I have 4-year-old twin boys. Both are your typical little boys. Dirt, bugs and mud excite of them. They look identical, but they are two completely different boys. This is an important distinction to make. Most times they are lumped together as the twins, Alex and Ben. For this reason, I don’t dress them in identical outfits, and nothing illustrates that more than when we went to the shoe store last week. It was your typical outing—nothing out of the ordinary except the fact that Ben wanted pink sparkle girls’ shoes.
Ben has a flare for fashion. He likes pink and purple and frilly and sometimes lacy. Last Halloween, he picked out a pink plastic pumpkin for trick-or-treating. He loves that pink pumpkin. It’s one of his most prized possessions. So, it didn’t surprise when he picked out the pink, sparkle shoes. It made me laugh—until I had to tell him no. I told him the truth: They weren’t very practical for playing in mud, and he wouldn’t want to get them dirty. We were there to buy sneakers—sneakers to play in, to get dirty with. He accepted my reasons and picked out a pair of respectable boys’ sneakers. Crisis averted.
As I was paying for their two pairs of little boys’ sneakers, I thought about why I really said no to the pink, sparkle shoes. I said no because I didn’t want him to be bullied. I didn’t want him to feel shame for his shoes. More importantly, I didn’t want him to feel shame for who he is and what he likes. I was protecting him. I was protecting his feelings, shielding him from an unforgiving world, and saving his innocence.
But I couldn’t help but want to buy him those shoes. What is more important, teaching him to be himself or shielding him from the cruelness of kids? Was I really protecting his feelings? Innocence is a quality only children and animals have. I want to keep their innocence for as long possible. Times are changing, and people are far less likely to judge a little boy with pink sparkle shoes now than 50 years ago, but there are still mean-spirited, close-minded people in this world. I don’t want him to discover that fact just yet. According to Ben, they are just pretty sparkle shoes that he wants to wear. And I didn’t buy them.
I didn’t buy them. I should have bought them. I should have used shoe-shopping to teach a lesson: “Be proud of who you are. Be unapologetic, love yourself and love the people around you.” I didn’t do that. I did the exact opposite. By not getting those shoes, I indirectly said, “Hide who you are. Be like all the other little boys and wear these sneakers. Blend in. Don’t have an individual voice. You won’t get hurt that way. You can stay innocent forever.”
That is not the way I ever wanted to raise my boys. I’ve been teaching them from day one to embrace difference and to accept that no two people are the same. That’s what makes us great, and that’s what makes this life so wonderful. I taught them to be kind and gentle, to respect others and animals. I taught them to love with every bit of their hearts. Now, with this one mundane outing, I’ve taught Ben to follow in the path of others and hide himself.
He has no idea that pink sparkle shoes are made for girls. He has no idea that little boys don’t wear sparkles and tutus. He has no idea that his pink pumpkin was made for little girls, and the green and blue ones were made for little boys like him. He just knows that he likes sparkles and dressing up. He knows that his twin brother likes red and Spider-Man. Ben knows that he likes My Little Ponies and the color pink. But that’s all he knows. Is it so wrong for a mother to want to keep it that way for as long as possible? When he is older and finding out who he is, is he going to remember the day I said no to the pink sparkle shoes? Will that change the way he sees himself, how he feels about himself? I hope not.