My son does not like sports or really anything the world has decided is “boy stuff.” He likes costumes, stage makeup and singing his heart out. He follows his favorite Broadway stars on YouTube. His current favorite color is gold, and he loves things that sparkle.
I got one of those peel-and-stick nail kits at a party recently. (You know, the kind that’s supposed to be 100 times easier than carefully navigating the contours of your fingernails and patiently waiting for them to dry, only to wreck them 30 seconds later?) My son sat next to me while I pretended I was coordinated enough to apply these things to my nails. He was enthralled by the process. “So you just peel and stick them on and they’re dry? Your nails can be any of those colors?” he asked.
I showed him how I applied the next nail and offered to try one out on him. A few minutes later he had a full hand of silver nails. He thought they were the coolest and started rattling off costumes they might best accentuate.
A little while later I sent him outside to get his brother. He didn’t get more than five steps from our house before I heard a boy we barely know ask him, “WHY ARE YOU WEARING NAIL POLISH?” I watched the boy as he put his hand over his mouth, pretending to stifle a laugh aimed at my son.
I’m still working on how to navigate this stuff now that my son is getting older and more sensitive. When he came in a few minutes later, I couldn’t decide whether to admit I had heard the exchange or not, so I commented on his nails instead. “I’m so glad you didn’t peel those off yet. It looks like you have a mirror on every finger. So cool,” I told him.
And I guess that was enough because days later, he still has a full hand of silver nails. He hasn’t picked at the polish or asked how it comes off. He likes it, so it’s staying.
That night I talked to his sister about how we need to let everyone do their thing. How boys can like dance or hockey or silver nails, and how girls can play football or shave their heads or wear pink in a different shade every day.
It’s not really about accepting people for being different it’s about accepting every person for being uniquely them. Deciding to tolerate “different” means that somehow you’ve decided that you’re the norm.
Historically, sports-playing, muscle-flexing, jersey-wearing guys have been considered the epitome of tough, but I’ve witnessed a whole new kind of strength since becoming a mom to my uniquely-him boy. I’ve seen my son do his own thing even when it meant being alone. I’ve seen him shrug off the ridicule of a kid wearing football cleats. And I’ve heard him ask his sister without a bit of self-doubt how long this new nail polish stuff lasts because he’s hoping to keep it on until at least next Halloween.
Please teach your kiddos that there is no normal. Your kids can have all kinds of friends that are just like them, but their lives will be so much better if they find companions who look nothing like the person they see in the mirror every day. They’ve got a lot to gain by loving others not just in spite of what makes them different but because of it. Let’s teach our kids to use their hands to lift others up, rather than to laugh behind. And who knows, maybe in the process, they’ll get a few extra compliments on their fabulous nails.