Kids are my favorite types of humans. When in a room with adults and young children, I gravitate towards the little ones. In many social situations, I find that I often drink, eat, or talk too much because I am anxious. I am often afraid that I will say something stupid or be judged for my presentation. With kids, though, you aren’t the center of attention. They are. They want to show you things and tell you stories. They may get bored with you after five minutes, but it’s not person. There is something about their energy and approach that puts me at ease in a way adults do not.
A few weeks ago, my family met up to reconnect after a year of being apart due to the pandemic. I got to spend time with my nieces and nephews on that side of our family, watching them play with water and then chasing them throughout the yard. We also celebrated the baptism of my niece, E. She is a few months shy of two years old, but the pandemic had delayed this religious ceremony for her, so we turned it into a big event for her.
For mass, we all put on our Sunday best, clothes most of us had kept hidden in our closets for the last year. E, too big now for a traditional Christening dress, wore a backup dress that her mom had bought for her sister, N, to wear to our wedding three years ago. N wore a pink, sparkly number that she was given for her third birthday nine months prior. As we were getting shoes on, N’s mother told her to put on some sandals that would match her dress. Instead, she brought one pink unicorn sock for me to put on. I explained to her that she wouldn’t want to wear socks with sandals, and even if she did, she only had one. She went back to her room and brought out another sock. Again, pink, but a different shade. I still encouraged her to put the sandals on, and she insisted that she wanted to wear her sparkly strap-on shoes. I shrugged and put them on her. When her parents came out and saw that she was wearing the sneakers and mismatched socks, they tried one more time to convince her that the sandals were a better option for the dress. She pretended to not hear them.
All morning, she rocked her dress with sparkly tennis shoes and mismatched socks.
Watching N run around, I was in awe of her bravery, to do what she wanted and to not care about what others think. N did not care if her socks matched or that her sandals were a better look for her dress. Her choices were not harmful in anyway, but the perception of what she should do was dictated by adults and what would look better. She liked her pink socks and tennis shoes; the rest did not matter.
At what point in life do we lose that, do we succumb to expectations and others’ perceptions? At what age do we rank others’ opinions over our own wants?
Young children are great reminders of what we all used to be like before life hardened us. I am sure that I used to wear mismatched clothes all the time because it’s what I liked. At some point, I used to not care what other’s think about me. I used to put my own joy and wants first. Some of us are better at holding on to that piece of ourselves, to keeping our voice stronger than others, but many of us have learned to ignore it to the point we may not recognize it anymore.
N’s socks of two different shades of pink was an inspiration. I wondered if I looked hard enough under the layers of insecurity and doubt, I could find that version of myself again. What simple but deep desire was I denying myself because of how it would look to the world? I snapped the above picture of N’s socks on the way to the church as a reminder of the child I used to be, that we all used to be.
It’s hard, though, it let go of the voice that keeps reiterating what you should do. I’ve spent years listening to that voice of appropriateness and reasoning. It’s difficult to ignore it when it’s been my guide for so long.
The other day, I was going to a get together with some friends. I put on a nice shirt and shorts and then pulled out my Chacos. I love my Chacos, but I have long been ridiculed for them. Even my husband says they are ugly and he is slightly embarrassed when I wear them. I do not care, often because they are so comfortable. However, in this social situation, I wondered if I should put on a nice flat or slightly dressier sandal to match what others would be wearing.
N’s socks came to mind, and then I put on my Chacos and walked out the door. It didn’t matter how others would perceive me or if I would look a bit out of place. This is what I wanted.
It wasn’t a big defiance, but yet, it was practice. If I listen to that inner voice in small matters, I will be able to call on in it in bigger, more meaningful moments. I won’t be able to be as carefree as N in all matters (which is good probably), but I can relearn to be true to myself and how freeing that feels.