Wednesday, March 27, 2013

"Just Ella"

As we drove to a school fundraiser the other night, the following conversation took place:

Ella:" Mom, I don't want to be Bonaldo anymore."
Me: "Okay, what do you want your last name to be?"
Ella: "No, I just want to be Ella."

This sort of conversation pretty much sums her up. As I've talked about endlessly on this blog, Ella B (excuse me, I mean "Just Ella") is a free spirit with a big personality. She knows exactly what she wants and doesn't want and isn't going to submit to any societal expectations, even when it comes to last names.

I saw her three-year-old personality in full force when we arrived at the restaurant for the fundraiser. She took her usual fifteen minutes to warm up to the crowd of teachers and students excitedly talking to her and telling her that they know me. She was not impressed by my apparent fame in the least. However, before I even realized it, she had shed her sweatshirt and was running around the restaurant in her super girl costume pretending to fly. She played a few rounds of hide and seek with a friend of mine, and downed an ice cream cone like it was her job. People were in awe of her: smile as wide as her face, tangled hair streaming behind her as she ran. She was captivating, mostly because she was doing whatever she wanted without worrying about what anyone thought (including the wait staff).

This display seemed incredibly appropriate given the event we were attending. As I said, it was a fundraiser for my school, but I didn't mention that it was for our PLAHD club, the gay-straight alliance that helps raise awareness and support for the LGBTQ community at our school. The club is not only for kids who are gay, but for anyone who supports the notion that we all deserve to live our lives free from discrimination, hate, and inequality based on sexual orientation, gender identity, etc.

It felt rather poignant, then, to see my daughter, entirely unaware of the fundraiser's purpose, running through a restaurant wearing a Halloween costume in March, being 100% herself just as all three-year-olds are. It got me thinking about when that all changes. At what point does it stop being okay to be ourselves? Sure, there are plenty of kids (these PLAHD club members to name a few) who refuse to let society stop them from being themselves, but we view them as kids who are making a decision to be individuals, and to some extent, making that decision may marginalize them. When will that happen to Ella? When will she have to stop and decide whether she's going to be herself or conform to some expectation of her culture or society? And what will she choose to do if being herself means being marginalized? Will she be confident enough to stay "Just Ella" if others decide they don't like what "Just Ella" stands for?

I mulled over these ideas as we enjoyed our sandwiches and fries, and some time after my friend left, Ella asked, "Where'd he go, Mommy?"  I told her he had to go home to, "have dinner with his husband." As soon as I said the words, I cringed at what her reaction would be. I assumed she would say something like, "Mommy, that's so silly! Boys don't have husbands!"

But she didn't say anything. She just kept on eating her ice cream cone as if I hadn't said anything funny at all. And I thought, wouldn't it be great if she grew up in a world where despite all the tough decisions she'll have to make about which parts of herself to let the world see, she won't have to worry about that one? Wouldn't it be great if being an openly gay teenager wasn't a brave decision?

I don't know how the world will view homosexuality in ten years. I hope that today is the beginning of something really positive, but I know there are still so many people out there who don't want a kid like Ella to be herself if being herself means offending their values. I'd like to think there is room in the world for a free spirit like Ella, but I just don't know. In the meantime, I hope "Just Ella" can find a way to keep wearing that super girl costume long after it doesn't fit. I hope she never lets it go.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Party Pooper

I often try to write post titles that include puns. However, in this case, the title should be taken quite literally.

About a week ago, a few of us got together to honor my girlfriend Christina who is about to have her second child. Ella was very excited to go to the "shower party" and play with her friend Loreli. She wore the Christmas dress she refused to wear during the holidays, sparkly pink tights, and her pink boots. We were all dressed up in matching black and white dresses and looking forward to a very grown-up day.

Now, you know that the potty training saga has been going on for close to a year now, but we decided a few weeks ago to really go all in and make this thing happen. So, for about three weeks she's been wearing underwear all day except for at nap and bedtime. This is working out quite well in terms of peeing. She never has a peeing accident, and we can even go out for the day, and she will pee in stores or wherever we are. Great. Awesome. A lot of progress. However, the whole pooping on the potty thing is an issue. She doesn't want to do it, and she will hold her poop in for days to avoid the issue. The only time she will poop is if we put a diaper on her, but sometimes she still refuses that and just holds it in.

So, there we are at Christina's house enjoying some bagels and company, and somewhere in the house is my pretty little daughter who hasn't pooped in three days. Suddenly, my friend Kye emerges from the bedroom and tells Christina, "I think your dog pooped on the floor." I stop for a second, look around for Ella, can't find her, and begin to panic. "Oh no," I say, "I don't think it was the dog."

I find her playing in the living room seemingly unaware of the fact that she's taken a giant crap on Christina's bedroom floor with poop all over her pretty dress, feet and legs, trailing it through the house. Embarrassed doesn't begin to describe how I felt. Mortified comes a little closer. I knew that I shouldn't scold her or try to make her feel bad about it, but I'm telling you the kid didn't seemed affected at all. Is it bad that I wanted her to be a little bit ashamed of what she did? I took her into the bathroom and cleaned her up while simultaneously yelling to Chris and her friend Teresa to stop cleaning up the mess. I put a diaper on her after that, which was a good decision because she pooped again before we left. I guess holding it in can only last for so long.

I went home feeling a bit defeated about the whole potty training thing. It's frustrating because she's obviously physically capable of controlling it, but has decided she just doesn't want to go in the potty. So, how do I convince her that pooping in the potty is where it's at? In the past three years of her life, I haven't been able to convince that girl of much of anything.

Later that day, I started reading a potty training book that asks you to take a personality test for your child before you begin training. Shockingly, Ella falls into the "Strong-Willed" category. So, for her, everything is about control (like I needed to take a test to know that). I'm supposed to act very nonchalant about potty training, as in, "Oh hey, there's this thing called potty training. You may have heard about it. Some kids are doing it, but you know whatever, it's not a big deal." So far, this does seem like the way to go for her. We ask her if she has to go, but if she says no, we don't push it. I think this makes for a longer process, but I'm just going to have to accept that this will take a while.

Update: A few days after this incident, she did poop on the potty for the first time. She looked absolutely terrified, but she did it. So, small steps in the right direction. I know she won't go to college in diapers. Live and let poop I say, live and let poop.