My little love,
Last week, you fell over in the park. As you do almost every time we go to the park, really – you’re a bold and boisterous 2 (“and three quarters!”) year old, preferring running to walking and always looking for the next thing to climb. It wasn’t a big deal for either of us – until you turned to me with bright eyes and announced: “Mummy, I didn’t cry! I was brave!”
Darling, you have always been brave. You were brave when you leapt down the fireman’s pole at the park for the first time, wrapping your no-longer-chubby little legs tightly around it. You’re brave every time we go swimming, when you launch yourself into the water, spraying everyone within 6 feet with a fine mist of chlorine spray. You were so brave when you let go of your daddy’s hands at your roller skating class on holiday, and immediately unceremoniously landed, in peals of laughter, on your nappied bum.
But, here’s the thing. You don’t have to be brave all the time. If you hurt, you can cry. I will never think less of you, sweetheart, for expressing your emotions. And, oh, you feel things so much. I will never forget your sadness when you found out your nursery worker was leaving to start a new job. You confidently told me: “And I can go with her!”. “No, I don’t think you can, baby. I’m sorry.” Less confidently: “I think I can.” “No, sausage. It’s too far. You will stay at this nursery; Miss H is going to live in a new house near her new job.” Your face as you realised the imminent finality, and the sobs when they came, broke my heart a little bit.
Your joy is enormous, too. When we found a rosemary bush the other week, and I told you to smell it, your happiness was infectious. I have never seen anyone literally jump for joy over a smell! And repeatedly, all the way up the road, you smelt your tightly-grasped sprig and bounced like Tigger, giggling so happily. Watching you explore your depth of feeling has been one of the great privileges of my journey with you so far.
You care, so much. You run over to other children when they fall, and ask them if they are ok – even strangers in the park. You ask me why people are sad when they walk past us and they carry world-weary looks on their faces. You have so much empathy, my love.
And I hate the thought that in time, you might stop expressing yourself so freely because society tells you to. I’ve realised the task ahead of me as you grow into a man. It’s on us, your family, to make sure we give you the best grounding we can in how to be a man in this world. You will be a good man, if we do our job well. We will help you navigate the toxic masculinity in the world, and encourage you to be your best authentic self. We will make sure you are well-mannered, kind and considerate to others. That bit will be easy, as it’s so naturally you.
But we will also have to help protect you from a world that might seek to stifle you. There will be plenty of people who might make you feel bad. People like the boy who, on seeing you examining pansies in his garden, asked his mum “why is that little boy being weird?” (You think they look like they have sad faces; I had never noticed it before but you’re right! They really do. You open my eyes in new ways, darling.) You didn’t hear, and just now you’re too young yet to understand what he meant by that, but one day you will hear comments from others that will make you question yourself. I hope we can equip you with the self-confidence to understand that comments like that show a lack of understanding and tolerance, which is someone else’s issue, not yours. There is nothing braver than being unashamedly, completely and utterly you.
I hope in time you come to understand what I tried to explain yesterday, when you tripped over once again, and told me how very brave you had been. I told you: “You were brave – but you don’t always have to be. It’s okay to cry if you wanted to.” You looked at me, as if I had asked you to put your shorts on your head, and said “But I didn’t want to cry, Mummy!”. And off you skipped, to look at a snapdragon. Sweetheart, you are the bravest boy I know.
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Lisa is mum to two boys. When not wrangling children she works in fundraising. She can be found on Twitter for periodic fundraising / mumming / nonsense chat. Fuelled by tea and the occasional (ahem) gin.