It was casual day at my five-year-old son’s school last week. He knew exactly what he wanted to wear: his rainbow unicorn leggings.
I remember the day we bought them. We went to a department store, and he stood in the middle of the boys’ clothing section.
“None of these clothes are pretty enough,” he announced.
So we went to the girls’ section. He chose the rainbow unicorn leggings and a fluffy top with a kitten on it.
My son has a great collection of leggings. As well as the rainbow unicorn ones, he has his gold ones and his Frozen ones. He wears them everywhere, except school. He’s been hanging out for a casual day when he can show everyone his rainbow unicorn leggings.
I was nervous.
When my son was little, it didn’t matter that his favourite colour was pink and he liked pretty things. But before he started school this year, I felt I had to gently explain to him than not all boys felt the same way.
But even as I was explaining it, I started getting annoyed with myself.
“Anyway, colours are just colours,” I added at the end. “They don’t belong to boys or girls. You just keep liking whatever colours you like.”
My son started school with a schoolbag that had a kitten on it. He wore his Frozen leggings on a casual day when everyone was told to dress in blue. He’s been growing his hair long and getting so impatient that he asked if he could have extensions. (No.)
I love his individual sense of style. But I’ve been quietly worried that the other kids might not appreciate his style in the same way I do.
Isn’t that what every parent fears – that their child will be teased or bullied? I just couldn’t bear to have him coming home in tears.
I don't want to see my son sad. Photo via iStock.
For some reason, the idea of him wearing rainbow unicorn leggings to school made me more nervous than anything else. They’re just so… pretty.
On the morning of casual day, I offered him some other options, including a pair of jeans I’d bought him that he’d never worn. No. It had to be the rainbow unicorn leggings, paired with sparkly pink sneakers. He was so excited about finally getting to wear them.
I dropped him off at school, and I watched run towards his class, my beautiful, happy, long-haired little boy, in his rainbow unicorn leggings. And then in the afternoon I picked him up.
“Did anyone like your rainbow unicorn leggings?” I asked, nervously.
“Everyone liked my rainbow unicorn leggings,” he told me.
We went to the playground near the school, and my son started climbing on the equipment with some of his school friends and some other kids he didn’t know.
“Are you a boy or a girl?” asked one of the other kids.
“I’m a boy,” my son answered calmly.
The kid looked confused.
“He’s a girl!” he insisted, ungrammatically, looking around for support.
“No, he’s a boy,” said one of my son’s school friends firmly.
Then everyone kept on playing.
Suddenly I got it. Yes, other kids noticed that my son looked different, that he didn’t fit the typical image of a boy. But they didn’t tease him or bully him about it. They commented on it, then moved on.
My son isn’t bothered if people mistake him for a girl, because he doesn’t see anything wrong with being a girl.
My son's hair can't grow fast enough for him. Photo via iStock.
I realised that if I’d stopped my son from wearing his rainbow unicorn leggings or growing his hair long or buying a kitten schoolbag, I would have been in the wrong. I would have been stopping him from being the person he wanted to be, out of my own fears of what might happen.
I see this kind of reasoning used all the time to stop kids from doing things: “He’ll be teased,” or, “She’ll be bullied.” Well, what if they wouldn’t be? What if other kids aren’t that mean?
What if adults are just saying this because they’re secretly uncomfortable with children being different?
I watched my son playing with his friends in the playground. One boy was so desperate to have my son join in his game that he pulled his arm. A girl pulled my son’s other arm, and they started to fight over him.
My son is popular, in a way that I never was. I was a shy, anxious child who worried about what other people thought of me.
My son is happy and confident and imaginative and sociable. Other kids love him, rainbow unicorn leggings and all.
Do you have a child with an individual sense of style?