The Practice of the Cheetah Coat
"I want THIS ONE!".
My 8-yr old son excitedly declared his choice as he stood embracing himself in what was to be his new coat.
We'd gone shopping for a coat for my daughter. Of course, she found one that "looked like a cheetah", but was too small for her. My son made it his mission to find one for her of the same print. He found one...not in her size, but in his.
It was that coat that he was now wearing, while petting his arm to admire the softness. My daughter was pouting just a bit down the store aisle that he would get one and she wouldn't....but for once, my mind wasn't at all distracted by her whines.
What do I say???
We were still in the girl's aisle. He had tried on a coat earlier and I'd made the comment, "That's a girl's coat", only to cringe after saying it. He was now wearing a soft, thigh-length, rather flamboyant animal-print coat....and determined that it was going to be his.
"I'll even use my own money, mom!"
What do I do???
I didn't mind the coat. It wasn't my style and it had a few tears in the lining, but we were in a resale store and it was actually in good shape...and really quite inexpensive.
This moment was a glaring example of where values meet practice - where talk becomes the walk.
I want to raise children who feel free to be themselves. I want to raise children who are aware of social norms of gender, but more aware of their inner callings...and are strong enough to follow the latter if the two don't match.
My son liked the coat because it looked like an animal. He liked it because it was soft. And he was willing to use his own allowance to purchase it. He's 8 years old. It didn't matter to him whether or not someone else put it in the girls' section of the store. It was just a cool coat.
This is my son after we left the store with his new coat:
I didn't mention a thing about that being a "girls coat". I told him I'd sew the linings when we got home. I did call my husband - who did and continues to have a different reaction than myself - to prepare him and remind him that his reaction would influence our son's beliefs and choices. To his testament, while he still cringes at the coat, he also believes our children should be free to make their own choices so long as they are hurting no one.
And yes, of course I was concerned about others...actually far more than my son - the person wearing the coat - was. This truly was a perfect opportunity to look at my own values and judgments.
When we were walking down the street and I would notice someone do a double-take and keep their eyes on him as they walked past, my mother-bear instincts kicked in. I wanted to chase them down and teach them a lesson about acceptance. (Anyone else note the irony in that statement??) Honestly, they could've just been jealous of the coat, or wanting his drink, or not even watching him but tracking the newspaper in the stand as they walked past. The practice of noticing my own reactions was a fascinating one.
I really don't like that I even had that reaction to the coat. It is a warm coat. I think my son even looks good in it. And yet, my initial reaction was one of fear and judgment. Like I say, though, it all begins with awareness. Because I was aware of these fear-based thoughts, I was able to breathe and make a choice as to whether I would follow them or act beyond them.
And yes, part of my hesitation in allowing him to purchase the coat was the reaction of kids at his school. Even if I and all of our family members were ok with it, even if he was ok with it, the second he steps outside of the den and into the wild, I can't protect him. (That part almost killed me.)
I didn't say anything until the morning we were walking out of the house and to the bus stop. I didn't want to imprint my fears into his thinking but I also didn't want him taken by surprise.
I mentioned, "Hey dude, I just want to let you know that some people might notice your coat because it is so unique." (Not the most eloquent or clear preparation, but it was all I could think of at the time.) He said, "Ok" and we left it at that.
Sure enough, the first kid at the bus stop (a boy a year younger than him) made some comment about it being a girls coat....and the boy's guardian laughed along with him. (Momma bear bared her teeth at this point...but found her breath again and backed down.) I let my son respond. "No, it's a cheetah coat!" And, as young kids do, their conversation immediately turned to what they did over the weekend. I engaged the other adult in a change of topic. Crisis averted.
When he arrived home that day, his long face as he tromped off the bus made my heart sink. I immediately gave him a hug and asked what was wrong.
As it turned out, something had happened at school....completely unrelated to the coat...that was bringing his mood down.
After a bit, I casually brought up the topic of conversation that had been on my mind and gnawing away at my stomach all day. "So...did the other kids notice your new coat?"
He replied, "Yeah, they all thought it was cool."
And that was that.
There are so many things I want to share with you about this experience.
To parents, to encourage us to trust in our kids even when we fear they will get hurt. If they do, it is part of what will help them in their own practice. To allow our children their own choices, free from our hardened beliefs about the world. Perhaps it is their naivety of our ways of "reality" that will carry us into new, more peaceful and more magical ways of living.
To all of us, to encourage us to be aware of our own thoughts and reactions first. Mamma Bear resides in all of us, and will instinctively tear apart anything she sees as a threat. But all too often she destroys that which isn't a danger. Discomfort can lead to awareness and growth....so feel the anger inside and let it flow through instead of spewing it over others.
As I mentioned, I truly want to open up this conversation. What do you think? If you are a parent, what would you have done? Think back to your childhood - what would your parents have done? Knowing what you do now, what would you have wanted them to do?
It's just a coat, but this could pull at a lot of deeper beliefs (as it did for me). Be with them, breathe through, and let your mind remain open as your thoughts try to come up with a pretty, wrapped up answer.
As for me? I'm off to sew the lining in my son's new coat.