One of my darling boys was honored as one of the Students of the Month in the fourth grade classes. They put a big emphasis on character, as well as academics, and I think it is a good thing to start ingraining in these young students’ minds; that what they do, and how they do it, counts for just as much as regurgitating answers on a test.
Ironically, this same child challenges me every step of the way at home. Don’t get me wrong, he’s very loving. He’s very smart. He can be incredibly kind and affectionate. He’s also so stubborn I forget that he’s a child sometimes. And argumentative. And relentless. I guess, in some ways it isn’t so ironic since these traits are also what helps him succeed in school and will serve him well in his adult life if he learns how to manage them: he’s persistent, he questions everything, he won’t back down from a challenge, he will stand up for what he believes to be right no matter what. And–he doesn’t really care what anyone thinks.
Now, in theory, it’s good to be your own person. It’s admirable to be someone who isn’t easily swayed by the crowd. I don’t worry too much about peer pressure with him. He’s a classic example of “marching to the beat of his own drummer”. However, the flip side of that coin is he is sometimes insensitive to other people’s feelings. He becomes singularly focused and acts like it’s his way or the highway. And I know that he is only nine and that eventually he will mature and some of these traits will mellow into a happy medium where I see just the coin, instead of the positive heads and negative tails. But sometimes it is harder to focus on the big picture and I end up mired in the negative parts.
This morning when he was getting dressed I told him to wear something presentable. He put on this nice button down blue shirt. He combed his hair (more on the hair later). He brushed his teeth. He was looking very handsome and proud and ready for his recognition breakfast. I was satisfied.
Then, he began unbuttoning his shirt. He also has this tendency to wear a nice shirt and leave it hanging open with his undershirt showing which isn’t my favorite look, so I told him that when he came in for the ceremony, he should rebutton.
“I’m not wearing this shirt”.
“Why not? You look so nice! It’s perfect”. One of these days, I will learn reverse psychology.
“I don’t like it.” He starts opening his dresser drawers and I know there is nothing in there. He’s already missed the bus for school and I’m going to have to drive him. This is the sort of thing that makes me nuts. But why? It’s a shirt. Who cares?
“What about this one? Is this nice?” He holds up a wrinkled, possibly dirty, stained t-shirt that once upon a time was pretty nice as far as t-shirts go, but that time had passed.
“No! It’s stained and wrinkled!”
He huffs and puffs back to his room. I follow.
“Don’t you want to look nice? There will be a lot of people there. Do you want your friends’ parents to think you are a slob? That your mommy doesn’t care about the way you look or dress or that your mommy doesn’t take care of you?”
He couldn’t care less. I care. That’s obvious. It was even more obvious to me as I began my little spiel.
“No one said we had to dress nice!” he yells.
“But don’t you want to look nice? Have some pride!”
We open his closet where several nice polo shirts and button down shirts are hanging. He chooses the shirt he wore for school pictures. Excellent. I leave the room to get my keys so I can bring him to school.
Then I hear the dresser drawers again. I come out of my room and he has on another wrinkled t-shirt, BACKWARDS, no less…
“But I don’t want to wear a button down, it’s not comfortable! I don’t want to! No one else cares!” He starts stomping and doing his impression of a three-year old not getting their way.
At this point we are late and now I’m going to end up having to wear sweatpants to this thing if we don’t get our acts together.
“Fine!” I yell while doing my own spoiled child impression and stomping into his room looking through the paltry selection of ratty t-shirts. “Look like a ragamuffin! Look like your mom doesn’t take proper care of you. Let people wonder whose mom lets them get an award in messy clothes.”
Now I’ve realized that I’m more concerned about what his appearance says about ME than I care about what he’s comfortable in. We go into his brother’s drawer and he pulls out a faded tie-dye shirt that we got on vacation in San Diego. “How about this one?”
I look it over dubiously. There doesn’t appear to be any visible stains, but who can really tell on a tie-dye? I insist on ironing it and then we race out the door so that he is not late to school on the day he is getting an award for showing good character, assumedly punctuality counts for something.
“What would you think if I wore sweatpants to your award?” I asked, because I can’t let it drop. “Wouldn’t you be embarrassed?” He shrugged. “This is why parents dress up for work. What if I wore sweatpants to work? What do you think they would say? I mean, when you grow up, you have to look presentable. You should always have pride in your appearance. Wearing jeans for adults is dressing down, not dressing up! You think if you wear jeans and a clean t-shirt it is dressing up!!…”
I went on for a while and the kid, to his credit, just let me ramble. Because as I’m going on about the clothes and thinking about how much it really matters in the grand scheme of things, inevitably I came to my own conclusion.
“I guess there are more important things to worry about, huh, bud?”
“That’s right, mom.”
Maybe this kid is on the right track, after all. Being comfortable in your own skin is more important than what other people think. If people are going to judge him or me by his tie-dye shirt and his messy “he-is-growing-it-out-and-it-is-in-the-awkward-stage-and-he-hasn’t-quite-gotten-the-hang-of-gel” hair, let them. They don’t know all the awesome things about him. They don’t know all the awesome things about me as a mom. And if they want to judge a book by its cover, they will miss out on one hell of a story.