When we are small, our lives are totally defined by our experience. How our own life works is obviously how the entire world works.
One day, when my oldest son was about 3 years old, I came home from work to find him on the couch with a book in his lap, laughing hysterically.
"Hey baby," I said, as I put away by bag and keys. "What's so funny?"
He held up his book for me. It was a new one I hadn't read before.
"Is that a funny book?"
He nodded his head, barely containing himself, he was laughing so hard. It was contagious, and I was smiling as I sat down beside him on the couch.
"Show me what's funny."
He leaned the book over toward me, but I failed to see the humor. The picture just showed a woman in a kitchen at the stove. He pointed at the picture and through his giggles said, "Mommies don't cook."
Yes, in our house, mommies definitely don't cook. Well, I maybe cook once or twice a year for special occasions, but for all intents and purposes my husband does all the cooking. To my son the book was just so wrong that he could do nothing but laugh.
So maybe I shouldn't have been worried when an older relative tried to tell my son how he was supposed to feel.
For a few weeks he was referring to one of his friends at school as his "boyfriend." His class was going through one of those phases where all the kids were identifying someone as their boyfriend or girlfriend, and he'd picked a little boy in his class as his chosen. It wasn't a big deal, and we honestly didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it, until over a weekend, we saw some family, and this relative was talking to him about school, and my son mentioned his "boyfriend." This person felt it necessary to stop their conversation in order to correct my son and tell him that only girls had boyfriends and boys had girlfriends.
I heard this from across the room and was about to leap, ready to stomp it out, but before I could make my move, my kid's face screwed up into one of innocent confusion. "No," he said to this adult. "Rob is married to Joe. Sam is married to Toby. Julie is married to Sarah." He just shook his head, looking almost as if he felt sorry for this person who simply didn't know how the world worked. He then wandered off to find someone who wanted to talk about interesting things like Hot Wheels or Transformers.
Now, I don't think this person was trying to hurt my kid; they were just telling him how their world worked. But even without malicious intent, it's not OK for anyone to tell my son that what he's feeling is wrong. And that's exactly what they were doing.
Not that I don't get caught flat-footed myself, sometimes. One day, on our way to school in the car (this is where most deep conversations happen between us), we were going through the family and how everyone was connected. Ever since he started school last year, he has been fascinated with how all the people in our lives are connected to one another. Grandma and Grandpa were Daddy's mommy and daddy. Great-grandma is Mommy's grandma. Papa is Mommy's daddy.
"Papa doesn't have a wife," he stated.
"Yes, that's right, he doesn't have a wife."
"Who is his husband?"
"Papa doesn't have a husband."
"Why not? He doesn't have a wife."
Um... I sat for a minute as I realized that nearly every adult male in his life did have a husband when they didn't have a wife. "Papa doesn't want a husband."
"Why not? Who takes care of him?"
"Well, he has a girlfriend -- Sophie."
"So he kisses her and holds her hand and stuff?"
"That's right, baby."
"OK," he said in a tone that clearly displayed he wasn't buying it.
Right now the world is very simple to him. People marry someone they love, and everyone needs someone to take care of them. It's reinforced by what he sees every day. Facts are facts. And the rest of us are just running to catch up.