Anyone who knows me knows my son Aaron likes to have his nails painted, and that I (and my husband) have no problem with that. He gets a lot of flack for it - surprisingly more from little girls than little boys - but he rides it out.
"Mommy, they were laughing at me at karate today because of my nails."
I feel my heart lurch a bit in that mom-response to your child being made fun of, and say "And what did you tell them?"
He shrugs. "That I like it."
That's it. It's nail polish. He likes it. So what. It's just nail polish.
Only it's not just nail polish.
The thing is, I have spoken those words so many times in response to people that I have rarely stopped to think about what it means to say that.
Yes, in a way it's just nail polish. It defines nothing about him. It doesn't make him "girly" (and if it did, why is that a bad thing?), it doesn't signify sexual preferences (not that we care who he loves as long as he is happy), it just means he likes nail polish. He likes the colours, he likes how it looks.
It's just nail polish.
But when it comes to how we react to his desire to wear nail polish, it becomes something else.
It becomes part of his relationship with us, of our acceptance of him for who he is, and of our unwavering support of his desire to express who he is.
It becomes a part of his knowledge of and trust in our support and love.
It becomes part of the relationship we are building with a small person who is on a journey to figure out who he is and how he fits into this world, and to figuring out what to do when he doesn't fit into this world.
One day, he will face greater peer pressure than simply "you can't wear nail polish, you're a boy", but he is going to know that his parents support his decision to go his own way, even if people laugh at him, and he will do the right thing (we hope).
One day, he may feel something inside that he is afraid to tell the many people who might laugh at him or judge him, but he's going to know his parents aren't going to laugh, or get angry, or judge, and that we want him to be exactly who he is. And he won't be afraid to tell us, whatever it is.
My son is almost 7. He's just entering the endless part of life where what other people think, and what society has decided is ok and not ok for him to do will begin to affect his thoughts, his opinions, and how he feels about himself deep inside.
It is my goal - my mission - my obligation - to make sure he knows that whatever the world thinks of him, at home he is accepted exactly as he is. And hopefully, to make sure he can accept himself as he is and love himself in a way that so many of us struggle to achieve. That he can go on to be himself and not change because he's feeling pressured to change.
It's just nail polish. Except that it's not - it's what I want my son to know summed up in his glittery blue nails: You are You. We love you for you. Don't ever be afraid to be you, no matter what anyone else says.
It's not just nail polish. It's a message in a bottle.