I usually love Halloween. I used to very much enjoy the spooky stuff, but after I became a mom I found I didn’t like to be scared anymore. I guess motherhood was (and is) scary enough for me. But I do still enjoy dressing in costume. It can be fun transforming into someone or something else.
One of my sons has always been intrigued with the scary side of Halloween. He liked looking at the scary decorations even as a two-year-old . He likes scary stories. He likes blood and gore and also the supernatural. The other one can do without it, but will read Harry Potter and Percy Jackson books without a problem. Well, except for wanting to leave the light on and occasionally climbing into my bed after a bad dream.
So, for the last couple of years, G has wanted to dress more on the scary side and it has been slightly more challenging to find costumes that appeal to C. Luckily, we begin talking about costumes somewhere around September so we’re able to come up with something. Last year, C wanted to be a turtle. While shopping in Walgreens, I perused the costume rack. Bingo. I showed him the costume. No, he says, not a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Just a turtle. Oooookaaay. But with a little ingenuity and some borrowed ideas from crafty friends and Pinterest, voilà:
It was pretty awesome if I do say so myself. But the best part for me was that C knew what he wanted to be and he stuck to it. He has always marched to the beat of his own drummer and while sometimes it is maddening for me because he can be a bit inflexible and it would be easier for me if he just was able to go with the flow, I admire him for being his own person and not letting popular trends or his brother or anything else dictate what he likes. It is not easy as a child to be different, but I want to cultivate his independent thinking and enable him to shape his own tastes in music and clothes and books and sports, and encourage him to ALWAYS do what feels right to him and not just follow the crowd.
Which is why I was so sad and disappointed yesterday evening when I watched his independence and uniqueness take a hit. At the Halloween party we attended, several children thought it would be OK to taunt C about his costume. This year, the popular costume for boys his age was scary mask/black cloak/scythe or other weapon accessory. In short, exactly what his brother wanted to wear:
But that isn’t C. One year, he thought maybe he wanted to be Dracula. I got the cape, fake teeth and makeup and when I got done applying it all, he hated it. Washed it off. Got his costume from the year before and called it a day. I was annoyed, but I learned something that day. He is who he is and if I love all the wonderful things that make him unique, I have to let him make his own choices (as long as they are safe, of course) and ensure he doesn’t lose that spirit.
We went through a lot of thoughts on costumes this year. At one point, he thought “panda”. I was a little dubious about pulling that one off as spectacularly as the turtle, but was willing to support whatever he came up with. Ninja, Captain America, soldier; all considered and discarded. C loves archery and received a bow and arrow set for his birthday this year. So, I suggested: Robin Hood.
It had come to my attention in the late summer that the boys had never heard the stories of Robin Hood. I don’t know how this happened because it has always been one of my favorites, my family always went to the Renaissance Faire when I was growing up, I basically wanted to be Maid Marian…I could go on. We started with the rather awesome Disney version of Robin Hood and then I took them to the NY Renaissance Faire which is pretty much the best in the country. We met Robin Hood and joined his band of merry men and all received a little bow and arrow medallion for doing so. C loves to wear his.
Now if C was a girl, I probably would have suggested he be Katniss Everdeen. After all, I’m not totally behind the times. But Robin Hood is a classic and as a fit for my strongly independent young archer, it was perfect.
I mentioned the costume choice to a fellow parent who said she had a green tunic and hat from an old costume that might help. I looked everywhere for brown boots, but we settled for very realistic looking black boot covers. I thought I had a pair of pirate breeches that I could re-purpose for pants, but I didn’t. The only black pants we seemed to have were from another year, another costume.
As he pulled them on, he said, “Wait, these are leggings.”
I conceded that they were.
“Are they girl leggings or boy leggings?”
“Well, leggings are leggings, dude. They are sort of gender neutral.”
He shrugged. “Meh, I don’t really care.”
“Are you sure? We can find something else maybe.”
But he didn’t care. Because once he put the whole costume on, he looked amazing. Yes, it was a touch “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” but really, it was a little boy’s costume. And he is a little boy. The pants were no different than any superhero pants. We went to the Cub Scouts Halloween party on Wednesday and everyone loved it. He was a happy little Robin Hood.
Until last night. At the party, he came in from where he had been running around with all the other kids outside. I could tell that he was upset. He gets a certain look. I asked him what was wrong and he just snapped at me. He asked me to put his bow and arrow and hat in the car.
“Nobody even knows who I am.”
“Sure, they do! And if they don’t, tell them!”
Pause. Lip tremble, and Mommy’s hackles go straight up.
“Are they teasing you?”
“They don’t know who I am. They are saying I’m Peter Pan. In tights.”
“You aren’t wearing tights.”
“I’m never going to be this costume again. It’s so stupid.”
“Your costume is NOT stupid. You loved it at Cub Scouts. You look great!”
“That’s just because all the adults knew who I was. Kids don’t.”
I could tell he was done talking about it because he was coming close to tears and I didn’t want him to get that upset. I knew nothing I could say would make it better and I knew he just wanted to go run around with his friends. I asked where his brother was in all this. But before even asking, I had a sinking feeling that he was a part of the taunting crowd.
I asked C if he wanted to change. He had shorts that he could put over the pants that were loose, if he was bothered by their cruel comments. But he didn’t want to. I talked to his twin and told him that I was extremely disappointed that he didn’t stand up for his brother.
“It was funny. We were only kidding.”
And just like that my heart broke. How many kids suffer because the crowd was only “having a little fun” at their expense? How many kids go along with the crowd because it is easier and seemingly harmless? How many kids who have been on the receiving end of such teasing, will STILL turn around and make fun of someone else?
I’ve always known that kids can be cruel. I had my moments of being “on the outs” of the cool kids and being bullied, even, in middle school. It hurts. And I was not some trend-setter or a unique person or someone who stood out from the crowd. Somehow, I thought I had a few more years before that started for my kids, although I was warned by a teacher last year that cliques were starting to be formed even amongst the boys.
My “little” boys are now faced with peer pressure. I’ve glimpsed what it will be like on each end: what a child risks by being an individual and what a child gives up to be accepted by the crowd. Being different isn’t easy. But being the same can also be dangerous.
I was happy to see that C was able to shake off the teasing. One of his friends took on the role of “bodyguard” and told everyone to knock off the jokes. He also stuck by C and agreed that it was “stupid and annoying” that the other so wouldn’t let the joke drop and they went off and played elsewhere until the kids got bored of the teasing and found something else to focus on. But, I was more than a little pissed overall. Especially when a parent suggested to me, all in “good fun” of course, that if I didn’t want my kid to be teased I shouldn’t have dressed him in tights. Fuck that. Excuse my French. And no wonder kids will tease when parents condone it.
There were teaching moments all over the place last night. I missed some, but nailed others. G received a lesson in family loyalty. And my awesome, sleepy, little Robin Hood got a lesson in Shakespeare before he went to bed.
To thine own self be true. The hardest lesson anyone, adult or child, needs to learn. Sometimes it takes people their whole lives to even figure out who they really are. I told C how incredibly proud of him I was, not only for the way he handled the teasing, but because he is his own person. He knows what he likes and he is true to himself no matter what. And I’ll be damned if I let the world tell him it isn’t good enough and try to turn him into a lemming. I let him know that it might be difficult sometimes to be different from the crowd, but that staying true to yourself is the most important thing to do. Because school ends and the rest of life begins and the “popular” kids don’t always succeed, but people who have their own minds do. Knowing one’s own heart and mind and following it and loving it are the keys to happiness. And I will do everything in my power to help him hold on to that.