At the park today, Brandon took off his socks and shoes when he saw the other kids were running around barefoot. As usual, he immediately pointed out his painted toenails, saying, “look at my pretty toes! They’re red!” Until today, he never received any push back on that. He is a three-year-old boy, and he spends a majority of his time with his mama. He wants to be like me, and when he saw me painting my toes he asked if he could have painted toes, too. Who am I to deny him being like his mom? I mean, I’m awesome, he will be too!
But the boy he said that to today didn’t think it was awesome or cute or funny. This boy is a macho type boy – barefoot, tan from so much time outside, and (get this) not wearing a shirt. Neither was his older brother or his dad, and his dad would periodically start doing chin-ups on the playground bars, so you see who he’s idolizing and it’s a far cry from the painted toes type. “But you’re a boy,” Macho Boy protested. Brandon, always the corrector, never the correctee, replied, “no, I’m not a boy, I’m a Big Boy.” I grinned at that. It didn’t even phase him that Macho Boy said he shouldn’t have painted toes because he’s a boy. He just took the last word, ultra-confident and confusing the hell outta Macho Boy. My boy.
Today’s exchange did remind me that one day soon, Brandon will be surrounded by people other than me. People that might not smile and nod when he lets his freak flag fly, the way I do. I have noticed that since I’ve stayed home, Brandon has really come into his own, flourished even (if I am to pat myself on the back, and I am). He is realizing who he is, what he likes. He says what he feels, reacts outwardly to every emotion. He talks back and is bossy. Basically, he is me, but with softer edges (or maybe that’s just the childhood halo still on his head). I can dig it, but I’m not so sure about everyone without Mom Goggles.
Peer pressure gets a pretty bad rap for obvious reasons, but I do believe there is some good in it. It is because of peer pressure that you learn to stand up for yourself. Your morals are defined as your friends try to push you outside of them. Peer pressure more quickly illuminates who you are by showing you all these other people you aren’t. Peer pressure teaches you to see things from a point of view besides your own, and hopefully, in that you become considerate, respectful, and kind to others. Other people show you this little world of yourself isn’t reality, and push you outside of it, off the diving board, into the deep end.
But that bad rap part of peer pressure scares the hell out of a mom. It can all go so wrong, instead of so idyllic. If your kid isn’t stubborn or doesn’t have a strong moral compass, if your kid aims to please and is always the follower, if your kid wants to be popular and liked (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?) peer pressure can take them somewhere they never would have gone within the safe confines of their family. Are kids being themselves in front of their family or in front of their friends? Friends push you to find yourself beyond the version that was already defined for you inside your family.
I thought about how just two years from now, Brandon will enter Kindergarten. I will walk him up the front steps of his elementary school, wearing his Thomas backpack, if he hasn’t outgrown it yet or learned it’s uncool. There he will spend every day with thirty other kids his age, some of whom are going to tell him he shouldn’t have his toenails painted or that his backpack is lame or that he’s a momma’s boy. This comfortable, accepting little bubble he has lived in will burst wide open and he’ll be there, amongst all these other fish, suddenly just a little one in a big pond.
I know these days are coming soon, and he will grow up and become responsible as we all do, and in that his edges will harden. One day he will realize that all of these personality traits we share aren’t as cute on an adult, and he will have to either push against them or strongly, stubbornly wear them with pride. “Stay little,” I whisper into his hair as he sleeps tonight. Parents always say that, knowing full well that isn’t possible. What we mean, when we say that, is stay optimistic, continue to love unconditionally, accept without judgments, and hell yes, let your freak flag fly!