Earlier this year I wrote about how I struggled to let K-Pants—then five—pick pink, bedazzled light-up shoes.
I was worried about the world making fun of him for wearing girl shoes, but we decided that was not a good reason to say no. And those pink shoes have been worn everywhere.
The pink shoes post inspired my good friend Kelly to let her preschool son pick out a My Little Ponies sweatshirt he craved. This picture is of him and his sister blissed out with their new shirts.
I was so proud to see this—to know that we can walk these paths together.
But this past weekend I found myself back in the shoe aisle with K-Pants, looking for a pair of bright sparkly shoes that weren’t girl shoes. It only took one day at his new, big elementary school for K-Pants to be made fun of. I was heartbroken.
I watched him get on the bus for school wearing the most awesome rock-star shoes, and I picked him up embarrassed, having been pointed at by other kids, telling me he didn’t want to wear the pink shoes again. He wanted “bright, light-up shoes that they would think were boy shoes.” But he still wanted them to be pink. I was crushed. These shoes don’t exist.
I wanted to report back to Kelly that K-Pants was paving the way. That making the decision to wear the thing that’s not normal emboldened and armored him, and that her son, too, would be fine. I wanted K-Pants to say to those kids, “I’m a boy and I can wear pink shoes because I love pink things. And shiny things. And if mostly girls like pink things that’s fine, but I can like them, too. And I love football and baseball and Iron Man, and girls can like those things, too.” And then I wanted him to keep wearing his pink shoes, and to have tons of friends, and be the champion of all the other kids who don’t fit the mold.
I didn’t want him to give in.
I didn’t want to buy new shoes just so he could fit with everyone who teased him. They won, I thought. They’re shaming him and he’s changing who he is.
We talked to the teacher and kids at Boy Woww’s Montessori school, where they feel like kids can wear anything they want and there are no “girl” and “boy” colors. They have the power to enforce this in their magical, forested bubble.
We talked to our neighbor who taught K-Pants martial arts two summers ago. “Do you like your shoes?” he asked. “Yes,” K-Pants said. “That’s what matters. Now you have to decide if what other people say is important to you.”
We saw the elementary school principal the next day and told her what happened. “You should be able to wear whatever color of sparkly shoes you want!” she said; and she promised to talk to K-Pants’ teacher and the school counselor, who likes to talk to classes about inclusiveness.
We looked at pictures of boys wearing pink shoes that our friend Mana found. I’ve never been so grateful to the Susan G. Komen Foundation for getting athletes to wear pink.
Every day I casually bring up something related to the pink shoes. But they still sit at home.
And so I am reminded: nothing is simple. Allowing your son to choose bedazzled pink shoes does not magically arm him to deal with criticism and feeling singled out. Even the nicest kid might ask, “Are you wearing girl shoes?” They’re not trying to bully. K-Pants would say the same thing about something else to another kid. I thought the hard part was making the initial decision to let him get the pink shoes. But I wasn’t thinking about the bigger context: How do I raise this kid to be resilient and tenacious? How do I teach him to notice and be kind to others in similar situations? It’s an advanced emotional intelligence course, and the kid is six.
I don’t think he’ll ever wear the pink shoes to school again.
My friend Ali had this wonderful message for K-Pants when I asked about the pink shoe problem on the Momsicle Facebook page:
I’m sorry those boys laughed at you on the bus. The bus is hard. Maybe you will want to wear your awesome shoes to church or to the playground with your family. It’s okay to choose different things for certain situations. I’m traveling for work right now and wearing some shoes that I only wear for work things when I have to show a certain side of me. But at other times I choose to let it all out.
And my friend Anne gave me this advice:
He may be strong enough to just shrug and say “Whatever” if he gets teased, or he may decide to have different shoes for different moods. For sure his shoes are a twinkly sparkly announcement that he is his on his way to being his own man. This will not be the last time he will have to decide whether to run with the pack versus howl at the moon.
So the pink shoes may not be the fight he chooses to live and die by.
But he has still worn them to church. And he got off the bus a few days ago and said to me, “I saw a boy with a My Little Ponies backpack in another class.” “Did you tell him it was cool?” I asked. “No. He was older. But it was cool. It was shiny.” K-Pants is evolving, and beginning to put situations like this into a file in his mind. He may not have been paying attention if it weren’t for the pink shoes. If it weren’t for the pink shoes, he may have thought, “Why’s that kid wearing a girl backpack?” So even though the pink shoes are shelved for school, they still have some magic in them.