DanTDM was on the news this morning. For those who don’t know, DanTDM is a 20-something British man with tattoos and blue hair who has become youtube-famous as a result of recording himself playing the video game “Minecraft.” If you still don’t understand, don’t worry, no one else does either. Anyway, my ten-year-old, Brady, was distraught because he had to leave for day-camp and would miss the live interview with “THE KING OF MINECRAFT.” As my husband took him, I pulled my cell phone out to record the interview (we don’t have a DVR) knowing I’d enter back into the running for coolest Step-Mom. Understand this, I couldn’t be any LESS interested in what this guy was saying until the newscaster reads this viewer submitted question submitted: “How old were you when you started dyeing your hair?” I begin thinking “I bet the little anarchist who asked this question is just glued to the TV right now, waiting to hear whether or not his mom is “uncool” by not letting him dye his.” Now when DanTDM answers with “middle school” I instantly thought “looks like Brady won’t be watching this after all.”
Brady had mentioned that he wants to dye his hair this summer. Pink, Blue, Green; it varies from day-to-day. So no WAY was I going to fuel that desire fire by showing him the interview. Especially when we’re part time parents and I’m pretty sure his Mom will let him dye it sooner rather than later.
I guess here is where I mention that at sixteen I got my lip pierced using my sister’s fake ID, without my parents knowledge. (And subsequently shot gatorade at people through the hole in it when I’d have to take it out for cheerleading practice.) I should probably include that I may or may not be a thirty-year-old, church-going, female who got her SEPTUM pierced… for MOTHERS DAY. My husband has gauges. We both have tattoos. So it sounds like I’m being even more absurd than this Limey going around encouraging children that they too can be famous if they just buckle down and play their video games.
As usual ladies, I am here to process by way of blog. Where is this emphatic NO to Brady dyeing his ten-year-old hair coming from? And then, the age old question of: Are my motivations pure or selfish?
There is a large part of me that wants to spare Brady the need to alter himself in order to stick out. My motivation for gauging my ears with straws in my high school cafeteria and getting my lip pierced were as just you’d expect… I felt different inside and didn’t know how to appropriately express it, so it made sense to make my “outside” different, too. As cliche as it is, I want Brady to be comfortable in his skin, without modifications. I want him to be able to openly express his “inside” and what about him feels “different” than what he sees in his friends. He has opened up so much this summer on how it feels to be split between two families and each time I listen with my whole heart, validate, answer questions, and just affirm him. I love him and encourage him to open up to us about ANYTHING. As parents, we are their affirmers, their encouragers.
My husband and I want to teach our kids to express themselves by moving their lips, not piercing them.
I also know from personal experience that once you start, you don’t typically stop. He’s ten for crying out loud, I don’t want him isolating himself before he’s even had a chance to assimilate. Does that make sense? He doesn’t know who he is at this point, that his extroversion is SO profound that my introversion really struggles to keep up, or that his passion for teaching can come off as bossy, but it explains why he’s insecure when hanging out with older children. He doesn’t know these things about himself yet, so a modification, even as temporary as dying his hair, could be an identifier that he grabs onto before his own innate characteristics have had a chance to surface. And you can pretend this wouldn’t happen all you want, but people would treat him differently and that would greatly influence and shape his perception of himself.
There’s a reason that the jobs I worked in high school required me to take my lip piercing out and banned unnatural hair colors. Going into adulthood, I had to take my nose piercing out for my medical social work job and tone down the maroon underside of my hair. I got it. I understood that my character wasn’t defined by my piercings or hair color and I didn’t object. Anyone who does object is using their piercings or dye-job to affect others, to go against the grain and offend the “norm,” at which point that’s no longer self-expression. If you’re not content with following the rules that accompany big decisions like permanent hair dyeing and piercings, it’s no longer about your self-expression, you’re wanting to assert your will, and frankly you’re giving a bad name to people who proudly wear tattoos and piercings who can also accept reality. With those things in mind, do you think a child can even begin to conceptualize this? I just don’t.
I spent some time in San Francisco – I saw PLENTY of free expression granted to children who were incapable of making informed decisions and needless to say, it’s my choice not to enable outward modification and free expression while my children are… children. I also know there are parents out there who think like I do. The kind that can say sure, we can get some “frosted tips,” but colors of the rainbow are a HARD no. Maybe it’s because we recognize that when we see a child at ten with dyed green hair, questions and thoughts jump into our head that we may not be proud of. Things like “I don’t think that kid was old enough to make that decision” and “this child must not be getting the attention they need, I wonder what home looks like,” or “those parents must have a hard time setting boundaries.” Yeah, yeah, we live in a “judgement-free society,” but when it comes to our children, I can’t apologize for following my gut when it comes to the potential well-being of my children. I am meant to equip and protect my children, not submit them to situations experimentally just to make sure I’m not offending anyone. When it comes down to it, if my ten-year-old brings home a friend with dyed hair, I’m going to spend more time loving on that kid to make sure he’s a good influence on mine. Call it judgmental, I call it having the most important job on the planet, parenting.
I know I am making some people uncomfortable right now, maybe even mad, but I’m not going to apologize for being honest. I’m saying this to drive home the point that, as a thirty-year-old woman with upwards of 11 piercings and two tattoos, I feel like self expression is AWESOME… when you’re at an age to make an informed decision on the implications of the modifications. When you’re old enough to know who your “self” is. I know I didn’t have the slightest clue at 16 with that first piercing, and obviously I didn’t at 18 when I went and got the tramp stamp. I thought I was gaining ground at 21 with the second tattoo of hops and hop flowers to express my love for homebrewing, but come 27, when I went to rehab for alcoholism, the ground I’d gained slipped away. But here at almost 30, I can say with full confidence, I love to express myself proudly, because I finally know who “myself” is. A woman whose septum piercing, faded tattoos, and fully present, fiercely-loving “mom heart” showcase the wisdom and the authority to say “No Brady, we’re not going to dye your hair pink this summer.”
We did end up showing him the interview and an awesome conversation about character building came as a result. So no matter whether you agree or think I’m evil as a result of my opinion, thanks for being a sounding board that allowed me to work through something which resulted in an open conversation with my step-son. That’s what Mom community is all about.