When I was in fourth grade, I got a dog. Unfortunately, I named the poor creature Skit. He hung around through college and beyond. After I was married and had a place of my own, I came home to claim the wretched animal. My mom couldn’t let go of him. Somewhere along the way, he’d become her dog. This was a perfectly good arrangement for Charlie because he hated Skit. The feeling was mutual. But then again, Skit hated almost everyone. He tolerated me. He adored my mother. He, like everyone who’s ever met him, was bumfuzzled by my stepdad.
We were at their house one afternoon when my stepdad was watering his roses and other plants when he decided to water Skit. He turned the hose on that animal. The poor furball pulled his shoulders in, tucked his tail and hunched his head forward. He looked up at me with pitiful eyes as if to say, “What did I ever do to you?” My stepdad is not really a master of reading body language. He proclaimed, “He loves it!” Aside from his daily waterings, the dog did live a pretty good life.
I hadn’t seen that look on any creature since, until this morning. It’s the first morning it’s been actually cold this Fall. So I pulled out my son’s new hat. It’s Spider Man hat. And that’s like amazingly cool to six-year-old boys. I know it is because when I brought it home from the store a couple of months ago he rolled around on the floor like a puppy he was so excited to wear it. I don’t know what, but something changed between then and now.
He started arguing that he didn’t want to wear the hat. I told him it was cold, so get over it. We went back and forth a few times. Finally, I put my hand on top of his head so he couldn’t take the hat off. “Stop it! You are wearing the hat. It is cold. That’s enough.” He slumped his shoulders and looked up at me just like Skit with tears in his eyes, “But they will make fun of me…”
Oooph. Right in the gut. I took my hand and the hat off his head. “I’m sorry, buddy. I didn’t understand. OK. No hat today.”
My son is cool. Or at least he thinks he is. He’s the Kindergarten version of cool. And for some reason he doesn’t think that a Spider Man hat fits his image. Which is a whole other weird thing: my son has a self-image. I knew that happened, but I guess I didn’t realize it happened now.
On the way to school, I told him that he’s going to have to wear a hat. It doesn’t have to be a Spider Man hat, but he must stay warm. That’s just the way it goes. It’s my duty as a mom. He agreed. So we’re going to the store to select what I’m guessing will be a terribly dull hat together. But the thing is, I’m pretty sure that if he had worn the hat, his friends would not have laughed. I think they would have thought it was awesome. And at some point, he’s going to have to learn to trust me a little on some fashion issues. But today, he needed me to trust him. And I did.
I trust that his feelings are real. No one wants to feel foolish. No one wants to stand out for the wrong reasons. He’s allowed to present a version of himself that makes him feel confident. It just KILLS me that he didn’t like that hat.