This morning is “Dress Like Your Favorite Book Character Day” at my kids’ public school. My 4th grader Sam is OVER dressing up for Book Character Day (that’s for babies). Drew, in 1st grade, tends to follow his older brother’s lead. Plus he knows that at school, he can be laughed at for something as simple as an untied shoe; Drew doesn’t want to risk attracting the ready negative attention of his peers.
Drew’s twin brother Zach, on the other hand, marches to the beat of his own drum. That is how he’s always been and how I hope he’ll always be. He dances when no one’s watching and when everyone is. He likes what he likes, whether it’s “cool” or not. He makes random observations, apropos of nothing. Sometimes he talks in a manly, deep voice, especially when he’s being serious (but of course it’s impossible to take a 6-year old seriously when he’s channeling James Earl Jones). He’s funny, and creative, and quirky, and fun, and sweet, and carefree, and he’s just . . . Zach.
The other day, Zach decided for Book Character Day he would wear the big, fuzzy, cushy, bright orange Tigger costume someone gave us for playing dress-up years ago. So this morning, I helped him put it on, wondering every minute if he would back out and change his mind. Sam whispered to me, “I am NOT walking Zach to the bus stop looking like that.” (Because his 6-year-old brother dressed as Tigger is going to ruin his 9-year-old rep. Obviously).
I shushed Sam, and Zach didn’t hear Sam’s denouncement, but just as he was about to go out the door, he turned to me and said, “What if all the kids laugh at me?”
I’ll be honest. The instinctive part of me as a Mom, the part that wants to protect my children from cruelty, scrutiny, and humiliation of any kind wanted to scream, “TAKE THE COSTUME OFF, BABY! DON’T GO OUT THERE!”
But the part of me that is so proud, so awed by her child’s individuality – the part that wants him to stand up and stand out and never let another person tell him what he can or can’t be, said “Well, honey, some might laugh in a nice way because it’s just very different to see friends in costumes at school, and that’s ok. If they’re laughing in a mean way or making fun of you, my bet is that they’re doing it because they themselves aren’t wearing a costume. Because they weren’t brave enough or creative enough to wear one.”
All I could see was the back of his striped Tigger head nodding, and he was strapping on his backpack before I even finished speaking. Sam bolted out the front door so as not to be infected by any of this brave creativity, and Drew was close behind him. I walked Zach out on the porch and watched as he padded alone down the sidewalk. A boy stopped and stared at him as he walked by. I could hear several of the older kids across the street yelling, “Who is that? Who’s dressed like Tigger?”
My heart thumped in my chest. My inner Mama Bear wanted to run down the sidewalk in my mismatched pajamas and walk beside him, shielding him from all the stares, and the pointing, and the laughing. I saw him pause for a minute, and I thought he might turn back and run home. But instead he held his head high, and I heard him yell back, “It’s me. I’m Zach.”
And I knew then that he was going to be ok. After all . . . he’s Zach.