Is it right to give your kid the freedom to wear what he wants if you think it’s going to make him a target for bullying? Plus: when are you old enough to invest in a real mattress?
By Shannon McGill
My nephew is starting kindergarten this week.
His mother is my sister, and both of us are mystified by how fast the time has gone. I wanted to do something special for him to mark this momentous time, so I told him I’d buy him a really cool pair of “School Sneakers.”
We’re going to go to converse.com and create a pair especially for him. On the site, you’re able to pick out a bunch of different crazy colors and patterns to make your own Franken-shoes. He was excited about it.
His mom loaded the design-your-own website today so that he could get familiar with the concept before we make the big purchase. When she showed him the color palette, instantly he was drawn to pink.
Like, Jem-Truly-Outrageous Pink.
Despite my sister’s bleeding-heart, pinko, liberal nature, she cringed.
“Pink?” she asked him, “Are you sure?”
Now, you’ve got to understand that my sister is a renegade; a borderline revolutionary. She teaches her kids to be radically accepting of themselves and others. No behavior is discouraged in her home as long as it is considerate and/or creative.
Girls play with trucks and Legos; boys bake cupcakes and wear aprons. Everybody makes a mess. No underwear? Okay. Underwear on your head? Great. Screaming, yelling, laughing, hugging, kissing, no problem.
She takes everything in stride…and yet the pink sneakers gave her pause. This was her first baby going to school for the first time ever. Will these shoes brand him a sissy? A nerd? Will the other kids laugh at him? Tease him? Torture him?
My sister and I grew up in a small town, so we know the tragedy of the child who gets stigmatized early on and never recovers. We’ve oft heard the ballad of “Once the Weird Kid, Always the Weird Kid.”
Might the specter of the pink shoes haunt her son well into adulthood? Will he one day shake his fist at her from the other side of the bulletproof glass in the prison meeting room and demand to know, “MOM, WHY DID YOU LET ME WEAR THOSE RIDICULOUS PINK SHOES ON THE FIRST DAY OF KINDERGARTEN?”
We know the tragedy of the child who gets stigmatized early on and never recovers.
My sister felt ashamed to be nudging her child away from an innocent and completely innocuous choice because of her own fears. She shared her quandary with others in town, and many people told her that her fears were justified.
“Of course he will be teased,” they said. “Kids are cruel.”
Wouldn’t we be crueler, though, to stifle a child’s perfectly harmless preference because of our presumption of another person’s intolerance?
If it’s true that his pink shoes will trouble the world, my nephew does not need to sublimate his love for pink. The world needs to change around him.
If the pink shoes draw glares or slurs, my nephew has to be strong enough to meet them with kindness and reason. It will be easier for him to learn now that sometimes we have to pay a price to be true to ourselves, but that in the long run, our integrity paves the way for others who may be afraid to be as honest.
It’s better for him to learn now that it is healthier and more just to suffer for your own choice than to burn quietly under the comfort of what someone else thought was best.
When you hear a voice in the back of your head making you afraid to be who you want and do what you love, tell it to go pound sand.
I know there are larger, more pressing issues in the world than my nephew’s desire for pink sneakers. In Gaza, children are made homeless and orphaned by war. In Ferguson, Missouri, decades of systematic oppression has come to the boiling point with police clashes.
My nephew’s pink shoes seemingly have nothing to do with global unrest; with the suffering of many innocent people hundreds or thousands of miles away. He and I are living amidst plenty, so what could our anxieties regarding the color of his sneakers bring to bear on the state of the world? How does this do anything but distract us from the greater injustices at hand?
Here’s why it matters: every little choice you make can be a chance to be brave.
When you hear a little voice in the back of your head making you afraid to be who you want and do what you love, you can tell that voice to go pound sand. You can make the decision to face a world of hate, prejudice, and injustice with your pink sneakers on your feet and love in your heart.
Don’t change yourself, change the world around you.
When we change the world in small ways we change the world in big ways too. This year, children in kindergarten in my town will learn to be cool with pink sneakers; next year—war is over.
Achy in the A.M.
I am in need of a new mattress.
I know it’s pretty common to wake up with aches and pains, but I have spent almost the last two weeks in hotels, and found I was a lot less achy in the morning.
My current mattress is about 12 years old, and I think it’s high time I splurge for a “grown-up” one.
I figure you have experienced many a mattress and might be able to provide some useful advice and insight.
Sometimes I wish someone would invent a Netflix for mattresses.
I anxiously await your sagacious wisdom on the matter.
Achy in the A.M.
Dear Achy in the A.M.,
I have been sleeping on an IKEA mattress for the past five years—it’s basically a glorified bedroll—and I’m always mad and can hardly walk.
I sympathize with your plight, and have actually spent quite a bit of time fantasizing about expensive mattresses that I cannot afford. You may be surprised, but advice columnists don’t really make that much money.
First thing, Achy, I don’t know if you are single, but there is such a thing as Netflix for mattresses. It’s called dating. If you’re not already spoken for romantically and are attractive enough, you could easily charm your way into testing a great variety of mattresses and have a splendid time in the process.
If, however, you are married like me, you will have to (snore) log onto consumerreports.org and (groan) research which mattress is the (eye roll) best value for your money (sigh).
So tedious; my God, I’m not going to go hunting down the most economical and therapeutic mattress for you! No way. Go be boring on your own time.
I will say, though, that a mattress is one of the MOST IMPORTANT THINGS YOU WILL EVER OWN OR BUY. It is the crucible of good health and cheer; a sick bay, a playground—THE LITERAL CRADLE OF LIFE, Achy.
If you have the money, spend it. Spend it on a good quality mattress and don’t feel bad about it. I hate spending money because I am cheap and angry. Don’t be like me. Give yourself the gift of a quality mattress, seriously. You will feel like a new person—a better, less perpetually hunched and pissed-off person, probably.
You have to decide you owe it to yourself to get a new mattress because your quality of sleep affects every other aspect of your life. Decide how much you’re going to spend. According to mattress.com, a box spring and mattress set are going to cost anywhere from $250 to over $5000. I don’t know the difference between a $250 mattress and a $5000 mattress (what, is it stuffed with chinchillas?), so just pick an amount that’s comfortable for you and go with it.
Go on a date with your partner, if you’ve got one, and try out the beds in the nearest mattress store. If there is a Relax the Back near you, go there; Sleepy’s, whatever. Lie on all the beds and roll around. Try different positions, don’t be embarrassed.
Spoon your partner right there in the store—if you’re going to do it, you have to do it right. I wouldn’t advise you to do any heavy petting in public, but, you know, don’t be shy. Go through the motions of your typical night’s sleep and ignore anybody who looks at you sideways. It’s your money, Achy, not theirs!
After you’ve settled on the bed you want, for God’s sake, have it delivered. HAVE IT DELIVERED, OKAY? You’re already spending money, so make it easy on yourself and hey, your back already hurts. Don’t ask your friends to help you; don’t borrow that one guy’s truck. Just have professionals bring it right to your house. Give everybody a freaking break already.
So the moral of the story is–indulge yourself on this one, buddy. Don’t let any guilt or apprehension creep in to spoil this experience for you. BUY A MATTRESS AND BASK IN THE GLORY OF ADULTHOOD.
The ecstatic pleasures of adolescence may be gone, Achy, the heady days of danger and lust may be behind you, BUT YOU ARE OLD AND WISE NOW AND ABLE TO AFFORD A BRAND NEW MATTRESS. It’s a rite of passage, my friend, an almost holy thing.
And when you awaken the first morning in your brand new bed, I promise the world around you will seem fresh and renewed. You may hear the voices of angels singing sweetly in the heavens, and their song will say, “O! Achy! Why didn’t you do this two years ago?”
Got an imponderable quandary that only McGill-a-grams can solve? Send your cries for help to firstname.lastname@example.org.