedly navigating their imaginary worlds without a thought to outside viewers. Then I saw it.
For a moment I got a glimpse of what others might see.
When I look at my trio of unique children I see them. I see my eldest daughter: a small, bright, and in-all-ways strong girl who rules with an iron fist, struggles with her own self-doubt, and is one of the most strong-willed individuals I have ever met. I see my youngest: a broad, sweet boy with freckled cheeks and a soft heart so full of empathy and full-body horseplay, he is a beautiful combination of all things soft and hard. I see my middle son: a quick-learning, quirky, innately graceful boy who adores ballet, mermaids, unicorns, sparkles, creativity, and flamboyantly being his truest self in all settings.
But, I realized in that moment, that not everyone on the beach saw what I saw when they looked at my children. I began to wonder what they did perceive.
I’m sure if they listened for a few moments to the direct orders and unabashed decrees from my Rapunzel-haired, pint-sized daughter towards her barely-younger siblings, they would quickly gather her leadership skills. I’m sure if they looked upon my littlest — in his bright orange truck-emblazoned floatie, reveling in the waves washing him up the sand bank and laughing as his hair filled with sand — they would gather his rough-and-tumble, carefree nature. If they looked upon my middle son in his mermaid swim top, blue swim trunks, weathered pink mermaid baseball cap, and shoulder length ponytailed hair, they may think him a tomboy. Or maybe they’d think his sister dressed him. Or maybe, once they witnessed him pirouette’ing in the waves and styling his mermaid Barbies’ hair, they wouldn’t quite know what to think. And maybe, when they heard me call his full name — his first name sounding unisex but his middle name being firmly masculine — because he, per usual, decided to be the epitome of a middle child and annoy the bajeebers out of one or both of his siblings, they would simply look away not quite understanding what our situation was at all.
I don’t know what others see. I don’t know what others think. Maybe that’s a good thing.
Because it doesn’t really matter what they see or think or whisper. It doesn’t matter if my children do or don’t fit neatly into others’ boxes. It doesn’t matter if my children do or don’t ascribe to norms that others find comforting. None of that matters at all. Nor should it.
What does matter is that my children are growing into kind, resilient, happy, self-assured individuals who know that they are loved, supported, and appreciated for precisely who they are. And so, fellow beachgoers can smile or sneer or simply look away, because we will not change who we are or imply to our children that they should be anyone but themselves simply for the fleeting comfort and easy digestion of onlookers.
Each of my children are growing on their own trajectories and are on the precisely right tracks to be who they are each meant to be.