How do you articulate things to your children that you just feel are right? Especially when you want to do so without hurting anyone with differing opinions, even if they’re so much louder than you? I don’t know these answers, and so I try to keep quiet in most instances. I try to smile about the chicken sandwiches and bathrooms and whatnot, because I couldn’t adequately put into words why I felt the way I did.
And then THIS happened.
****[sws_pullquote_right]I learned, through my son’s eyes, what hate feels like. And my God, I will speak louder to keep that as far from my world as possible. [/sws_pullquote_right] Although I very rarely wear polish on my hands, my toes are always painted in the summer. I do them myself, because I have this very unnerving reaction to pedicures: I laugh uncontrollably. I don’t know why, but I do. I don’t think I like people messing with my feet seems to be the root of it, but mostly it’s that I feel downright guilty that someone has to touch my feet, and then it tickles, and the awkward laughter, it does not stop.
Anyway, so I paint my own toes and I have quite the (obsessive) collection of polishes as a result.
I don’t know why, but as we’ve neared my sister’s wedding, Tony has asked me many times to paint his nails. I’ve resisted for a long time, but finally, last week, I gave in. He wanted to pick the color and – God help me – I steered him toward a more masculine color. He settled on a dark green, although that was not his first choice.
So we sat in my bedroom floor, he and I, sprawled out with limbs everywhere. I painted his tiny toenails and sat back. “No, Momma, my hands too!” he begged. “I want color EVERYWHERE!”
He danced around the house, so pleased with his color. He sat back every five minutes or so, admiring his new nails. He LOVED them. “I can’t wait to show everyone!” he beamed.
I was late getting home the next night because of work stuff, and when I walked in, Bryan threw me the be gentle with him glare.
“Momma,” he said. “I have to take my color off.”
“Everyone laughed at me. Said I looked like a girl. But I like it, Momma! But they laughed.”
It’s worth noting that this was The Wednesday. You know: The Day of Chicken.
I may have been a little sensitive.
So we sat, again, in my bedroom floor. Limbs sprawled out. And we talked about how harsh words can be. As I dabbed at his tiny fingernail polish with soaked cotton balls, we talked about how everyone is different, and we all like different things, and that’s okay. We talked about how the color on your nails means nothing more than your preference for that color on that particular day. I did all of this with a solid, comforting voice.
I started to dab his toes with the polish remover and he said, “No, Momma. Don’t. I really like my color. And I can wear shoes, right Momma? So no one will know? I can hide it so only I know, and that would be okay, right Momma?”
Aaaaaand then I lost it.
No one should have to hide who they are. Or what they love. Or who they love.
They should not have their personas beaten out of them.
We should not have to pray that away, any more than we pray away someone being left-handed. May I pray that they find the strength to ignore the urges to use their left hand, and that they find the strength to only use their right hand.
I don’t care if you judge me for painting my son’s nails. I don’t care at all. And quite frankly, if you do judge me, it says worlds more about YOU than it does about me. Do his nails affect you in any way? Do they impact your life? Are your morals shaken by his painted nails?
I emailed this story to my friend Kim the next day, to let her know that I thought about her through all of this. We both agreed that we have to believe – we have to believe, for our own sanity’s sake – that people don’t understand what their actions are doing. That they don’t understand the hate the other side – us – sees.
I learned, through my son’s eyes, what hate feels like.
And my God, I will speak louder to keep that as far from my world as possible.
Update: the next night, Tony asked me to paint his nails again. I let him choose the color. He chose a pastel pink, and wanted sparkles on top of it. I painted his fingernails and his toenails. He loves them – says they look like little birthday cakes. He says he knows they may laugh at him, but his bucket will stay full.
Teach your children well.