A week ago my four year old son Fons and I stood in front of his bookcase. The argument at hand was which book to take to his classroom when I go read for him and his classmates in two weeks time.
Bert walks by: “You should read Prince and Knight.”
Fons: “No I want the Witch Cat. Or Cars!”
Me: “No Cars. Everyone reads Cars, I dream of Cars. One day we will all become Cars.”
Seriously, I feed the car obsession, I do, but when it comes to public reading I have this tiny rule that I don’t read stuff I secretly find blegh. It messes with my act. My mom taught me so. It’s a sacred rule now.
Truth of the matter is: I very much want to read Prince and Knight. As far as LGBT reading for kindergarten goes, it is my favourite book so far. Just because, were LGBT representative stories for this age group not relatively rare, it would be one of my favourite bedtime stories still.
And three months ago, Fons would have agreed because he was in full knight mode. But his current mind is set on Halloween. While we get texts from fellow parents who tell us his friends won’t go to bed and are unusually afraid, Fons adores his time in the ‘scary dark corner’ his teacher has made. He loves the witchcraft, the masks. He’s going to be all over Halloween in years to come, which will provide a challenge since our youngest, Jean, is terrified of all of it. More tv program fights. I simply cannot wait.
So we put the argument to rest. And when the kids were asleep I addressed it again: “I really do want to read Prince and Knight. This is an important story.”
Bert: “You have to.”
Me: “But he’s into his cat now.”
Bert: “He’s also into eating candy spaghetti.”
Me: “I hate myself for even saying this, but should I ask?”
Bert: “Of course you shouldn’t. It’s not a book that needs an okay. There is no one who could possibly find offence, unless maybe some retard. But the teacher is not a retard. She doesn’t look like a retard. Well…I guess you never know. But you should not ask.”
Newsflash: I ask a lot of advice but I rarely listen to it.
Second Newsflash: This conversation was edited. No need to call an ambulance. Bert did not actually talk more than me. I have abbreviated myself.
I have an awkward relationship with religion even on my better days, and yet we chose a Catholic school. Because it is located in a park. Because I have been there and I have been on the anti-bullying program and because I had friends who told me their kids were happy there. Because I know it is a fairly structured place, which, for my young mind, was a life-saver because I wilted in chaos.
Because I see this tendency in Fons, too, sometimes.
And he went and he is happy. So it was a bet that turned out well. Yay for us.
Just to be clear: me and Bert met in said Catholic school.
They also taught me about all religions in the world. I have literally sat on those school benches and have been like: great story, great story, great story. But they can’t all be right. So which is the good one? Isn’t it far more likely that they are all just ways to find value?
So yeah, when you look at that from a Catholic perspective perhaps that should be counted as a failure, but as a school it is a huge win for them. I was given a choice. Bert has never been religious, so he just didn’t partake in the Holy Communiun when we were sent to mass, and that too was accepted.
School has only moved forward since I went there. The one who changed is me. I have less faith in the world than I used to.
So yes, I asked. I went to the teacher and asked her. I showed Prince and Knight and I told her a quick summary and she was like: “Oh they adore knights, all over it.”
I know they are. And I literally said: “Yes I have noticed. It is also LGBT. The prince and knight fall in love and this is an important story to us, and I want you to know and ask if you’re okay with that.”
She had to be okay. Not to be okay is wrong. This story is important, not just to us. If I believed it was important just to us, I would have kept it at home and I would not have brought it to school while my son laments his witch cat.
I gave her an opt out, which I probably wouldn’t have given her if I believed she would take it. Because if she had not been okay, I would have been forced not to share this story. I risked that by asking. I should not have asked for permission to read this story but I did.
And I’m not happy with that. Both because I wished I’d had more faith in her, and because I wished I’d cared less.
She was okay.
Comes my treacherous son: “We have to read two stories, because I want the Witch Cat too.”
Me to the teacher: “Yeah he loves this book about the Witch Cat, but it is a fairly long story. I can’t read both. So we’ve had a hard time choosing.”
Teacher: “Well, we’re working around witches, I could read that one myself next week if that’s okay?”
Fons and me: “Yes! Great idea!”
I asked for an ally and I have one. One who will pull out the knight armour and stick horses when reading day arrives so that this story receives an audience that craves its tune.
And I can go in with my daggers sheathed and my heart at ease. Which was definitely what this was all about in the first place.
There is this absolutely glorious thing about Fons: he reads stories about love and he doesn’t see how gender influences how they are perceived.
But he will. Someday he will. I am not naive enough to believe he won’t. It takes a village to raise a child and you cannot, must not, shut out the village.
I will mourn that day.
And I will be so very, very angry. I am angry today. I am angry, deep down, all the time.
I can go through the motions and make sure that doesn’t show. Not in front of a bunch of four year olds where my anger does not belong. I know I can.
I can uphold the act for longer than just that moment too. But I have learnt the hard way that that’s not a smart thing to do. That if I want to be there for the long run, I must listen to the alarm bells when they ring.
They are quiet now.
And that’s a victory.