The day before school started this year we went shopping for new gym shoes for the kids. The kids are picky, we’re cheap, and the stores had been pretty picked-over by responsible parents who didn’t wait until 18 hours before school to get new shoes, so it took us a while to agree on a pair for each of the older boys.
Cooper picked some pretty standard gym shoes, but we struggled a little more with Dexter. The ones he wanted weren’t available in his size or were too expensive; the ones we suggested he really didn’t like. Finally, he spotted something that caught his eye – Frozen shoes in the girls’ section. Dexter loves Frozen and princesses, and anything that sparkles or has a bit of flare. Not only were these Frozen shoes – with princesses – but they also lit up.
“Can I get them?!” he begged.
I winced a bit, not because they were in the girls section, but because I really don’t like Frozen, and I have an aversion to princesses. Still, I have to admit they were really cute shoes. Most importantly, they were on sale and they had his size. He tried them on, they fit, and we were good to go.
John stepped in to be sure he was prepared for what may come. “Dexter, there might be some kids, or maybe even grownups, who say those are girl’s shoes. They might tease you. What will you say if that happens?”
“I’ll say they’re not girl’s shoes; they’re my shoes and I’m a boy.”
Have I mentioned he’s a brilliant kid?
Dexter has his own sense of style. He went through a phase in preschool where he insisted on wearing overalls every day of school (three days a week), and another where he wore a brightly colored mohawk regularly. He puts a lot of thought into what he wears and loves to accessorize – hats, bow ties, suspenders, belts, etc. Of course, he spent a lot of time getting dressed the first day of school and he was really excited to wear his Frozen gym shoes. We took a hundred or so “First Day of School” pictures and put him on the school bus for the very first time.
When he got home Dexter told me about his teachers, his classroom, and his friends, and how a couple kids had made fun of his shoes. We talked about it and he didn’t seem upset; he told them exactly what he said he would and went on about his day.
The following day he said more kids made fun of him. This time it was mostly kids on the bus and he said it was a lot of them. Still, he didn’t seem upset. He shrugged and went back to playing.
And the third day no one mentioned his shoes.
He’s been wearing them for more than two weeks now. The world hasn’t ended. My son isn’t teased relentlessly. He’s happy and doing well, and he wears princess shoes every day.
I can’t take credit for Dexter’s confidence. I did not have the confidence he has when I was a child, and most days I still don’t. Although we’ve encouraged Dexter and his brothers to not worry about what other people say, I don’t think we can credit that for his confidence either; his older brother still tends to be sensitive about being teased, but Dexter has an innate confidence I’ll always try to emulate and encourage my other kids to emulate.
I know that my 5-year-old boy will be teased for wearing princess shoes, but I hope that instead of causing him pain or discomfort, it makes him stronger. I hope it helps him to realize that everyone is unique, and there is no need to try to be like others. I also hope that it teaches him not to tease other kids; he’s different in some ways, and other kids are different in other ways.
For now we want to teach him that sometimes people can be insensitive and that’s their problem and not his. He is amazing and wonderful and special, and will be no matter what anyone says. He has a confidence that I love and admire.