On Tuesday Meghan and Simeon went shoe shopping. They came home empty handed but Simeon knew what shoes he liked the most. They are a pair of kids Nike running shoes.They are light blue with a pink swoosh mark. They are girls shoes;
There were a few reasons why Meghan didn’t buy the shoes while they were out. The biggest reason was the shoes were out of stock. They also were $30 more than we wanted to spend and of course they are girls shoes.
I am trying to be a ‘modern man’ hence the name of the blog. But the idea of buying girls shoes for my son pushed past my limit. I don’t want to. In the end we didn’t. Partly because of the shoe, partly because of the lack of availability, but mostly because we were able to buy a pair of DC shoes for less. At least that is what I am telling myself.
I don’t think pink is a girls colour. I don’t worry that wearing shoes that are arbitrarily placed in the girls section will affect the person my son is developing into. I worry about bullies. My son is such a sweet boy. He is friendly and polite, and kind. I want him to stay that way for as long as he can.
He doesn’t know yet that there are people out there that won’t learn to share. He doesn’t know yet that there are people out there who won’t learn hands are not for hitting. He doesn’t know yet that there are people out there who won’t learn to only say nice things. He doesn’t know yet that there are people out there who won’t like him. People that won’t want to be his friend, people who will refuse to see that he has immense value. He doesn’t know how cruel people can be.
But I know.
I haven’t done a lot in my life that causes me to feel guilt. But the way I treated a classmate named Chris in elementary and junior high is one of them. Chris was a pudgy, socially awkward kid who never seemed to make friends. I was a gangly, scrawny hyper kid that had a few friends. By the time I made it to middle elementary I understood the way popularity worked. I understood I was not very high up the social ladder. But I understood that Chris was lower.
The sad thing is I think we could have been friends. I went over to his house once. We played with his very large collection of Ninja Turtles and Transformers. I had fun. When I got back home some of my small group of friends asked if I had gone out to play with Chris. I said ‘yes’. They informed me that he was ‘gross’ and ‘weird’ and that I shouldn’t have done that. I got the message. I could be their friend or his friend but not both.
The next day Chris came over to talk with me, his new friend. I pretended we hadn’t played together the day before. I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about. I am not sure if anyone has ever looked at me with such hurt and betrayal again as he did that day. I bet he went to bed the night before glad to have finally made a friend. Only to discover the next day he hadn’t. I felt bad, but I was scared. I was already teased some, and I didn’t want to be teased more.
Grade six was worse. Kids picked on Chris more and more. While I tried to keep my head down desperately hoping not to be next. One day in the spring after days of rain the playground turned into a mud pit. Chris came walking through the mud. I told him that it was a bad idea, that he would get stuck. But he didn’t listen. He walked into the middle of this mud puddle and instantly sunk to his shins. He was stuck.
What happened next is the moment in my life that I am now most ashamed of. Instead of running to get our teacher or lunch monitor for help I got some of my friends. We ran back to Chris and laughed. In no time at all everyone in grade 5-6 was standing around Chris pointing and laughing. He cried, and yelled, and begged for help. And we laughed. We laughed for so long we missed hearing the lunch bell ring. The staff finally came out to find out what was happening. Once they did they quickly sent us back to class and helped Chris get out of the mud.
I knew on that day what I did was wrong. But I did it anyway. I was scared. I was so scared that one day I would find myself being the person that everyone picked on, that everyone teased, that everyone laughed at. For years I told this story to people like I was a master story teller. It was my claim to fame. I was there first. We laughed at Chris again and again.
Chris disappeared part way through junior high. The rumour is he moved out West.I still don’t know if that is true. He never told anyone. Who would he have told? After he moved I was sure I would be next. I would be the butt of all jokes, of all cruelty, of all jockeying for popularity.
But then I changed. I met a girl that went to another school. I found when I wasn’t at my school I had a lot more confidence. People didn’t know I was a nerd. So I wasn’t when I was somewhere else. I was a charming, and somewhat good looking guy. That girl and I dated pretty much for two years. In that time I learned to see myself the way she saw me, not the way the people who picked on me saw me. By grade nine the ones who wanted to pick on me couldn’t anymore. Their words didn’t mean anything to me.
I have been bullied. And I have participated in bullying. I felt the crushing weight of what people thought of me. And I felt the uplifting power of what people thought of me. I was scared that I would get bullied more. Now as I watch my children grow I am scared that they will be bullied. Maybe even bullied to death.
Is that a good reason not to buy my son light blue and pink sneakers? I don’t know. But here I am 18 years later and I am feeling that same fear for my kids that I felt for myself in grade six.
**Thank you for reading this post and all of your feedback. The story continued on a little after I posted this. You can hope over to Pink Shoes Continued to see the shoes Simeon picked in the end.**
SUCH hard decisions. And then the question is, if we tell our sons that they can’t wear these shoes, will they then go and bully those who are wearing them?
This was a hard, but good read, Christopher. I hope our children are never on either side of that bullying fence. And I hope Simeon loves his new sneakers!
You raise a good point Laura. Do we do the thing that in theory makes one child safer, or try to do the thing that makes them all safer even if that possibly puts your child at risk. Hard choices.
When I looked at the photo of the shoes, I wouldn’t have assumed they were girls shoes at all. I think it’s up to you to give your kids the tools to be confident in their choices. If we aren’t encouraging them to participate in things they enjoy, like those really awesome shoes, then we might be missing out on something amazing about our children. Just teach him to own it! If a kid bullies him because he has pink on his shoes, teach him how to respond and how to talk to you and your wife about it, as well as telling the teacher right away. It’s up to us as parents to help break through these ridiculous gender barriers in socialization. I know one parent who sent her son to school with painted pink toes and finger nails. You know what happened? All of the boys wanted their nails painted pink too! Why? Because he was so proud and happy with his pink nails that he made it super exciting and awesome for everyone in his class. I just think if we are complacent and if we subtly or not so consciously suppress our kids expression of themselves, then we’re creating a world where bullying still has grounds, based on gendered colours, where everyone continues to walk around like sheep. I just don’t think we should live in fear. Tell your son your bullying stories and use other times in his life to tell him to look out for those kids, have compassion and be a leader in his community, he can set the standard for his classmates that that is not acceptable behaviour. Everything our kids do is learned, as is everything we do, so be an amazing teacher and give him the tools to do his thing! I know parenting is the hardest thing in life ever, but I’m in your corner. YOU CAN DO IT! Clearly, this comment comes as no surprise, coming from me! Hehe
I love this comment, and I agree with you intellectually. I know we need to push the envelope and stretch ourselves and not live in fear. But I also know I was told my whole life to befriend the friendless. And I couldn’t. Most of the teens I have worked with over the years couldn’t either.
I will tell my stories, and hope my children learn from my mistakes, and be better people than their father.
Ha, ha , ha. Funny story about the kid stuck in the mud …. Oh wait.
I feel like bullying has changed from when we were kids, but it still exists and always will in one form or another. Kids need to know that it happens, and be taught how cope with it beyond a restriction on ‘girls shoes’.
I agree, the girls shoes are hardly the problem. Because if it wasn’t that it would be one out of thousands of other things.
One of the things that I think makes bullying a lot different now that when we were growing up is the inability to escape. When I got home I was free. When kids get home now social media dog them at every turn.
Good post, whether we want to admit it or not, most of us have been a bully at one point or another and it’s hard to admit that. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks Grant, I think you are right at one time or another we have all been a bit of a bullly
Every now and then Chris wanders into my thoughts. And a few others too. What bothers me the most about it is that we were ‘the good kids’ and still couldn’t avoid that pitfall. I hope we can teach our children better, but I can’t fathom how…
I hear you Melissa, that is my concern too.
I actually just tried looking Chris up on facebook, couldn`t find him. I feel horrible for the way we treated him. Like you my whole reason for being mean to him was to keep the heat off me. I was bullied quite a bit and thought it would be soooo much worse if Chris wasn`t around to take the brunt of it.
I had no self esteem. I didn`t like me. I thought I was worthless. I was weak and scared. I wasn`t taught how to deal with bullies, especially how to deal with being the bully.
I hope to give Logan a much different childhood than mine. I hope to show him everyday how amazing and loved he is. I want him to be comfortable in his own skin, whatever form that skin may be. I want him to love who he is. I hope to teach him about our experiences and how to deal with similar situations.
I want to arm him with the tools and confidence to go to school in `girls` shoes if he so chooses.
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I worry about the same things, kids really are cruel. Thanks for sharing your story. Its really great to look back and admit to the mistakes we made as kids. Its like sending an “I’m sorry” to the universe and I’m sure Chris grew to be a very self-assured man who learned much. We learn from being teased and teasing. So much tough learning in childhood, especially at school.