Peer pressure and the need to fit in
However, if we back up five years, it’s another whole story. My youngest was just a baby and my oldest was in kindergarten, and my middle son was four years old, in preschool. It was “picture day” at school and we had begun talking about it at least a week in advance. The year before (when he was three) picture day was traumatic for my middle son. I am not sure why, but he just wasn’t okay with the individual picture (not only could I see in the final product that he’d been crying, but also all his teachers made a point of mentioning it). The sibling picture had been the best of the bunch, though.
That year there would be no sibling picture because even though my youngest would be there at the preschool/daycare center, my oldest would already be at school by the time the photo would be taken, and I didn’t want to do a sibling shot unless all the brothers could be in it together. So, I was trying to get Middle Son psyched up in advance, since he’d be on his own.
The night before we chose a cool “party” shirt and practiced doing Middle Son’s hair. What that meant was combing it, because he had an overgrown buzz cut and the front hung down in straight bangs across his forehead. He wanted me to comb it to the side, and that entailed hair spray to make it stay put, but he was disappointed because he didn’t have “the wet look.” So I got out my gel. When I went on and on about how handsome he looked, he wanted to carry the mirror around with him until bedtime.
The next morning he was let down because his hair was dry, so we rewet it (which cured the bed head, too…I really needed to cut the hair of my children who had any and had bought a clipper set to do so…but wanted to wait until after picture day in case I goofed up) and reapplied gel. Middle Son and I watched the photographer setting up that morning before he joined all the other kids in his class (all with dress shirts and combed hair). That evening he reported back to me that he did a good job on his picture – that he “wasn’t even shy.”
The by-product of picture day that Middle Son became very interested in “doing” his hair. My oldest “got to stay home sick” the next day, so while we were at the pharmacy getting medicine, we bought Middle Son some special hair gel as a consolation prize. I think it actually said “hair glue” on the label. Middle Son was very excited about using it the next day and decided he wanted me to help him spike his hair like the dude on the package. I told him, “Sure, honey, that will look really cool!” And it did. He looked so cute (though I did not say that word to him), and a good deal more like Dennis the Menace than usual.
We got to school and everyone we passed on the way in told Middle Son they liked his hair…the director, some of the moms and dads, and all of his older brother’s classmates. Then we went to drop Middle Son off at his class, and…some of his friends laughed at him. Several of them were crowding him, wanting to touch his hair. Not wanting his “do” to get mussed, he wound up backed into a corner. He got upset and kicked over the block tower his friends were making and stomped back over to a table, voluntarily putting himself in time out, folding his arms in an exaggerated sulk. I had been standing with my youngest, talking to one of the teachers, and excused myself mid-conversation. I pulled up one of the pint-sized chairs right next to Middle Son, switching my youngest to my far knee when he, too, began grabbing at Middle Son’s spiky hair. I told him his friends were just jealous because he was so cool, that he had hair long enough to spike. No dice. Still fuming.
The teacher followed shortly after. She told him that the only thing that mattered was that he liked his hair. Scowling and hmmphing, he said that he did, he just didn’t want his friends to laugh at him.
I piped in and reminded him that God made him special and unique, and that God makes people in all colors, shapes, and sizes. I never want Middle Son (or any of the boys) to squash his individuality so he can be just like his friends (though I know from personal experience how easy it is to do that and even though it seems like each generation is more “enlightened” than the past, is wanting to fit in ever going to change?). This is why I let him wear his cowboy boots with any outfit he chose – even shorts, wear his Incredible Hulk costume to our first day at our new church, and wear his rocket-ship pajamas all day on his older brother’s birthday, even when all his older brother’s friends were there for the party. They didn’t laugh at him – perhaps six-year-olds had already been introduced to the concept of diversity.
Middle Son did wear his hair spiked again the next day, despite telling me that he hated his friends “ ’cause they laughted at me!” (adding that syllable that he always did to verbs in the past tense). I hoped and prayed that he continued to feel secure enough as a well-loved child of God to be himself as long as possible. But within a week, the do was done. He just wanted to fit in.