As some of you may know, my son, Ryan, is 3 1/2. He is extremely well-spoken and polite, and he has a compassion for others that most adults could learn from. He is small for his age, with sandy-blonde ringlets that fall just below his shoulders. We have been growing his hair out to donate, and in doing so, I have been teaching him a lesson in humanity — the importance of helping people less fortunate than ourselves, in whatever way we can.
Our family, if not always supportive, has (more or less) had the good sense to keep their opinions to themselves with regards to telling Ryan he “looks like a girl”. Friends — being from a younger, more liberal and socially-minded generation — have been behind us on this 110%. All in all, my son is being brought up in a positive, encouraging environment; imagine my surprise when he started coming to me in tears, because he didn’t want to “look like a girl” anymore.
I didn’t understand where this was coming from. Ryan likes to dress like all the other boys in his daycare — Toy Story, Cars, monster trucks, skateboards. His favourite colours are red and blue, and he wears them almost daily. Though he has a rounded face, it’s still pretty masculine, and even his voice suggests he’s a boy. So what was the problem?
As it turns out, the problem was the total strangers who, on a daily basis, feel it is okay to approach my son and I and voice their closed-minded, uninformed opinion on the matter of his hair — a matter which, I daresay, is none of their business. They ignore his clothes, his face, his voice. They call him Princess, or Little Lady. They tell him he’s pretty. And when he politely says, “I am a boy,” they rarely even acknowledge that he has spoken to them.
I have discovered that there are actually people who have the audacity to say to him, “Your mother should really take you for a haircut!” or, “Tell your mommy that you look like a little girl.” And I’ve always handled these situations by swallowing my temper, and smiling and saying, “Oh, that’s okay… He gets it a lot.”
But you know what? It’s not okay. It’s not okay at all. These people made my son doubt himself. At his age, that’s a crime. And though I would speak to him about the situations after the fact, I feel that what he really needed was for me to defend him in the moment. But, for the sake of being polite, I didn’t. Good manners are very important to me, but in those instances, I made them more important than my son’s happiness. I let him down.
Today, while we were sitting in our local coffee shop, yet another person asked me how old my “daughter” is, and my son piped up and said, “Actually, I’m a boy.” Once again, his voice went unheard, and the woman continued to prattle on about what a beautiful girl I had. We left the cafe, ran a couple errands, and came home. We’d been there not five minutes when I found my son in the bathroom with a pair of scissors, cutting the front of his hair and crying.
I’m taking him next week for his first haircut, because I can’t bear to see him upset over this anymore. I’m a little sad, because his hair isn’t long enough to donate, but it’s his decision; I’m not going to force him to grow it out if he doesn’t want to. Mostly, though, I am angry — angry that, in this case, peoples’ ignorance has trumped the lesson that a mother was trying to teach her child.
Rest easy, naysayers. As of next week, my son will finally look “like a boy”. Mission accomplished.
Love is a beautiful thing. A beautiful, slightly confused thing.
I received your letter this morning and I must say I am not the least bit pleased. You brag and gloat that you got the face of the world’s largest youth movement to go mad. To tear off his clothes and cry out to the Enemy in the streets for all the world to see. You list the lies you whispered…