Pretty Nails

This weekend my wife and her sister took a trip to the Poconos to see her aunt. This meant three days and two nights alone. I was mentally prepared to be Mr. Dad and rock the weekend until IT started. By IT I mean the wailing that was coming out of my daughter’s mouth when my wife went to leave. The faucets were wide open and the tears flowed like the taps at an Irish Pub on St. Patty’s Day. My wife hadn’t even got out of the door and things were going off the rails.

Working at a summer camp allows me to have an insight on kids crying when their parents leave that few other mortals have. I knew the longer the scene dragged out the worse it was going to be. Ripping the band-aid off became priority one.  I quickly helped the ladies out of the house and closed the door behind them. My daughter had just started to calm down when the door opened and my wife came back in with some stuff from the car she didn’t want to travel with. NOOOOO!

The scene reverted back to the pub. I grabbed a mop and a towel and was ready to clean up the lake that was forming under her. My heart was breaking. My brain was hurting from trying to figure out the quickest way to get a unicorn or a pony to appear in the kitchen. I then started down the road of inquiry that I knew would make everything better. “Do you want to paint my nails?” The tears stopped and together we walked over to the table.

My daughter is the quickest nail painter on the East Coast. Five minutes later each nail was a different color with some nails being partitioned and painted two colors. My daughter was calm and soon bedtime was upon us. The house quickly fell asleep and soon the morning rooster crowed.

We woke up and I went to coach my kids basketball teams. All was going well until one of the 40 kids in the first session asked me why my fingers were painted. I had totally forgotten about them! I explained my daughter had painted them and the kids started giggling. The same question was asked by a child in the second session. I explained again how Abbie had wanted to paint them and I was cool with that.

One of the fathers at the practice who I was friends with asked me about them as well. I told the story and the empathy immediately flowed from him. He has a daughter and understood without any need of explanation. He then proceeded to take a picture and send it to our friends.

After basketball I took the kids to a play with my parents. My parents are somewhat conservative and both of my parents made it a point to bring up my nails. It was not negative but the mere fact that it was brought up said something about how this wasn’t quite a social norm.

I have kept my nails painted all weekend because honestly, I am too lazy to find the nail polish remover and take the color off. I was also somewhat curious about what the reaction would be from the people I interacted with. I don’t know what judgments people are making about me when they see my fingers. Do they question my sexuality? What assumptions are they making? I know personally, I must feel some way because I forget that they are painted and when I see them it jars me for a second. That has to say something. Let’s face it. Most cis-gender heterosexual men don’t usually paint their nails.

I probably won’t clear my nails off for work tomorrow either. What will the elementary students I teach think? It will be a topic of interest I am sure. I purposefully wear a pink sweatshirt to show my students that gender doesn’t dictate color preference. This will be no different. My nails have nothing to do with my gender nor sexuality. This goes hand in hand (pun intended) with my gender lesson that I do with kindergarten students. We identify the difference between boys and girls. This year I will include intersex into the conversation as well. One of the answers the kids give is that boys don’t paint their nails. I counter with the question of whether it is legal or not. We discuss how most boys don’t paint their nails but that is a choice nothing more or less. This will give them a concrete example of someone choosing to have their nails painted.

I appreciate your time for reading the blog. Hopefully, this will push your thinking a little and see how you can show your students where their bias is. Drawing attention to it is the first step.


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2 thoughts on “Pretty Nails

  1. Debbie Thomas

    I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that you are having conversations with your KINDERGARTENS about gender!! Thank you! I talk about it with middle schoolers and it is clear we need to start talking at a younger age! And you are doing that.

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  2. edifiedlistener

    So interesting, Justin, to explore how this simple act plays out in different social contexts. I appreciate that you’ve brought it out here for all of us to think about and perhaps wrestle with. Gender norms are the water we swim in and often we resist noticing and defying the unspoken but very firm rules about who may do what according to their assigned gender. Rules, too, which often exclude the possibility of anything besides the binary male/female. So thank you for providing that nudge for us to think again, notice and interrogate our assumptions and the behaviors they likely elicit.

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