(This piece also appears on The Huffington Post.)
An entire wall of Hallmark Christmas ornaments loomed large in the gift shop at Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel. My seven-year-old son, Harry, his dad, Ken, and I had passed it several times during our visit in December 1997. So while Ken checked us out of the hotel, I took Harry to the shop for a souvenir.
As a toddler, Harry’s favorite ornaments were the sparkly fragile ones that usually ended up in a box labeled “Repairs.” But all of these in the shop he could touch.
Harry stood spellbound in front of the stacked rows of bright-colored ornaments. Sledding mice, ice-skating bears, and bicycle-riding Santas dangled from hooks among boxed “Keepsake” ornaments of famous sports figures, Disney and Star Wars characters, and holiday Barbies.
“Do you want to pick out an ornament just for you?” I asked.
“Yes!” he said, eyes twinkling like holiday lights.
“Well, Dad and I will get you whichever one you want.”
And before I could take a step to search for my own favorite, Harry tugged on my coat.
“Okay, that one,” he said pointing up.
“This one?” I asked, touching a box with a picture of Bugs Bunny on the front.
As I slid the box off its hook, I saw that the wacky wabbit was wearing lipstick, a sarong and a hat that looked like a fruit bowl. This was Bugs Bunny as Carmen Miranda. I smiled as I handed it to Harry.
“This is a great ornament, Harry.”
And then, as he examined the box with a grin, a Christmas bulb went off in my head. Of course, he wanted the Bugs Bunny in drag ornament. This was the boy whose favorite play area in kindergarten had been the dress-up corner and who still struck poses at home wearing a pink skirt and my rhinestone-strapped wedding heels. I remembered, too, that Space Jam, starring Bugs Bunny and Michael Jordan, was one of his favorite movies.
The carrot-munching cartoon character was Harry’s hero. He was flip. He was funny. He often disguised himself as a woman to outwit those on the hunt for rabbit. And he thought it was fun to wear lipstick. I realized that Bugs and the other occasional Warner Brothers cartoon cross-dressers were the only children’s TV characters that validated my young son’s desire to dress in girls’ clothes.
My heart swelled as I patted Harry’s head. He was happy, and so was I. Because while too many people questioned my young son’s preferences, and therefore my skills as a mother, we both stood strong with a cartoon rabbit who carried an anvil in his pink purse.
As I hung that Bugs Bunny ornament front and center on my Christmas tree this year, I wondered if the parents who criticized NBC for televising the Kinky Boots number in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade allowed their children to watch Bugs Bunny cartoons. And if so, however did they explain Bugs Bunny in a dress?
When those parents do talk to their kids about Bugs Bunny, Kinky Boots, or the role models on Sez Me, the new children’s web TV series, I hope they’ll remember that it’s okay for women to wear pantsuits and the Pope to wear a long robe. I hope they’ll realize that clothes are just clothes and that, like colors, there need not be boys-only or girls-only divisions. And I hope those adults will understand the simplistic similarity between people and snowflakes that kids everywhere already know: Each of us is unique and beautiful, and that no two of us, not even identical twins, are exactly alike.
And as Bugs Bunny once said, “Lady, if you don’t find a rabbit wearin’ lipstick amusing, then we ain’t got nothin’ to say to each other.”