Brand new problem

It’s hard to see your kid going through some of the gauntlets of childhood. You know they are going to go through it, just as you did. But that’s life, right? Heck, you also know they may be the givers of angst in other kids’ lives. The key, though, is knowing that your kid can rise above.

In short, there is nothing on the planet you could offer me to go back to being 12 again.

I base this on a discussion I had with my son recently. He’s 12 and in seventh grade. We were at a store, and I noticed that there were some pretty good shoe sales being offered. I asked Parker if he was interested in getting some new shoes. He kinda dodged the question.

“These are fine, I guess.”

“Well, do you want some new ones? Do you not like those shoes?”

“Everyone at school makes fun of them.”

His favorite shoes are some grey camo slip-ons, kinda like Vans, but I’m not sure they are that actual brand, as we are not really a name-brand kinda family. We just like what we like and buy it when we find it.

While I am fairly certain “everyone” doesn’t make fun of his shoes, I asked him why people make fun of them. “Because they’re slip-ons,” he said.

Now, I didn’t get the memo that slip-ons were all of the sudden not cool, but I’m also not on the Cool For Seventh Graders newsletter.

That said, I didn’t like that my son was getting picked on for what he was wearing. I’ve never been a name-brand guy, and I always wore what I liked. That seems like a simple strategy in life, and one that everyone on the planet should adopt. Do you like it, and does it not hurt anyone else? Then go do it!

But then I started thinking back to when I was in seventh grade.

In 1984, my family moved to D.C. for a year, as my dad took a sabbatical in D.C. I had lived my whole life in a fairly small town, but I was ready for a year in the big city. As fall approached and the air got cooler, it became jacket weather. Those of you my age will remember that around that time Member’s Only jackets were all the rage. I did not have a Member’s Only jacket. But what I did have was a mother who is a very talented seamstress. She used to sew dance costumes for my sisters and all of their friends. She made all kinds of cool stuff, and still does to this day. I thought the thing that would be even cooler than a Member’s Only jacket would be to have my own personal jacket that my mom had made, just for me. I bet you can guess how that turned out.

I went to school and proudly shared with everyone that the jacket I was wearing was made by my mom. Pretty much the second I said it, I knew it was a mistake. None of the kids were appreciative of my mom’s handiwork. There was blood in the water. I was the poor kid, whose mom had to make his clothes. Ha. Ha. Ha.

It was the first time in my life that I came to realize that name brands, to some people, trump everything.

So as my son was telling me about his shoes being the wrong kind, I went back to 1984. I remembered the feelings of hurt, not just because they were making fun of me, but because I was really proud of the jacket my mom had made. It really was a nice jacket. But I never wore it to school again, lest I continue to get ridicule for my coat of many colors, that my mama made for me. (Thanks, Dolly!)

I asked my son again if he wanted to go get a new pair of shoes. He said, “No. I like these. I’m not going to change what I like because other people don’t like it.”

I stopped in my tracks and took a deep breath.

“I’m proud of you,” I said.

He said, “Why?”

I just started walking again. I had to gather myself. He followed me. I told him on the ride home that I was proud of him because he should never be ashamed of who he is or what he wants to wear or anything like that. Be who you are, and name brands never define you. And we rode in silence for the rest of the trip, as I thought to myself that I wish had the wisdom he has now, way back in 1984.

Mike Gibbons was born and raised in Aiken, S.C. A graduate of the University of Alabama, he now lives in Charleston. You can e-mail him at scmgibbons@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @StandardMike.

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