Boys and Nail Polish

So, raising children gets harder the older they are. Did you know that? I’d heard something about it—“Little people, little problems; big people, big problems,” my mom always said—but like most advice, I ignored it.

It all started (well, not really, but how else to begin the story?) last weekend. An older child my five-year-old son knows, who is usually patient and kind to my little tag-along, got a bit impatient. And I overheard it, and my heart broke. So I told my husband, hands wringing, and he said, “Let him figure it out.” I agree with my husband, because this older child wasn’t exactly being mean, but I continued to engage in hand-wringing because—well, because I’m too tender-hearted and I don’t even let my kids step on ants. So imagine my heart bursting when I perceived that my sweet son had been rebuffed. Oh, the pain and suffering. What made it worse, to me, is that my son took it like the happy little imp that he is.

The very next day, my son eyed Grandma’s huge stash of nail polish and asked if I would paint his nails. He’s asked before, about a year ago, and I said then: “Of course I’ll paint your nails. Just so you know, usually girls and older people wear nail polish. Do you still want me to paint them?” He said yes and I did.

So when he asked last Sunday, I said sure, since I’d already explained nail polish to him. His father, who usually shrugs in these instances (being a man who wears pink), walked in and said, “What are you doing?!” I shushed him away. After he left, my son said, “Take it off, Mama. I don’t want to be weird.” Heart broken. Again.

My husband and I think every good thing comes from Confidence, so I told our son: “There’s always going to be at least one person who thinks something you do is weird. So you might as well just do what you want.” I pointed to my pink running shirt. “I’m sure someone has seen this and thought, ‘Who would wear that?’” My son laughed and held out his hand for me to keep painting. I was glad, though in the back of my mind I knew why my husband had been a bit aghast: if our son is having some trouble with the older kids, we shouldn’t set him up to be made fun of. My husband is more of a “Deal with the world as it is” person and I’m a “Who the hell says boys can’t paint their nails?” person. Though I admit, arguing against gender stereotypes is one thing; putting your words into action, especially when it involves your child, is…a bit harder.

Were we setting him up, or were we giving him a lesson in confidence? I think probably both. I’m not sure you can shield a child from derision and still raise a confident child. What do you think?