Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip. ~Will Rogers
Last week, on the way to a doctor’s appointment, I glanced at my younger son sitting in the front seat, head tilted down, eyes glued to his iPhone. He was wearing his favorite faded black “joggers”, with a hole in the right knee; his shoes (Vans Old Skool) were dirty, the laces were frayed and there was a hole on the bottom of the left shoe.
“You look like a ragamuffin,” I said.
“I don’t care” he replied.
I pointed out the holes in his pants and the state of his shoes.
“I don’t care” he stated again.
I held my breath, and then slowly let it out, as I focused on the road.
As I was exhaling, my son told me he did not like being called a ragamuffin, he didn’t care what anyone thought about him or his clothes and that he loved his pants and his shoes because they were comfortable and liked the way they fit.
I apologized and told him I didn’t think he was a ragamuffin, just that he looked like one.
My son restated his sentiment: “I don’t care what people think or say, I am comfortable in them.”
I understood about his wanting to be comfortable but didn’t like the way he looked. I could either argue with him or shut my mouth and let it go. I chose the latter.
My Mom used to call my brothers and me “ragamuffin” if we were dressed sloppily. My husband’s Mom used the term “crumb-bum” with him and his siblings.
Regardless of the word, they meant the same thing: Slob.
As we drove in silence, I felt a slight fissure between the two of us that wasn’t there before.
My smart son, who is clearly comfortable with who he is, what he believes in, and what he stands for – was being labeled by me; I had set a poor example with my observation and negative comment about his attire.
I was no different than my Mom: doling out an opinion, expectations, and judgement. I wouldn’t dare do this to a friend.
I felt terrible. “Don’t judge a book by its cover” screamed through my head. I want what’s best for him, but I also know the harsh reality: others judge as well – I was just trying to protect him from the judgement of others, yet here I was passing judgement.
My son is 13 years old; his idea of what to wear is no different now than when he was younger and learning to dress: he just wants to get dressed and get out the door.
I laugh when I think of his pre-school days: girls showed up in princess dresses; boys in cowboy boots and shorts. “We’re learning how to dress” was the knowing look the Moms would give each other.
My son will figure it out. He will make decisions and learn from them. He can choose what to wear and how to present himself. These are his choices, not mine. They are not life-threatening choices, nor are they harmful.
When we arrived at the doctor’s office, I apologized again and told him I was wrong for passing judgement; I commended him for being true to himself. He told me it was okay and hugged me.
This experience reminded me to be mindful. “Am I judging?” now pops into my mind before I make any comments or roll my eyes at my boys.
My son is navigating and learning how to present himself; he deserves the opportunity to figure out what to wear on his own.
My role is to support his navigation, not change his course.