While I don’t think that it is always a conscious effort, most of us definitely care about what others think.  If we didn’t care at all, we just might show up to work in our pj’s with bedhead every day.  It doesn’t end with our looks, either.  Whether it is trying to impress the boss, our friends, or our professors, we care about the impression that we give to others, sometimes way too much.  The truth is, we HAVE to care just to blend in.  Those who dress in an “odd” manner, who make “strange” remarks, or who simply prefer to be individuals are often labeled as misfits or social outcasts.  

One thing that I have always admired about my son Hunter is his disregard for what others think of him.  At times, I am not sure if he is just oblivious, or if he really could care less.  Either way… I have found myself jealous of his lack of need to impress others.  Hunter has always marched to the beat of a different drummer.  From a very young age, he failed to conform to gender stereotypes.  While he loved to play with trucks, Hot Wheels, and Transformers, he did not discriminate against Barbie and My Little Pony.  He just saw kids as kids (rather than girls and boys) and saw toys as toys (rather than “girl toys” and “boy toys”).

As he has aged, my son has begun to fall more in line with social norms… largely due to the social skills training that he receives daily at school, which is then reinforced at home.  Hunter now understands that girls and boys are different, and that they are expected to do different things sometimes.  He is learning that boys his age high-five, and that girls hug each other and giggle.  While this may sound sexist, it is the reality of our society, and those who dare to toe the line will suffer the wrath of their peers.  However, Hunter has always tended to be an exception to the rule.  He is the giant teddy bear of his school, and the kids are happy to accept his big smiles and hugs.  I was told recently in a meeting at my son’s school that he can often be spotted on the playground or in the hallway walking arm in arm with a little girl on each side!

While he is beginning to understand more and more of the socially appropriate culture in which we live, Hunter still prefers to sing along to his own tune.  Everyone knows which window of our home is his, because of the 3 Powerpuff Girls that are suction-cupped to the glass for the world to see.  His favorite pair of pj’s is a giant red hooded onesie with Domo on the tummy.  He loves watching movies about zombies and monsters… but he also adores Cartoon Network and Boomerang.  I think that we can all learn from kids like him… that although we live in a society that will constantly attempt to force us into a mold, there are times that it is ok to stand our ground.  Who says coloring outside the lines can’t still be beautiful?

flickr/Frank de Kleine