For Halloween, Galen dressed up as a mermaid, and Gabriel was Rainbow Dash, from My Little Pony. My 5-year-old boys love all things that glitter and sparkle.
Especially Galen. Since Galen first started speaking, he has been the fashionista in our family. He often restyles my hair (he prefers my hair to the side, like Elsa of Arundel), comments on how beautiful my dress is, admires my shoes, and wears my jewelry. I don’t know where he gets his sense of style, but it definitely does not come from his mother.
One day, when I thanked him for being my son and choosing me as his mom, he said with his impish grin, “Mom, I chose you because you had lovely long hair.”
I found their costumes in the girls’ section of Costco. You can always tell where the girls’ section is by its excessive use of the color pink. The boys’ section is always quite disappointing in comparison—muted greens, grays and blues—boring through the eyes of my boys.
They loved their costumes, preening and striking poses in the mirror. They twirled and admire the bows in their hair. They didn’t want to take the costumes off, not even for dinner. Everywhere they went, they left a trail of rainbow glitter.
As they played, I noticed that spark of fear in my belly.
Oh yes, I recognize this. The fear that my boys will get hurt coinciding with my fierce need to protect them. Will some boy or girl or an adult tell them that boys don’t wear skirts, even for Halloween? That there’s something wrong if they prefer pink and rainbow to blue. I recognize this fear. It is fear wrapped up in shame.
I know what it’s like to put on the cloak of shame. The women in my family have handed this cloak of shame from generation to generation—it’s a family tradition. The shame of alcoholism. The shame of not being white enough. The shame of not being thin. The shame of simply not being good enough.
In my thirties, I finally understood that the cloak that once served as protection, over time, became a shroud. I realized that it’s really hard to live a glittering and sparkly life when you walk around with this invisible shroud, and I started to slowly dismantle it. I haven’t quite gotten it all yet, I still find pieces here and there.
Why am I afraid? Because I don’t want my boys to be hurt by people who think that boys should not like pink, and sparkles, and dolls and skirts. I promised myself that I would not pass the cloak of shame, the cloak of “should be” to my boys. I will not set limits to what they can and cannot do in the name of fear, disguised as love.
How dare I underestimate the fierceness of their own souls’ ability to withstand hardship, to fight for who they are. My job is to nurture them, to give them a solid foundation of love and faith and courage. If they are ever told that there is something wrong with them for who they are and what they like, they can have the courage to feel hurt and sad and yes, even shame. But then they can put it aside and just be.
On Halloween, I took pictures of my boys in their glittering costumes, and I will show them when they are older. I will tell them, “Look. Look at how magnificent you are. Look at how you were so comfortable and so happy to just be, to just show everyone who you are…a divine light full of sparkles and laughter.”