Seven. He’s so big. The size of everything around him surprises me. I buy his clothes and I think ‘too big,’ this will never fit. His new bike looks too big to me in the garage. His homework seems too complex for such a little boy. He begs me to read the fourth Harry Potter book, the one that is huge and thick and dark. It’s TOO BIG my mind rebels, too real, fraught with adult themes and grown up sorrow.
He reads it with ease, even when I force him to read to me aloud, incorporating words like “imprisonment” and “appreciatively” without pause.
The problem, it seems, is not the size of his things, but my perception of him.
He slams his backpack and lunchbox overhand into the stroller outside of school, the same stroller that his sister and he packed into so neatly five years ago when my biggest worries revolved around getting the hell out of the house with three toddlers. “Look!” He puffs his chest in my direction, showing me the Cub Scout sticker on his shirt. “The Boy Scouts came today. They make racing cars. They go camping. It’s so cool! Can I do it?”
Oh shit, I think. It’s TOO BIG. It would be easier to let him do it than to explain my objections. It is cool. They do go camping. The troop leader is the husband of a woman I really enjoy. But in my opinion they are on the wrong side of a human rights struggle that should have been put to rest with other arguments against equality four decades ago and the problem, I remind myself, is not the size of the clothes or the book or the issue, it’s my perception of my son.
“I know it sounds really fun and it probably is, but the thing is, Gee, that not everyone is allowed into the Boy Scouts. They discriminate against people.”
“Gay people. You know how mom and dad are in love and they’re married? Well some men love other men and some women love other women like you learned at [crunchy-waldorfy-granola] school that some kids have two mommies or two daddies?” I salute you, crunchy waldorfy granola school and all you hold dear.
“Yeah. I know.”
“The Boy Scouts won’t let them race cars or go camping. They won’t let dads and moms who are gay be leaders either. That’s called discrimination and I don’t think it’s okay.”
“But what if they don’t want in.”
That’s the crux of it. That’s the test. We can justify anything if we just keep telling ourselves that it’s fine the way it is because no one’s complaining. “If the door isn’t open, we’ll never know who wants to come in. We can’t see them.”
“So, we have to let everyone in all the time?”
That would be easy too, wouldn’t it, but my lawyer’s soul won’t allow it. Children ask when they’re ready to understand, I believe that.
“No. We can set standards. Governments set standards and groups set standards. Schools and teams decide who can come in and who can not, but ideally as a first step, if we choose between people, it should always be about what they’ve done, never who they are. Like when I say, anyone who cleans up the basement can have a treat, that means that you get a treat or not based on what you do. But if everyone cleaned up and then I said, ‘oh only GIRLS can have the treat because I like them better, that’s not right because you all did the same work, you can’t change who is a boy and who is a girl. That’s who you are.
“People are boys or girls, they are fairer or darker, they are gay or straight, they are Christian or agnostic or Jewish, they are tall or short.
“People do or don’t follow rules, they do or don’t behave kindly, they do or don’t hurt others. You see? It can be really hard to tell the difference sometimes because we say it wrong a lot. Like I might say “you ARE naughty, go to your room. But I’m saying it wrong. You behaved naughtily. You made naughty choices or did something naughty. You aren’t naughty. Naughty isn’t a state of being, it’s a choice. Sometimes, grown ups say it wrong on purpose.
“We have to ask our ourselves: Is it okay to keep people from joining us when they didn’t do anything but love someone else? Is love what we do? Or is it who we are?”
Standing beside a thick pine trunk, he looks at me with frown lines between his eyes. The tree soars above his head, its needles and pine cones scattered around his feet. Maybe he’s tired of hearing me talk or maybe he’s taking it all in. He picks up a pine cone and throws it at the sidewalk where it explodes into sharp brown fragments against the cement. Does it really matter, I think, if he’s in the Boy Scouts or if he isn’t? We’re little. Little people in a little school in a small town. But if a million little people teach something important that’s huge. And if millions of little boys learn big ideas, that’s the future.
“I really wanted to race those cars,” he says and then he shrugs and runs ahead, so little compared to the maples and the cars, and the stretch of our road laid out in yellow and gold and green at his feet, but the biggest thing in this world to me.
It’s all about perception.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too:
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or, being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same:
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build’em up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss:
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much:
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!