Today, I picked up my daughter (who’s three and a half) from her preschool/daycare. Most days, I’m coming from work and I don’t have time to change before headed there, so I pick her up in my work clothes. Work clothes for me happen to be an Army uniform, ACUs to be precise: jacket, t-shirt underneath, pants, and combat boots. I’ve dropped her off and picked her up in this outfit daily for the past 6 weeks. I’m still getting to know her new school and the kids in her classroom since she just started there, but when I’m there, some of the kids say hi, I wave to others, things like that. Her classroom is all kids between the ages of three and four.
Tonight, one of the little girls whose name I don’t know said hi when I came in. She had brown hair in a ponytail and shiny black Mary Janes. She stood very close to me while my daughter hurried around the room, and said “Why do you always wear that jacket?”
“It’s my uniform,” I said.
“No, it’s not,” she said. “Girls don’t wear that.”
“I do,” I replied. “I wear this to work every day. I’m in the Army.”
“No, you’re not. Girls can’t do that, and you shouldn’t wear it!” She was starting to get mad.
“Lots of girls can and do. I know lots of women who are soldiers.”
“No! You can’t! Girls can’t do that!”
“Girls can do pretty much anything they like.” (One of the teachers chimed in on this point and also reminded the little girl to use her manners and not yell.)
“Not that. You shouldn’t wear that jacket!”
What was there to say? I repeated that it was my uniform and that anyone, including girls, could be in the Army and went to go collect my daughter’s things. As I turned to go, the little girl looked down at my feet and saw my combat boots.
“Those are boy boots! You can’t wear those! Take them off! Take it all off! Those aren’t for you!”
And then she started stepping on my feet. “No, no boots, not for girls!”
I stared for a second and stepped back out of the reach of her shiny black Mary Janes.
The teacher and I addressed the foot stepping and by then my daughter was ready to go, showing me her drawing where she’d been practicing the letter J, reminding me to put her doll’s hat back on so it wouldn’t get lost, and asking if there were graham crackers out at the car for a snack.
On the way home, she chatted cheerfully about her day. After a short narrative about how someone wasn’t listening at circle time, she looked out the window and said, “Mommy, I see an airplane! Maybe when I’m a grown up, I can fly airplanes!”
Yes, kiddo, maybe you can.