I’m North

Guest blog post

Hi! I’m North. But you might know me as June from other blogs. That’s my old name. I’ll be North today. I like cats, and most every animal except for dogs. My favorite color is aquamarine, (specific, right?) my favorite food is olives, and my favorite animal is deer. Sounds like a pretty average kid, right? Well in some aspects, you are right. I’m in middle school, hate gym class, and love lunch (no, seriously. I’m in love.). But there’s one thing about me that isn’t ordinary. You probably already know it. I’m transgender. There, just officially came out on the internet. No going back from that.

Ok, let’s get something straight. When I say transgender, I probably don’t mean what you think I mean. I was assigned female at birth, which I am not. But, if I had been assigned male at birth, they would have been equally wrong. I’m genderfluid, which means on any given day, I could feel anywhere on, or off the gender spectrum. I could fell more feminine, masculine, in the middle, or genderless! There are countless ways I could feel on any given day. But no matter how I feel, always refer to me in the third person using they/them pronouns. If you don’t know what those are, look them up! I’m sure there are countless people on the internet who can explain it better than me. But the simple version is, that they are used to refer to a person not female, nor male. You can also always use these if you aren’t sure. Remember, it’s always ok to ask somebody about their pronouns. Just pull them away for a second, and ask. A lot of transgender people feel good when you ask them their pronouns. It indicates a sense of respect for that person. So, if you aren’t sure, just ask.

Ok, I’m going to tell you some things that you probably should, and shouldn’t do around transgender individuals. Keep in mind that I am just one of the many, many, transgender individuals out there, and I do not speak for everyone. These are just some generalizations that I believe most transgender people do or do not like.

Let’s start on the positives, things that most trans people like: Asking their pronouns. This indicates that you don’t want to offend this person by referring to them in the wrong way. Letting them pass. If you know your friend is trans, they are meeting new people, and think they’re doing a really great job at passing, let them pass. Let people think they were born that way, even if you know they weren’t.

Now, what most trans people don’t like: Dead naming. If somebody goes by a different name than their birth name, that name probably doesn’t make them feel good, so just don’t say it.

Using the wrong pronouns. If you knew them before, and mess up occasionally, that’s okay, but just try to use the right pronouns.

Well, I gotta go now. You might see me again, I don’t know. Well, Goodbye, Aloha, Ciao, Hasta luego, See ya!

Happy National Coming Out Day!

Acting Out

North’s going to be in production of the musical School of Rock this December. It’s part of an educational program at a theater in Silver Spring for kids from second to twelfth grade. They really wanted to be in a play and the process of auditioning seemed daunting, especially given the fact that I don’t drive, which limits my ability to get them around the D.C. metro area to go to a lot of different auditions. So, this seemed like a good compromise. You just register and it’s first-come, first-served.

They’ve had three rehearsals so far. After the second one they’d been cast in their first-choice role, Billy. If you have only a hazy memory of the characters, he’s the kid who designs the costumes for the band, and the one in the “You’re Tacky and I Hate You” meme you so often see on Facebook. North likes that’s he’s somewhat gender creative and that he has a solo. (The kid roles in the play are more developed than in the film, I hear.) After the third rehearsal, they were tickled to bring home an official script on loan from the current Broadway production.

In the spirit of preparation, we watched the first half of the movie on Friday night. I don’t usually let North watch PG-13 movies. This might have been their first (if they haven’t seen any at a friend’s house). At any rate, it was the first authorized one, but since the play’s not that different from the movie, I thought that particular horse was already out of the barn. The scene where Summer confronts Dewey about groupies wasn’t exactly comfortable for me to watch with them, though.

Because there are two to three rehearsals most weeks from now through December (and then six to eight performances), we told North they’d need to cut some of their regular extracurricular activities, and much to my surprise, they decided to ditch them all—violin, guitar, Girl Scouts, acting class, running club, and even basketball, which doesn’t even overlap much with the play, as practices start in late November and games not until early January. Most of these activities they’ve been doing for years, so I guess they just want a clean slate for middle school. They did try to get into a cooking club at school but it turned out you were supposed to register beforehand and it had filled by the first meeting. They’re also considering attending an LGBT support group at school.

Last Saturday’s rehearsal conflicted with the March for Racial Justice, which Beth and I had been planning to attend. The theater schedules rehearsals around people’s conflicts (the ones you declare by a deadline) as much as possible, but not every conflict can be accommodated, so we had to decide whether to skip the rehearsal, skip the march, task Noah with getting North there, or teach them the route on public transportation. It’s our goal for them to be able to get themselves to weekday evening rehearsals eventually, but I was thinking I’d do it with them at least a couple times first because it’s not in a part of Silver Spring we go to on the bus often. And we didn’t really want to cut into Noah’s homework time, either, so Beth suggested we skip the march and go to the evening vigil at the MLK memorial instead and I agreed.

We left the house around five, shortly after Beth brought North home from rehearsal. It was just Beth and I, as the kids were not interested in protesting anything, or as North put it earlier in the week, “chanting things no one will hear.” It does feel that way sometimes, but it also feels like we’ve got to do something, and I don’t have much faith in petitions, I only have so much money to give, and the elected officials in our deep blue county and medium blue state can generally be counted on to do the right thing without our writing or calling and pleading with them to do it. So, I write and call them occasionally, write moderate-sized checks more often, and I keep marching and showing up for rallies. And I guess North’s feelings about protest vary, too, because at dinner Monday night they asked with interest if there were any marches coming up.

Metro was single-tracking on the blue, orange, and red lines, which happened to be the exact lines we’d need to get to the Mall. Parking’s out of the question, there, though, so we allowed ourselves almost two hours to get to the vigil, which was supposed to start at sundown (6:51 according to my phone’s weather app).

We had good luck with the trains and arrived on the Mall around 5:45, so we decided to take advantage of the restrooms and food trucks near the Washington Monument. We walked down the long line of food trucks, looking for vegetarian options. The first one we saw falafel, also the second, third, fourth, and fifth. In fact, the only other choice was a veggie burrito, and Beth wasn’t in the mood for either, so she decided to eat at home later, but I got some falafel and humus. By 6:15, we were walking toward the MLK memorial.

It was a pretty evening, with the clouds touched with pink and the water of the Tidal Basin rippling and silver. When we got to the memorial around 6:35, there was no evidence of a vigil, but it was still light and there was no precise official starting time so we walked around and looked at the MLK quotes carved on the back wall and then settled in on bench.

Eventually some organizers, mostly white women, showed up and started laying down posters of black girls and women who have been victims of violence or organized against it on the ground. They were unrolling a long canvas with a painted message when some park rangers came over. I guess they didn’t have a permit because soon they were picking up the posters and the canvas. There was some discussion about the food they’d brought as well, a bag of apples and some granola bars to distribute to anyone breaking their Yom Kippur fast. I think the fact that the march had inadvertently been scheduled on Yom Kippur and the ensuing criticism was probably the reason for the sunset vigil in the first place. But it never really got off the ground. We waited until 7:25, by which point it was full dark, but there were never speeches or candles, or anything very vigil-like, only a small knot of people (ten at the most) standing together, and dwarfed by a school group (mostly teenage girls and adults about the right age to be the parents or teachers of teenage girls, so I’m assuming it was a school group).

It was a disappointing outcome, but not all bad. The MLK monument is always a moving place. We watched all kinds of people—an elderly black woman on a younger woman’s arm, a middle-aged black couple, white teenagers—snap pictures in front of the statue of MLK. Plus, the Tidal Basin with the monuments all lit up is beautiful at night—there’s a reason it’s a classic D.C. date spot. It could have even felt like a date, as Beth and I were there without the kids. But it didn’t really. I was feeling melancholy and Beth seemed subdued as well. It just wasn’t the evening for activism or acting romantic, I guess.

But there’s always tomorrow. When North asked what we could do for National Coming Out Day, I wasn’t sure. Beth and I don’t really have anyone left to come out to, but I asked North if they’d like to write a guest post about being non-binary and they said yes. Stay tuned.

A Room of One’s Own

The week before school started, June went to the middle school three times—on Monday morning to help teachers set up their classrooms and earn student service learning hours, on Thursday morning for a half-day sixth grade orientation, and late Thursday afternoon for the sixth-grade picnic. I was grateful for these activities both to keep June occupied and to make the school a more familiar place. Aside from our visit to Hershey Park, June had been kind of bored the last few weeks of break, at least until three friends came over in four days at the very end.

And as of the beginning of Labor Day weekend, we’d done none of the three water-related activities I’d told June we would do in the last three weeks before school started. We’d been thwarted trying to go to the nearest outdoor pool because of its limited schedule and my inability to remember it’s closed on Fridays. Three Fridays in a row I thought, “We should go to Long Branch Pool today.” Fortunately, the last two times I remembered why we couldn’t just a moment later and didn’t raise anyone’s hopes by mentioning it. Eventually I gave up on going, though it made me a little sad never to have gone to an outdoor pool this summer. (To clarify, June’s been many times—at camp, with YaYa in West Virginia, and with friends, but I never did.)

I set the Friday before Labor Day aside for a creek walk, an end-of-summer tradition the kids and I have. It consists of taking a walk down the middle of Long Branch (or sometimes Sligo) Creek. But Friday it was freakishly cold for the first day of September, in the sixties and overcast. Noah and I outvoted June and decided to put it off for later in the weekend when it would be warmer.

Back in early August I took June to see Kubo and the Two Strings at the one-dollar second run movies, but a sprained ankle prevented the usual post-summer movie trip to the Silver Spring fountain so I said we’d have a do-over movie-and-fountain date later in the summer. We invited a friend to see Leap on Saturday, with a visit to the fountain afterward. And it was just as cold that day and raining to boot. I would have let the kids go in the fountain if they wanted to, but Norma thought it was too chilly. June would have gone in, but it was fenced off as it often is on rainy days. So that activity was out, too.

Saturday night June was complaining of a sore throat and running a fever. On Sunday morning, there was no improvement it was off to urgent care so they could rule out strep throat. We normally wouldn’t go so soon but we didn’t want anything to scotch the first day of middle school on Tuesday. The rapid strep test came back negative, but June was lethargic and we decided to wait another day on the creek walk.

On Monday, Beth made pancakes for breakfast, as she often does on holiday weekends. June felt better, so shortly after breakfast, the kids and I headed for the creek, where we waded for over an hour and saw many little fish, three crawfish, and great quantity of spider webs. It’s been unseasonably cool for the past couple weeks and the water was surprisingly cold when we first stepped in and Noah was grumbling about it, but soon he was cheerfully throwing rocks and splashing June. When I said something about “if we do this next year” he insisted we have to do it, so I guess he had a good time after all. And I fulfilled one promise.

We always go out for ice cream the last night of the kids’ summer break and this year was no exception. (Well, Noah might say it was because June, being the one to start a new school, chose the venue and we got frozen yogurt, which he pointed out, is not ice cream.) It occurred to me if we went somewhere in downtown Silver Spring we could make one last-ditch attempt at playing in the fountain, but when I said it could only be for fifteen minutes or so, June didn’t think it was worth giving up the privilege of choosing where we got our frozen treats.

While all this was going on, Beth had been toiling during her evenings and weekends moving June out of the kids’ shared room into my office, which I’m sacrificing so the kids can each have some space of their own. This has been huge project, involving a lot of moving things around and assembling new furniture. Noah helped Beth put the new Ikea loft bed together and he showed some aptitude for it. (He has the right temperament—patient and calm.) Beth’s goal was to get June sleeping in the new room by Labor Day weekend and not only is the bed finished but a lot of clothes and belongings are in there, too. But I’ll hold off on pictures until the room is finished and decorated.

It was really June who wanted and advocated for the room switch. When we decided to do it, we offered Noah the office but he said he preferred to stay put, so June also scored the bigger room. My desk is in the living room now, which isn’t ideal, but in theory, when Noah goes to college I’ll get my space back. I think I want it for the same reason June does. It makes a difference to have a room of one’s own. But right now, at eleven, June needs it more than I do. And Beth did everything she could to make it easier for me, including buying me a new desk with drawer space. (My old desk was more like a small table.)

It’s a time of a lot of changes, beyond June starting middle school and getting a new room and new short haircut. Their decision a couple weeks ago to go by gender-neutral pronouns was surprising, and it’s been hard to remember to use them, though I’m trying. They also have a new name, North, which Beth is using sometimes, but so far, I can’t bring myself to say it, though I did write it on a school form in the preferred name space. Names are important to me, almost a hobby. I read and comment on a baby-naming blog even though I haven’t had a baby to name in quite some time. In fact, the only thing I regret about not having more kids is that we only got to name two people. The names we did choose are full of family history. For a while June was considering using their middle name (and I suggested their initials—J.D.—but I don’t think that was ever under serious consideration). I think it would be easier for me if the new name was somehow connected to the name we gave them. But maybe that’s the point, the difference.

Both kids went back to school on Tuesday, a week later than usual because the governor changed the Maryland school calendar to promote late season business in Ocean City. Now we have only two snow days built in even though the old number—four—was frequently inadequate, which is the main reason I opposed this move. It’s becoming rare to have an actual 180-day school year and this will make it harder.

But maybe you wanted to hear about the kids’ first day and not about my beef with the governor? I’d tell you, but neither of the kids told me much. I spied on June’s bus stop from the porch (the stop is right in front of our house), noting that about half the kids there are seventh or eighth graders who used to wait at June’s elementary school bus stop. I saw June talking to a seventh-grader, who used to walk to school with June when the two of them were in fourth and fifth grade, and another girl I don’t know. June wore sneakers for gym, intending to leave them in their gym locker and change into crocs for the rest of the day, but they lost the crocs somehow. Noah didn’t get into band yet again, because of schedule conflicts, but he’ll be in the intermediate band second semester, so that’s something. June had almost no homework; Noah had homework in three subjects. He’s working for the school television channel this year and the first broadcast is Monday. I think this will be fun for him.

I worked only fifteen minutes Tuesday because I had an orthopedic appointment for the knee I injured last summer, then I stayed in the city for a pro-DACA rally. It was bigger than the one I attended last month, and angrier, because it was held the day the President announced the program was being rescinded. I was moved almost to tears by the speakers, who were young, brave, hopeful, and fired up. They are just the kind of people we need in this country right now and I hope their organizing is successful. If you’d like to help, Beth’s running a fundraiser for CASA on her Facebook page.

I got home around 2:40, hot and exhausted, because the day was warm and a little muggy and June had insomnia the night before, which meant Beth, June, and I were all up until almost midnight and then Beth’s alarm went off at 5:40.

I had forty minutes before June’s bus was due. I could have exercised or cleaned or worked, but instead I put a glass of ice water on my bedside table, turned the ceiling fan onto its highest setting, fell into bed, and slept briefly. There’s a whole year ahead of us and I think I’m going to need to be rested for it.

Monday is Mommy Day

Until she was three and a half, June didn’t care much about her clothes and I dressed her mostly in Noah’s hand-me-downs, with the occasional girly outfit her grandmothers would buy her. And then quite suddenly, she cared.  She wanted nothing but dresses and skirts and nothing but pink (“Pink is the New Black,” October 22, 2009).

I adjusted to the new reality somewhat grudgingly, but I bought her some pink clothes and started letting her pick her own clothes every morning with the following exceptions: Christmas, Thanksgiving, the first day of every school year, school picture day, and Mondays. I declared that henceforth, Monday would be Mommy Day, which meant I chose her outfit. That way she could express herself most of the week and I could keep Noah’s hand-me-downs in circulation, though they certainly did not get as much wear as the baby and smaller toddler sizes did. One of the good things about the system was that sometimes after wearing something she would not have chosen herself she’d decide she liked it after all and she would subsequently choose it on her own. (Once this backfired when a boy at school told her the cartoon wolf t-shirt she’d taken a shine to was for boys and she never wore it again.)

Some time near the inception of Mommy Day, June asked me how long it would continue.  “Until you’re seven,” I answered without even pausing to think about it.  I’m still not sure why that came out of my mouth. It might have been because it was twice her current age and seemed impossibly far away.  More likely it was because my mother’s own version of Mommy Day (which was Mondays and Wednesdays) lasted until the end of first grade, when I was seven.  June often commented how funny it was that I had to wear dresses on Mommy Day and she had to wear pants.  Also, how Grandmom was very strict to make me do it twice a week.

I don’t always choose pants on Mommy Day, though. Often I will select a skirt that’s worked its way to the bottom of her drawer, just to remind her about it. Or I will attempt to use it to initiate a discussion about matching.  (“See, I chose the brown leggings to go with this dress because the dress has a lot of brown in it. But the leggings are a solid color so they don’t clash with the flowered dress.”) She will listen politely and then dress herself in three different stripe patterns (shirt, leggings, and socks) the next day.

In the past year or so, June has actually worn pants or leggings more often than dresses or skirts (and there was several months last spring and summer when she eschewed dresses all together). And about a month after she turned six, her favorite color changed from pink to orange. Her wardrobe still has more pink than any other color because she grows slowly and she had quite a lot of pink clothes and orange clothes are much harder to find. Her style is still feminine.  Her favorite shirt is light blue, a color she’s been wearing a lot recently—I think it might be an emergent new favorite color– but it has ruffles and lace and embroidered flowers and a little ribbon bow. No one is ever going to tell her it’s for boys.

June will turn seven in less than two weeks, so today was the second to last Mommy Day. Over the past three and a half years she has never forgotten the end point and for the past couple months she has been counting down the weeks eagerly, especially when I’ve chosen something she doesn’t like, which isn’t every week.  Often I will get a “Not bad for Mommy Day,” comment from her. A week ago, though, she complained bitterly about the green corduroys I picked saying, “I don’t like how they look and I don’t like how they feel and I don’t like how they sound.”  In general she prefers her pants without much structure—leggings and knit pants, no jeans or chinos or corduroys. If it zips or buttons or snaps, chances are she won’t like it so mostly I steer clear of those kind of pants.  But knowing the end was so close I just had to see those green cords one more time.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been examining the contents of June’s clothes drawers and realizing there is a lot I can put away because she’s never going to wear it after her birthday.  Similarly, the next time I bring hand-me-downs up from the basement, I will more selective. (For some reason Noah’s old pajamas are almost always acceptable to her.  Maybe because no one but us sees her in them.)

For this penultimate Mommy Day, I decided to build an outfit around the red number six t-shirt she got for her birthday last year, as she won’t be able to wear it much longer. (Well, I suppose she could but it’s more fun to wear the number shirts when they accurately reflect your age—that’s what both of my kids have always thought.)  I found a blue and red striped long-sleeved polo to put under it and a pair of stretch jeans she likes better than the regular kind. Her verdict: “Really not bad for Mommy Day.”

I’m sorry to see Mommy Day go, but I know it’s time.  I’d keep my promise even if June had forgotten it. I do remember what it’s like having a different style than the one my mother would have preferred and how I appreciated her letting me make my own decisions about how to present myself to the world, even to the point of telling my sixth-grade teachers if they wanted me to wear a denim skirt instead of jeans to the square dance they would have to convince me themselves because she certainly couldn’t do it.  I was the only girl to wear jeans to the performance.

The ironic thing is I don’t mind skirts now, and often wear them, usually for special occasions, but sometimes, most often in the summer, for no particular reason, other than it feels like a good day to wear a skirt. That’s what June can decide now every day of the week—whether it’s a good day for a ruffles and lace, for something orange, pink, or aqua, or just maybe, every now and then, something her brother used to wear.

Pink is the New Black

June has a new favorite color. Yes, it’s that one. For a year a half, from the age of two until just a couple weeks ago, she favored yellow and I was quietly, possibly even a bit smugly, proud of her originality. I’d look around at the swarms of little girls in head-to-toe pink at the library or at music class and then I’d look at June, dressed either in her older brother’s hand-me-downs or in the dresses I’d buy her (in blue or purple or green) or in the yellow clothes she picked out. I’d think we were breaking the mold, she and I. We were in this together. No following the crowd for us.

Well, that’s all over now.

We had some warning it was coming. Last spring she started saying pink was her second favorite color, after yellow. When the Bugs class made their paper lanterns for the end of the year celebration, she chose pink paper over yellow. Her teacher Andrea, who knows her way around the preschool set (and has two daughters of her own in elementary school) told us she’d be crossing over to the pink side soon. And she has.

I took it pretty well at first. It’s just a color I told myself, not an ideological worldview. I even have a pink shirt myself, which is something I would have never worn as a kid or really until the past few years. It’s comfy and I wear it a lot. June had almost no pink clothes that fit, so I bought her a pink long-sleeved t-shirt, a pair of pink and orange striped leggings and two pairs of pink socks. I was looking for versatile pieces that could make a lot of outfits without having to invest in a whole new wardrobe.

Even Beth, who was more alarmed than I was at the pink turn of events, melted when June asked her “pwease, Bef” for the pink cardigan with little hearts on it and the pink hooded sweatshirt with the picture of Dora on the front while they were shopping at Value Village (http://www.takoma.com/archives/copy/2008/02/valuevillage.html) during their Columbus Day sale. “I love Dora,” June often says. I’m not sure if she realizes Dora has a television show or not. She may think she just adorns Band Aids, toothbrushes and hoodies.

But of course sometimes pink is an ideological worldview. Along with June’s newfound passion for pink have come a lot of stern pronouncements about what boys do and what girls do. She chastises Beth for having “boy hair.” She says the stuffed animals belong to her and to Noah but the dolls are all hers because “dolls are for girls.” This despite the fact that two of the three dolls she owns used to belong to Noah, and one was a cherished favorite of his when he was a toddler. I know this is normal. She trying to figure out the big, complicated mess of gender and to get her brain around it she needs to simplify it. This is why she has latched on to pink with such ferocity, why she points to every pink toy she sees in a catalogue and says she wants it, why she will point to a girl she doesn’t know in public and declare she is her “favorite girl” just because she happens to be wearing pink. The fanaticism is starting to wear on us and it’s only been a few weeks.

So I have been asking everyone I know with a daughter older than June these questions:

1) Did she go through the pink phase?
2) When did it start?
3) How long did it last?

Feel free to answer them in the comments. I’d love more data. So far, everyone says yes, she did, but there’s a lot of variation in the age question. When June was much younger, someone told me it would be all pink, all the time from the age of two to ten. So I took comfort in the fact that we’d made it well past three and I thought we were home free. But when I ask now, people tell me it started any time between two and four. Ending dates go from not quite five to ten. I’m hoping we can get through it as quickly as possible. Six and a half years seems like a long time to me, although there’s general agreement that the preschool years are the most pink-intensive ones.

Of course, while Beth and I see it as conformity, there is another way to look at it. Beth mentioned June’s new favorite color while talking to her mother on the phone the other day. She had her on speaker so I overheard the conversation. As Beth wondered how this could have happened, YaYa said, “She’s learned to rebel early.” And I think I heard a trace of amusement in her voice. She is going to give us the grief we dress-eschewing tomboys gave our mothers in reverse. The chickens have come home to roost.

After several days of very intense interest in what she was going to wear for the day, June didn’t seem to care this morning, so I got out a pair of jeans that used to be Noah’s, a yellow t-shirt, yellow socks and yellow barrettes. (She does still like yellow. It’s her second favorite, she says.) She accepted the outfit without comment. We went to Spanish Circle Time at the library. I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the toddler girl next to her was wearing embroidered jeans, a pink t-shirt and a pink hair ribbon. It wasn’t until we were dancing around to the music that the girl faced me and I could see her shirt said, “Pink is the New Black.”

Around here, it is. It’s just going to take some getting used to.

Note: My dad completed his chemotherapy and radiation treatment earlier this month. According to his doctors, the tumor in his throat seems to be completely gone and his vocal chords are still functional. About that, we are all tickled pink.

Dudes with Guns

“Beth, when are you and Mommy going to make a decision about Pokémon?” Noah asked about a week and half ago. Noah’s best friend Sasha introduced him to Pokémon a few months ago and he’s been after us ever since to let him start collecting the cards. He knew the violence of the game made us uncomfortable so he had proposed that he buy the cards with his own money and only play at Sasha’s house. He’s already allowed to play Pokémon with Sasha’s cards at his house because we have a utilitarian “different houses, different rules” policy when it comes to violent play.

Beth glanced at me. “We have, Noah,” I said. It was really me who had finally a made a decision. Beth had read a set of online instructions for Pokémon and decided the violence was abstract enough to be harmless. She also thought that what attracts him to Pokémon is the complicated set of rules, not the fighting itself. Still, the parts of the tutorial I overheard, about what to do when your Pokémon character gets poisoned or burned, left me feeling a little queasy. So I waffled and put Noah off while I consulted a couple of acquaintances. One gave me a somewhat pat boys-will-be-boys answer and the other said none of her five kids had ever been interested but when her nephew wanted Pokémon cards for his birthday she looked into it and decided not to buy them. Lacking clear guidance and with my gut feeling in conflict with Beth’s, I came up with an uneasy compromise:

“If you still want to play when your birthday comes, then you can start buying the cards with your own money and you can play at home, not only at Sasha’s house, but I won’t play it with you.” The three-month waiting period was an attempt on my part to run out the clock. I think if Sasha loses interest in Pokémon before May, Noah will, too. I don’t really expect this to work; I understand some kids play this game for years, but I thought it was worth a try. It’s probably been three months already that Noah’s been pestering us about Pokémon, so if last six months, I’ll know he’s serious about it and we’ll give it a try. The stipulation that he use his own money mirrors my mom’s gun-rule when my sister and I were kids and wanted cap pistols and water guns. She allowed us to play with them, but we had to buy them ourselves. It was a policy that struck a balance by avoiding making the guns forbidden fruit, while clearly communicating her distaste for such playthings. I added not playing Pokémon with him for the same reason. As carefully as I thought it through, though, I still wasn’t really happy with my decision.

In a way, I think we’ve been spoiled. If you’ve read a lot of parenting articles or if you’ve talked to a lot of mothers of boys, you’ve surely heard the argument that boys are inherently violent, they just can’t help it, if you deny them toy guns they will bite their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into gun shapes in order to have a weapon. This has not been our experience. Noah has never been much interested in guns or violent play. Partly this might be because we sheltered him. He didn’t know what a gun was until he was three and a half. Whenever he saw one in a picture and asked what it was, we would play dumb. “Hmm. I don’t know? What do you think it is?” This charade unraveled when we made the mistake of checking Dr. Seuess’s Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose (http://www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews/Thidwick-Big-Hearted-Moose.html) out of the library without perusing it first. The plot revolves around the moose being pursued by hunters so we had to break down and explain what a gun was. When Noah was four and a half and my mother and stepfather got him a play castle for Christmas, we threw out all the weapons. There was a strict, no-violent play rule at his daycare and he only watched PBS or the occasion carefully vetted G-rated movie, so he was not exposed to much on-screen violence.

Things were a bit more free-wheeling at the Purple School. No toy weapons were provided, but if children fashioned their own from sticks on the playground, it was tolerated, as long as the sticks were always pointed at imaginary enemies and never at classmates. It was here Noah saw children playing at war for the first time. Most of the boys and some of the girls in his class were obsessed with pirates and they staged marine battles on the playground all that year. I didn’t like it, but I put up with it. When I co-oped, I watched as Noah participated in these battles. He always seemed more interested in elaborating on the narrative of the game and inventing new plot twists than in the shoot-em-up aspect of the game.

At home, he never turned sticks or sandwiches into guns. Once, while surfing online for games he found a kung-fu game (on the Taco Bell website of all places) that I put the kibosh on, and since then he has occasionally come to us to ask if he can play games he finds. (One he told us was called Violent Mystery. It was actually Venice Mystery.) He didn’t seem to chafe under our rules, and even explained why the castle people have no weapons to a friend who asked, in a completely comfortable and matter of-fact-way. “We don’t play games about fighting or hurting people here.” Meanwhile, as he gets older, we are relaxing a little. We are letting him watch some scarier G-rated movies, and I let him buy a pirate game with little cannons that actually shoot tiny wooden cannon balls. (When hit, the ships retreat, but they never sink so no one is hurt.)

On Friday, Noah had a friend over after school. We are in the midst of the transition from mainly mom-initiated play dates to mainly kid-initiated play dates. I still arrange play dates for Noah because he’ll play happily with almost anyone I invite, but left to his own devices, he’d play exclusively with Sasha. I want to keep his other friendships alive, for balance and as a hedge against a falling-out. This play date I’d set up with a boy we know from nursery school, who is now in Noah’s afternoon class. I really like Elias. He’s friendly and easy-going and he and Noah always have fun together.

The play date started out well. The first thing they wanted to do was show me the Scholastic book order forms they’d gotten at school. Elias was planning to order a Scooby-Doo book in Spanish. Noah was undecided. Next, they wanted to measure the giant strip of fruit leather Elias had earned at school for good behavior. (It was seventeen inches long.) Then they split it in two and Elias offered Noah the slightly longer half. A quick game of online Monopoly followed. It took Noah (who is preternaturally good at this game) only a half hour to take down Elias and two imaginary electronic players. As the game was winding down, I suggested they play outside. It was a beautiful afternoon, sunny and 50 degrees. They agreed and I inflated the bouncy castle for them.

Once they’d had their fill of bouncing, Noah pushed the button to deflate the castle. Suddenly, Elias dashed back into the collapsing castle. He was stuck in a monster’s trap and calling for help. Noah extended him a stick. Elias grabbed it and Noah pulled him to safety. Then they were running around the yard, looking for clues to solve a mystery. Elias climbed back into the now completely deflated castle and pulled one side over himself. It was a tent and they were under assault from the bad guys. Elias snatched the stick he’d dropped nearby after his rescue from the monster’s trap and he pulled it inside. He poked it out of the tent and began to shoot. “We’re not just mystery-solvers,” he said. “We’re also dudes with guns.”

I stood, stunned, wondering if I should put a stop to this or not. Elias had caught me by surprise and this situation comes up so rarely I’d lost track of the rules. Meanwhile, Noah was acting as a lookout, spotting new bad guys for Elias to shoot and contributing to the gunfire sound effects. Then he seized a red plastic hockey stick and he was shooting, too. And smiling.

It was the smile more than anything that made my stomach drop. He caught my eye. I didn’t smile back at him. He looked away, and kept shooting.

When Beth came home that evening she and I talked about it. This time, she was the one more opposed to the pretend violence. She was a little surprised I hadn’t put a stop to it at once, but I was still hesitating, wondering how much control over his imagination we should try to exert.

I mulled it over for a couple of days, and then today, a few hours before Sasha was scheduled to come over, I laid down the law. He could play by different rules at school or at friends’ houses, but there would be no pretend shooting at home. I asked if he understood and he said yes in a neutral tone. And even though I was coming down on the opposite side this time, I still felt wrong. I think when it comes down to a choice between seeing a weapon, no matter how roughly improvised, in his hands or dictating what he can and cannot pretend, nothing is ever going to feel right.