I took Noah to a toy store this week — he'd accumulated a pretty decent amount of birthday cash and gift cards from generous friends and family, and was naturally determined to blow it all on hats LEGOs.
We were at that store for a long, long time, as Noah carefully considered his options and worked out the price tag math. (There was also a sale going on, which mostly revealed my incompetence at explaining math concepts like "buy one get one 40% off" to a second grader.) He decided to buy a Legends of Chima set — yet another giant 4,000-piece ship-type thing that will take him two days to build and 40 seconds to fall apart and morph into something else — and a small set of LEGO Friends.
For those of you not living with wall-to-wall LEGO carpeting, "LEGO Friends" is the newish line designed to bring girls back to the brand. The minifigures are all girls, and shaped more like tween-y Polly Pockets than the boxy traditional LEGO people. And instead of shit like NINJA SWAMP BATTLE COPTERS the sets are more like EMMA'S CUPCAKE BAKERY & PUPPY HOSPITAL.
But you know, they are very cute. My childhood girl self would have been all over that shit, with all the tiny little windows and cupboards and accesssssssssories. Our next-door neighbor has quite a few of the sets and she and Noah regularly play with them together, in between their dramatic imaginary "I'm the Mom, Ezra's the dad, Ike's the baby and Noah is the ALIEN FROM MARS HERE TO RUIN OUR DINNER" scenarios.
Noah chose a karate studio, clearly stoked over the possibilities for many epic LEGO Friends/Ninjago crossovers. I noticed another boy skulking around the LEGO aisle staring at him a little strangely, and I pointedly ignored him, because my kids don't give no craps 'bout no gender stereotyping. Sure, they love tons of traditional "boy" things, but we also have toy kitchens and baby dolls and baby strollers and dollhouses — some in blue, some in pink, some in purple/yellow/green. They dig My Little Pony and Littlest Pet Shop and playing house.
To Noah, LEGOs are LEGOs. And they're universally awesome, even if they come in a purple box with butterflies on it.
At home, Noah assembled the karate studio in record time. When he got to the final page of the instruction book, he noticed that the usual "OMFG LEGOS!!11!eleven!" boy model had been replaced with a girl.
"I guess LEGO Friends are for girls," he said matter-of-factly. "I don't care. I love them anyway."
I puffed up smugly. That's my boy!
The next morning we walked to the bus stop. The bus situation has been...not super great lately, socially speaking. I'm (finally, yes) drawing subjective lines in the sand more and more these days between what I consider "Noah's story to tell" and stuff that's more about my experience raising him, so let me just give you the Cliffs' Notes version that for Noah, like many kids with similar diagnoses, making/keeping/relating to friends is a big challenge. And it's a challenge we're all feeling more acutely this year.
For my part in it, I struggle with constantly flipping back and forth between "OMG NOAH STAHP WHAT ARE U DOING" and "OMG OTHER ASSHOLE CHILDREN I WILL FIGHT THEM." I want to protect and defend Noah with the fury of a thousand mama bears...but I also realize that yes, he really does need to work on reading those pesky social cues, on compromising and being flexible.
As we walked, Noah excitedly said he couldn't wait to tell the other kids about the toys he bought.
And my smug-ass little non-gender-stereotyping heart sank like a rock.
"Um, Noah..." I began, and then realized there was no non-asshole way to finish that sentence.
Noah ran up to another second grader — a boy he's had an on-again, off-again, drama-plagued friendship with since kindergarten — and immediately started telling him about the toys he bought with his own money. Two LEGO sets. TWO! One was a LEGO Friends...
The boy's mouth dropped, and then a look of slightly evil amusement crossed over his face. He immediately turned to his older brother and the other "big kids."
"LEGO Friends! He bought LEGO Friends for himself!"
Y'all. Y'ALL. Mayday. MAYDAY.
I stepped forward and opened my mouth, even though I had no real plan of what I could or should say.
The boy continued. "You should buy LEGO City! It's way better! LEGO Friends is for..."
Noah interrupted with a sigh, like he couldn't believe he needed to explain something so obvious. "I already have LEGO City. But I didn't have any LEGO Friends. So I got a KUNG FU LEGO FRIENDS."
And poof, like that, the topic of conversation moved on, as the other boys expressed their own enthusiasm for kung fu, and then Noah mentioned the other set was Legends of Chima and the whole damn bus stop exploded in a giant nerd-off about the warring tribes of Chima and who was the best and most powerfulest.
The bus arrived and everybody lined up. Noah waved at me.
"Bye, buddy!" I said. "You're awesome, by the way."
"Yeah, I know," he said right before he boarded the bus, and disappeared from my view.