The other night, my oldest ended up staying up much later than usual. These late night bedtime routines are always a little surreal, and this one was no exception.
“Daddy,” he said as he crawled under the covers. “You know my Disney shirt?”
“Yeah?” I had my hand on the door, ready to leave.
“The kids laughed at it.”
I stepped back into the room. “Oh?”
“Yeah. It has Tinker Bell on it, and some kids made fun of it, and then others laughed too.”
“Tinker Bell? Let me see.”
We dug out the shirt. It’s a pretty typical design, with the words “Walt Disney” in huge letters and the Disney characters all around them: Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and, yes, Tinker Bell.
We talked about it and agreed that it was definitely not a girl’s shirt. I explained that he certainly didn’t have to wear it to school if he didn’t want to. No one needs that kind of teasing.
“But you gave it to me,” he said. “I want to wear it.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “You can wear it outside school, like when we go to Disney and stuff. I’m fine with that.”
We talked about kids teasing, and how they can find just about anything to make fun of. I explained that it’s more about the person doing the teasing than the person being teased. He said he understood that, but he was still upset that his friends had joined in with laughing at him. I’m afraid I couldn’t think up much to say about that. I gave him a parental kind of reassurance that sometimes people do stupid things.
He wasn’t exactly happy as he went to sleep, but at least he seemed to be feeling a little bit better.
I, on the other hand, was feeling completely inadequate. I spent the night thinking up better things to say, coming up with strategies that he could use in the future.
When I came out to say good morning, though, I found him already dressed, wearing the Disney shirt. My eyebrows went up. “You’re wearing it to school?”
“Yeah.” he said.
Somewhere in that “okay,” I hope he heard how proud I am of him.
I don’t know why he chose to wear it, whether it was because we gave it to him, or because he was standing up to the teasers, or even if he just wanted to pick a fight.
But it didn’t matter. All of those reasons were better than my advice to stop wearing it.