“Mom, come here. I need to ask you something.”
He was just a foot away, but what he wanted to ask required a closer proximity. He stood clutching two handmade dolls, an investment he chose to make in Pennsylvania Amish Country with a significant portion of his own birthday money—a male doll he named John, then a wife to John, Susie, whom he dressed in a matching outfit, the sweet couple very much at home in his loving arms.
He pulled me aside, then down to him so he could whisper in my ear.
“Mom, do you think people will think I’m weird?”
He is ten, and he worries about these things. And as much as I wish he didn’t, I know I can’t control what he feels. All I can do is react—or not react, as the case may be.
I told him no one would think he was “weird,” and he seemed content. He sighed sweetly, clutched his dolls a little closer, and ran off to play.
But that wasn’t the truth, of course. Because there will be people who will take one look at a ten-year-old boy with his Amish dolls, mentally run through the contrived checklist of what society has deemed “appropriate” for ten-year-old boys, and then eventually dismiss him as “weird”—but not before they share an unfortunate, possibly damaging, opinion or two that was never sought. Not everyone in the world will find his love of his dolls as beautiful as his family does. Not everyone will be as charmed or as gentle.
And the fact that he is asking the question, pulling me aside to do so out of the world’s earshot, means he has fear—fear of not wanting to be perceived as different, of caring too much what other people think—this despite everything we have done within our four walls over the last decade to make sure he has had ample space to grow into himself.
Yes, our son feels safe with us to purchase, play with, and love dolls. And, yes, he feels safe asking us what other people will think. But I am left with the feeling that I have done him a disservice by not telling him the whole truth of how other people may perceive him, that I haven’t armed him with the painful knowledge that is going to help to keep him safe long after I am able to.
But I’m just not ready yet to harden his edges.
And why anyone would I’m not sure I’ll ever understand.