My daughter Qiqi is the cutest little girl. Born in China, she is petite but athletic with a sweet smile and beautiful inky black hair.
Just don’t tell her she’s cute. She’ll punch you.
When I first met her, she was a teeny-tiny four-year-old and hated being called cute. Everyone called her cute and that was boring. She wanted to be beautiful.
Today we are living with a tomboy. A couple of years ago she began avoiding colors like pink and purple. Then she wouldn’t wear flowers or sparkles. Those were girly. (You should try buying girl clothes that are not girly, especially in the conservative Midwest like West Michigan.)
She began asking us to buy her boy clothes–mostly grey and blue pants and athletic shirts. Cut for bigger boys, the clothes hang on her but she doesn’t care. She also wears big boots. Her uniform can get pretty ripe, too.
The next step was to cut the hair off. She convinced her mom to cut her long beautiful hair into a pageboy. Qiqi wanted a boy cut like me, but mom drew the line. I sat with our other girl Lourdie as we watched the hair fall away. Lourdie is from Haiti and right now she wants long straight “normal” hair. Lourdie watched it happen and she looked like she wanted to say, “What the heck is she doing?”
Short hair. Boy clothes. No pink. No sparkles. Qiqi plays with Beyblades and Legos and practices karate. No doubt about it, she’s a tomboy. In fact, her biggest hope is to be mistaken for a boy.
I finally asked mom what caused her to put tomboy into overdrive. Caroline explained that some of the girls in Qiqi’s class were undergoing changes and she was freaking out. She started to explain . . .
No need to get all “Gray’s Anatomy” on me. That stuff would freak me out, too.
A couple of weeks ago she announced that she wanted to be called Carl.
I said, “Qiqi, you understand you aren’t really a boy. You are a girl.” I am open-minded and love all types of people, but I am not going to let my little girl lock in her identity through sheer force of will. Because, she could if she tried.
This is all very confusing, so I would talk about Qiqi being a tomboy with my friends. They all assure me that it is a phase. Nothing to worry about. All women seem to think they go through a tomboy stage.
Then I mention that she wants to be called Carl. They respond quickly, “Oh, she’ll be fine.” Like she has an illness. I know she will be fine, even if she grows up to be Mr. Carl one day. She’s not sick. If she changed her name to Cathy people wouldn’t act so weird.
I end up defending her sometimes quirky decisions because I am her dad, even though I am not happy with some of them. It is strange indeed to have a child who is experimenting with identity and enjoying tormenting her parents.
It would be so easy to buy a sweet Hello Kitty dress for her to wear. But that would not be Qiqi. And I would not be her father.
How do other parents handle these explorations of identity and clothing? I’d like to hear.
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