I went to the drug store with my three-and-a-half-year-old son, Eddie, and when I threw some nail polish into my cart, my son said, “I want one.”
“Really? Um, okay,” I said. I knelt down on the floor and plucked several colors out of the display that I thought might appeal to him: pale yellow, light blue, and pastel green. “How about one of these?”
“This one, “ he said, sailing right over my color choices and lifting a bottle of pink out of the display.
“Oh, okay,” I said, a little surprised but thought, “Why not? Let’s be festive.” “Do you want a sparkly one, too? Maybe one of these?” I asked. I pointed to a bottle with red and green sparkles that reminded me of Christmas and another one with silver sparkles that seemed a good choice for New Year’s Eve.
“No. This one,” he said, again sidestepping my choices and picking the sparkly pink. I threw it in my cart.
When we got home, he asked me if I could paint his nails, and so I did, dismissing any thoughts I had about what this meant or what other people might say. I will never inhibit his fashion choices. Ever. For much of my life, people have commented, even mocked my sense of dress. “You’re not really going out like that, are you?” “Why is everything you wear so baggy?” “You look like a hobo.” I once wore a blonde wig similar to the pixie hairstyle Meg Ryan wore for years, and a woman on the subway turned to me, looked at my head and began laughing. I have a hard enough time trying to be me, issuing small displays of individuality, like a firefly, because to do anything larger makes me uncomfortable, so I’ve always applauded those who brave the chuckles and the sneers in order to be who they are – the fat woman on the beach who wears a bikini, the tone deaf man who does karaoke. I’ve silently vowed to encourage my son to be who he wants to be, regardless of the consequences.
When my husband got home from work, he gave Eddie a big hug and said, “Hey buddy.” He then looked down at my son’s fingers and said, “Pink nail polish?”
“Yep. That’s what he wanted,” I said, with a finality that said, “We’re not going to discuss this any further.”
That night, my husband’s friend, Frank, came over. “What the hell is on your nails?” he said when he saw my son.
“Mind your own,” I said.
The following day when I picked Eddie up from school, he said, “They asked me why I had nail polish.”
“Who asked you?”
“Layla and Kenzie and Lexie,” he said.
“And what did you say?” I asked.
“I said I liked it,” he said.
“Good for you,” I said.
When I told a friend about the way everyone was responding to my son’s pink nail polish, she told me about a video in which a man at an outdoor music event stands up and begins to dance. For a few minutes, he is the only one dancing, and he looks like a freak. People stare, but he is undeterred, which makes him look even stranger. A minute later, someone else stands up and joins him. Now there are two standing up dancing, and they look mildly odd but less so than when there was just one. Soon, a third man joins the two and begins dancing. Now, his dancing doesn’t look odd but rather like an option: some are sitting while others are dancing. A fourth person joins the crowd and then a fifth, sixth and seventh. Now, it’s a movement. More join, and it starts to become the norm. And the narrator says, “It took just one brave follower to turn a lone nut into a leader.”
The next day when I brought Eddie to school, I walked him into the class, and just before I turned to go, gave him a hug. As I stood there in the middle of his classroom, I paused for a moment and wanted to yell, “Now listen here. Eddie’s wearing nail polish and yes, it’s pink, and if any of you have a problem with that, you can take it up with ME.” But I didn’t say that, because I’m not allowed to, because a kid, particularly one with peculiar taste, is going to have to learn how to deal with his classmates’ comments on his own.
When I picked him up from school, we walked outside of the building, and he saw a friend from class.
“Eddie’s wearing pink nail polish,” the boy said to his mother. “That’s for girls!”
“Well, you like the color purple,” the boy’s mother said. She then turned to me and said, “It’s actually hard to find purple clothes for boys.”
Eddie and his classmate ran around outside for a while, and then the boy and his mother got into their car to go home. A couple of minutes later, I got a text from the boy’s mother.
“My son just told me he wants purple nail polish.”
And one brave follower raised his hand.