Debra Downs


Debra Downs

As my son was just getting off the tennis court with a bunch of kids from our overly involved, gossip-driven, shabby-chic tennis and beach club, I caught one
of the kids making fun of him.  The kid rolled his eyes when my son turned around, and laughed at him behind his back. This kid, from this really nice family, was trying to impress his friends, and my son was the bait. I was mortified.

I watched this scene unfold while in the middle of a conversation with one of the moms, half-listening to what she had to say, but mostly planning my revenge on the 8-year-old jokester.  I grew up in an Irish-Catholic household surrounded by silver-tongued, witty and sarcastic men, so if there was any zinger comment out there, I would find it and use it in my son’s defense.  I chose to stare him down so he knew I was on to him.  

On our ride home, I asked my son if he enjoyed the tennis clinic and liked the kids he just played with. “Yeah Mom, it was fun and the kids were really nice.”
I bit my tongue.

This need to fix it festered inside of me and a few days later, I found myself at the Nike store, picking out cool clothes for my son to wear to his next tennis clinic.  There I was ringing up the latest tennis gear at the register, coming home with bags of stuff for him to try on.  I thought that if my son could be my own little Nike-clad Federer or Nadal, then all the boys and girls would want him as their friend.  

Fast forward to the fall, I question my daughter’s outfit as she leaves for school.  She brushes me off and leaves, wearing her beloved pinks, blues, greens and purples. I tease her on our way out the door.  

Running late on the night to my best friends daughters bat mitzvah, I notice my son’s shirt is just a shy too short on him and suggest he changes it.  He refuses and I realize that it’s a much bigger deal for me than him. The whole night, I’m more hyper-vigilant than I need to be and every time I see my son off on his own, I have this deep longing to dress him differently and inject him with a dose of confidence.  I want him to be popular and outgoing; I want him to not be me at that age.

What is going on with me? Why do my kids’ outfits unhinge me?  

And then Jada Pinkett Smith’s words hit me like a freight train.  “Even little girls have the RIGHT to own themselves and should not be a slave to even their mother's deepest insecurities, hopes and desires.”  That was her FB response to the critiques and public backlash about her daughter’s unconventional haircut.

I had to own this one and leave my kids alone.  Dressing my kids up like Barbie and Ken dolls is my way of coping with my own insecurities and feelings of fear that my kids will suffer the way I did as a teen. Whatever fashionable outfit I wore back then or now never increased my self-confidence, so how was it going to change theirs?  Projecting my own belief that love and acceptance can be found in an outfit was only deepening the grooves of my own misconceptions but holding me back from celebrating their uniqueness as well as my own.