“Mom, I want to be Elsa!”
It’s been about two months since my son first told me that he knew exactly what he wanted to be for Halloween. At first, I thought it was just a passing phase. He’s three, after all, and in August I didn’t expect him to be so sure of what he’d want to be for Halloween.
But week after week, it’s stayed the same: “Mom, I want to be Elsa!”
At first, I just laughed or told him, “Okay, let’s think about it.”
I wasn’t about to tell him no outright. I can’t do that: if I believe that girls can dress as anything they want to (superheroes, ninja turtles, you name it), then why should I tell my son he can’t dress as anything he wants?
I feel, in some way, like this has been a defining moment for me as a parent. In the past two months, I’ve spent a lot of time really thinking about everything I claim to believe regarding gender and how to teach my son about gender roles. We’ve never limited him: sure, he’s got trucks and trains and all the typically “boy” things you might think about, but he’s also got a room full of stuffed animals and a tea set. This summer, he asked for a baby doll, and not long after, he wanted his own Elsa and Anna doll.
At preschool, he loves playing in the Housekeeping Center; he loves sweeping and cooking and taking care of the baby dolls and even playing teacher (which, in his experience, is only something women do –early childhood education does tend to be largely gendered female and there are no male teachers at his school). My son knows there are physical differences between boys and girls (at least, we’ve told him this). He loves the color pink, but doesn’t understand why they don’t make Elsa clothes for boys. (Olaf is just not the same for him.)
I’ve tried to raise him gender neutral. While I may shop in the boys’ section of the clothing department, I’ve never cared when he wants something gendered feminine. He wants the pink balloon and toothbrush at the dentist office? Why not? He likes to wear my necklaces? Sure! My son is three. If today he wants to put on fairy wings and watch a Tinker Bell movie or a mermaid video, I’m good with that.
Yet my son’s desire to dress as Elsa for Halloween threw me off. I spent a long time thinking about it and discussing it with my husband. I told him that we’d see if our son stuck with it; if we got to the end of September and he was still interested, then I’d go from there. No point in buying a costume a month and a half early anyway, right? Even so, I’ve spent a lot of time this fall thinking about my personal beliefs in raising my son to see gender as a fluid concept and how I actually embrace that idea in practice.
It wasn’t that we cared about our son being Elsa. We cared about what people might say to our sweet, kind little boy if they didn’t understand. We were uncomfortable about the possibilities of people being mean. I still worry about that a little bit.
By mid-September, my son was telling me that someone in his classroom was telling him he couldn’t be Elsa. This made him sad, and this flipped a switch. No one better tell my son he can’t be what he wants to be. “Of COURSE you can be Elsa if you want to! No one can stop you from being Elsa. If you want to be Elsa, then I’ll be Anna for Halloween.” (Fortunately, his teacher is pretty awesome on this, and really, it turns out that all the kids want to be Elsa. It’s less a gender thing – I think – than simply the idea that they all love Elsa.)
A month ago, I did it. I bought my son an Elsa dress from the costume section at Target.
It’s gorgeous: if it came in my size, you better believe I’d be wearing that thing myself (if my son would let me….). We stood in the Halloween section at Target as I tried pulling it over his head to make sure it fit okay. I won’t lie: I worried a little about what people would think. He carried it through the store and handed it to the cashier, who was pretty freaking amazing. “I LOVE it!” she beamed, and she was totally sincere. (Her reaction has been mirrored almost everywhere we go. His teachers support the idea of him being Elsa, the preschool owner and directors support it, and most people just think it’s totally adorable.)
When we got home that day, I helped him pull his new dress on over his head and pinned it so he would avoid tripping. We turned on Frozen, and the magic began. I can’t describe how happy he looked, dancing around the living room acting out his favorite scenes and his favorite song. My son loved being Elsa.
I want my son to be anything he wants to be, including Elsa.
And that’s what it comes down to, of course: I want my son to be anything he wants to be. I personally don’t care if that means he dresses as Elsa or whatever else he might imagine. I care about people making comments, though, and that’s the thing – the only thing – that made me hold off so long in letting my son get the costume he wanted. It’s this weird double standard: when I was young, I dressed in male costumes at least once or twice for Halloween, and no one batted an eye. When young boys do it, it doesn’t yet seem so acceptable. But around here, it’s exactly what we’re doing this year, and if anyone doesn’t like it, it’s their problem.
I like to think I’m a brave person. I like to think I don’t really care what people think. I’ve learned this fall that I’m still working on those things, and that’s okay.
On Saturday, a small band from Arendelle made its way to the preschool’s annual Halloween party. Prince Hans was allowed by Elsa’s royal decree (someone had to hand out the candy and drive the car). Anna came along to retrieve Elsa from the North Mountain (also known as the playground). And Elsa?
Elsa’s dress sparkled nearly as broadly as my son’s smile.