When I went to pick up Chubbs from daycare one day, his teacher caught me in the hall before I entered the room. “I was going to call you,” she said, piquing my interest and raising a little fear. “We had a small accident. Somehow his diaper got unlatched and he had a bowel movement…all over his pants and socks. We had to let him borrow a pair of socks, and they have pink on them.”
I giggled at the idea of my little boy in pink socks. When we arrived home, I put the socks aside and washed Chubbs’s soiled clothing. I didn’t give the borrowed items a second thought.
The next morning, I told Chubbs it was time to get his socks and shoes so we could leave for school. He rarely reacts when I tell him this and so I didn’t expect cooperation, yet when I turned around, there was Chubbs on the couch with his sneakers — and the pink socks.
“You can’t wear those, Chubbs, those are girl socks,” I told him, wincing when I heard the words. I tried to recover by saying, “You can put them on later, but you’re going to wear your brown socks today because they match your pants.” But it was too late.
Chubbs began swinging his arms around with a pink sock in each hand, shouting, “GIRL SOCKS! GIRL SOCKS!” I sat and watched, feeling defeated.
Only a few days before, I was fortunate to attend a lecture by Gloria Steinem. I left feeling inspired to raise a compassionate, tolerant child and it didn’t take long before I slipped and found myself saying those horrible words: girl socks.
They are though, aren’t they? Department stores have everything neatly divided. Girl socks are pink or purple and have pretty ruffles on them. Boy socks are blue or red and decorated with trucks or trains. My brain’s processing of the Steinem lecture suddenly finalized and struck me like a lightning bolt when I heard myself utter that phrase, and the socks came to symbolize a fundamental issue I find myself encountering.
I want to raise my son without assigning damaging labels to things. I want him to think freely and respect everyone as people without regard to gender, age, “race” or sexual orientation. I want him to be his own person. The problem is that society as a whole does not take kindly to those that march to the beat of their own drum.
When instilling the belief in children that we can all be ourselves, shouldn’t we also help them be prepared to deal with a world that is going to give them a hard time if they do it? Children of nonconformist parents need to be particularly secure in their own being. It’s something that I never fully learned and am not sure how to teach.
How can a sensitive child feel free to express himself differently from others in a world where “different” is “bad?”
So the dilemma is this: do I try to control how my son thinks/acts/dresses to protect him from the ridicule of others? Or do I let him be himself and risk being unfairly judged (more than usual)? Will his resolve and my own be enough to make up for the judgments of others if Chubbs doesn’t “fit in?”
The world is a difficult place for children, who want nothing more than to be loved, have fun and make sense of things. How can a sensitive child feel free to express himself differently from others in a world where “different” is “bad?” Why is it okay for a girl to play with trucks but not for a boy to play-feed a baby doll? And why can’t boys wear pink socks? After all, no matter what color socks he’s wearing, Chubbs will still have the same beautiful feet.