Billie’s sense of style could very well be the only reason I believe in a spiritual power greater than my own. I have seen that child put together an outfit comprised of 6 different types of patterns, two different bathing suits (one one- piece and one bikini bottom), a tutu, a scarf, one rainbow tennis shoe, one princess tennis shoe, and a jean jacket and BY GOLLY IT WORKED. Not only did the outfit work conceptually, I daresay it looked good. Really good.
Me? I live in gym shorts. I know this did not come from me.
If I had to guess this gift was either a) inherited from her super stylish father or b) she sucks the creative soul juice out of all of our artist friends. Either is a possibility.
Anyway, I digress, the kid’s got style.
Sometimes style comes with a price. For example, that price may be having to hear from your mother that your old friend’s cousin’s mom saw a picture of Billie on your Facebook and was appalled that she wasn’t conforming to normal dress standards for young children.
The first time this happened, I told my mom, “Dude. She’s four. I’m just happy she’s clothed.” By the fourth or fifth time of having someone approach me and question me as to my toddler’s “outrageous” styling talents, I began to get annoyed.
One well meaning inquisitor went so far as to suggest that I was setting Billie up for failure by not teaching her to conform at a young age. Conformity, they argued, can be good. It can teach kids how to follow the norm and slowly develop their own palette overtime. If they develop a sense of self too quickly, my friend warned, they will out themselves as “different” among the pack of kids their age. And young kids are mean. And young Billie might soon develop a chip on her shoulder just for being too “different.”
Now, before I continue you must know that comments such as these are in the minority. For every one person who tells me they disapprove of Billie’s clothing there are at least fifty who compliment it. But there have been enough circumstances that rile me in just the right ways that make this post feel warranted. That being said- here I go.
My kid is a mixed race child in the deep south. She is a little girl, with a “boy’s” name, who recently chopped off all her hair (read about that awesomeness here: http://wp.me/p4mSL2-w). She loves dinosaurs, knows all the words to every James Brown song, and thinks that everyone secretly wants to be a kitty cat. My kid is different. There’s no “try” here. She didn’t wake up one morning and decide to think in technicolor and see emotions the way most people see the trees outside. She wasn’t hanging out in utero thinking “When I get out of here I’m totally gunna wear mis-matched socks and sing to strangers.” I didn’t stand over her with a book and some incense chanting “be weird, my offspring. Be weird” in gaelic. That’s just who she is.
And who she is is fucking beautiful.
I’ve had neo- nazi’s follow Billie and me to my car as they shouted at me that my child was an “abomination.” I’ve had mother’s grab their sons defensively and warn them not to play “with the colored girl.” The “N” word is used so often here that it’s stopped having that blood-curdling effect on me that it used to. I’ve become numb to it. I know all about how difference can spawn hatred. Unfortunately, Billie does too. She’s young, and maybe she doesn’t get the full extent of these outward displays of derisiveness, but she understands enough. She understands that she looks different enough to warrant people justifying to themselves that they can attack her as a result of their own prejudice.
I try to see these heartbreaking events as an opportunity to give her a solid foundation based on morals and social justice. Sometimes it works. Sometimes I worry that I’ve done wrong by her. That I haven’t been protective enough, liberal enough, strict enough, caring enough- any myriad of things that I’m sure every parent has had to deal with since the dawn of time. Still, though, I try to teach her love and (because I will always be a hippy at heart) art. Because, at the end of the day, people are cruel. And she has miles more of racial discrimination and bigotry to wade through before she’ll even be able to process it. But if there’s anything that I can give her, if there’s anything I feel justified in letting her cultivate- it’s her sense of self. And, guys, you should see her- she’s a revelation. A proverbial whirlwind of light and laughter and creativity and, most importantly, love. And she loves hard. I’ve never experienced a child with more genuine affection and caring than her.
And you best believe that I’m doing everything in my power to protect that for her.
One day, she’ll be old enough and strong enough to protect it for herself. Until then, I believe that it is my job to preserve that beautiful light in her that makes her her. But I also cannot cow-tow to views that could possibly stifle her love for art and beauty and magic. I can’t have her creativity silenced because of conformity. Especially since it is her creativity that I believe has saved her from the all the negative.
My daughter will wear mis-matched socks sometimes. She will be seen in the grocery store with a bathing suit, a fedora, and a tutu on. At the same time. She will probably also sing to you. And you are more than welcome to think that she is weird. Odd. Different. You could totally think that.
But you, my friend, would be missing the point entirely.