Saturday, March 1, 2014

As a mom, it's hard to always give good advice to your kids - but I think this was pretty good.

Some of my most cherished moments with my seven-year-old, Ethan, happen during that ten minute drive to school. With all the distractions of home out of his mind, he always brings up the most interesting topics that range from the inquisitive, to the scientific,... to the existential.

One winter morning on the way to school, he seemed quite agitated. When I inquired as to what was wrong, he explained that he was worried that some kids would make fun of him for wearing his Spongebob winter hat and wanted advice on what to do.
This baffled me—because Ethan had been Spongebob's biggest fan since age three. I couldn't believe that the mere thought of possibly being made fun of had him so full of anxiety that he would turn his back on his old friend Spongebob.
And then I remembered a girl named Karrie from when I was in the first grade.

It's amazing how shepherding our children through their experiences can bring back memories of our own.
Suddenly, I understood completely how he was feeling. When I was that age, my family was very poor. I had four older sisters so, naturally, my clothes were always about a decade behind the fashion trends of the day.
And I got made fun of.
A lot.
There was a band of girls (you know the ones) that were led by Karrie who would sniff out weakness and stomp on it, making sure they maintained their dominance in the social hierarchy of our class. She and I had started out in Kindergarten together where she'd pinch me hard and hold it until I gave her whatever toy I was playing with.
By the time first grade rolled around, Karrie and her friends had moved from causing physical pain to practicing all out psychological warfare—a "mean girl's" weapon of choice.
At that age, I already stood out because I was the smartest kid in my class (which isn’t an exaggeration - I ended up skipping the 3rd grade) but I also wore clothes that were clearly not new or fashionable. Despite desperately wanting to fit in - I just didn’t.
I had this one black sweat suit that had neon pink and yellow hearts on it. This one outfit was the only one that was “acceptable” to Karrie and her minions. And on days when I wore it I’d experience a respite from the taunting and jokes. She’d even allow me to play with them on the playground.... but just for that day.
I wore that sweat suit as often as I possibly could because on those days I didn’t stand out. On those days I got to fit in and play with the cool kids.
Of course, years later as an adult the memory of those girls had faded away. I’d stopped worrying about fitting in and actually take pride in the moments when I have the opportunity to stand out. I’d forgotten all about it... until the day when my son was experiencing worries so similar to the ones I’d had 25 yrs before.
And he was looking to me for advice on how to handle it? To be honest, I had noooo idea what to say, even as his little eyes were yearning at me for some sage wisdom through the rearview mirror.
There are moments during motherhood though, where you just have to ‘punt’ and see what happens. So I started by empathizing with him and told him about my black sweat suit with neon pink and yellow hearts on it. I told him about Karrie and how some kids are just mean... I told him that eventually you have to learn to rise above the ridicule and embrace the things that make you stand out. I told him you have stop worrying about fitting in.
So—basically, I gave him impossible advice for a seven-year-old.
Sometimes, though, the innocent questions our kids ask can have a profound effect on the way we view the world.
Ethan asked me, “Well, what did Karrie and the other girls wear?"
And I said, "I don't know."
This is when I figured it out! I did have good advice to give him.
I said, “Ethan, after 25 years, the only thing I remember about those girls is was how bad they made me feel about myself and how sad I was when I finally outgrew that sweat suit. I don’t remember what clothes they wore or who their favorite cartoon character was. I don’t really even remember what they looked like!”
“So here’s my advice: I know that it’s tough right now when you feel like you don’t fit in, but when someone says they don’t like your Spongebob hat, or picks on you for something else...
Be Kind To Them Anyway.”
“Be kind to them anyway - because when you’re all grown up, people aren’t going to remember what you were wearing or what cartoon characters you liked; they’re going to remember how you made them feel. And I will be so proud if you stand out as someone who made them feel good.”


  1. This is awesome, Felicia. I seriously love it.

    Every word of it is true. I didn't really get picked on as a kid, I guess I got lucky. But I certainly remember those who made me feel left out for whatever reason. It's all in how we treat each other.

  2. I love this post - perfectly describes how kids at school will be remembered. Zack is still wearing mostly thrift store clothes, but I've managed to get a lot of mainstream t-shirts and nice jeans so clothing has not been an issue. BUT, he definitely has a "Karrie" is his class (and she was in his kindergarten class, too). A text-book "mean girl" - always tearing someone else down. Last year she would grab zacks fingers and twist them really hard.

    1. When I see bullying in children, now as a grown-up, I always wonder what in the world is going on with that kid at home that would make him/her think that behavior is ok. I mean, occasional posturing might just be natural, but a true bully has to be learning that behavior from somewhere...

  3. Love this Felicia! And it's totally true!

  4. Well said, Felicia! I wrote that Maya Angelou quote on our chalkboard the other day. Life really does circle around emotions and in our patriarchal society those precious feelings are often neglected.