“What do you want to be for Halloween?” I ask nearly-5-year-old #1. “Hmmm…” she thinks carefully before landing upon her decision, “Aurora from ‘Sleeping Beauty.'” She is concrete in her choice.
“My want to be Rock Star Barbie!” Quips 3-year-old #2. I think of all of the xenophobic, homophobic, transphobic, sexist, hateful ramblings I’ve encountered online. “Are you sure you want to be Rock Star Barbie? People may not know who she is. Maybe a Rockstar would be more recognizable?” “No. Rockstar BARBIE,” he clarifies in his marble-mouth preschooler accent.
“Didn’t you say you wanted to be Ariel?” #1 interjects. “Oh yeah! My want to be Ariel. Toddler Ariel, like in the movie.” “We already have the costume, Mommy. It’s perfect” #1 negotiates. Yep, perfect.
Do I have a problem with my son dressing as a mermaid and singing Disney princess songs while twirling about the playroom? Not a bit. Do I care that he readily announces his adoration for Rapunzel in public or carries a doll with him on errands? Not in the least. Do I buy him a truck instead of a Barbie when he requests the doll? Nope, Barbie it is. Do I worry about what others may say to him — not to me — about his sequin-bedecked costume choice? Yes. However, I don’t want him to know that.
I don’t want him to think he needs to or should change himself to defend himself against potential negative backlash. Why should any grown adult care what my child chooses to wear as a Halloween costume? He’s not carrying a weapon or scaring anyone. His costume isn’t age-inappropriate, sexist, racist, or violent. He’s simply dressing up as the lead character from a famous movie. So what, the character wears a seashell bikini top instead of body armor? So what if she has a glimmering mermaid tail instead of metal knuckle-claws, bulging green muscles, or a red cape? C’mon, who doesn’t want to be a mermaid?!
Even though I believe #2 should be able to choose his costume with the same freedom as #1, I worry. I worry because some people are judgmental and cruel. Some people are threatened by that which they don’t, can’t, or refuse to understand. Some people are so set on making things rigid and divided that they become threatened by anything or anyone that exists within the gray areas. They make assumptions — right, wrong, and downright ridiculous — about strangers whose lives they know nothing about.
Still, there are kind people, loving people, supportive people. People who welcome others, who treasure differences, who honor the black, white, and gray areas of life. These are the people I celebrate in our lives. These are the people whose opinions carry any shred of value to me because love (not hate), kindness (not bullying), acceptance (not exclusion) is what I teach my children.
Should I encourage my son to change for fear of the unkind people and what they might say to him, or should I allow him to be a child, to be innocent, to be genuinely himself despite what others may say? Should I imply his preferences are somehow “wrong”, because some individual with whom I in no way agree, believes in sacred social constructs designed to categorize and divide humans into neat, easily digestible boxes? Should I teach him that, instead of being true to himself, that he should acquiesce for the phobic comfort of others? Should I make a 3-year-old’s Halloween costume out to be a life-defining decision?
No. It’s just a Halloween costume. I certainly don’t remember what costume I chose at 3-years-old. That decision had no lasting impact on my life, why should his be so controversial?
I better get to stitching those loose sequins back on that mermaid tail. #2 will run that costume ragged!