This morning, my three-year-old wanted to wear his Superhero suit to school. It’s one of those cheapie nylon deals you buy at Costco the day after Halloween, with cotton stuffed into the front to make it look like a six-pack. Typically, boys will put it on and strut around like plush sausages, heedless of the fact that they are essentially wearing a unitard. This particular costume has already gone through three children and has runs up the arms and legs, like primary-colored pantyhose. The back is a disaster. It’s stained in interesting places. My husband has rags that have gone crusty with gunk from his fish tanks that are more attractive than this costume. But little man wanted to wear it.
To be fair, we’ve just entered the Jewish month of Adar, a time for general celebration and anticipation of the holiday of Purim, our Jew-y combination of Halloween and Mardi Gras. Wearing a costume is not completely unheard of this time of year. But I really didn’t want him to wear this one.
It wasn’t the costume itself that bothered me. Costumes are cool. If I could get away with it, I would probably wear a costume every day. It wasn’t even the fact that my son would be clothing his body in nastiness. Oh, no. The real reason I wanted him to leave the shmata at home was because I was afraid that his teachers would take one look at it and judge me for my lack of housekeeping and laundry skills, the sorry state of my house, my shameful negligence as a parent, and my failure to act like a functional adult.
It’s possible I was making it about me.
Here’s the great thing about toddlers, though: they don’t give a crap about your baggage. They want what they want, and they will fight you to the edge of sanity until they get it. This is especially true of my son, for whom every idea except his own is unacceptable. It takes crazy Freudian acrobatics to get this kid to think that getting dressed, eating breakfast, and going to bed are the fruits of his own brain. Which meant that any argument I had against the costume was doomed to fail.
The good news is I was only ten seconds into arguing with him before I remembered the golden words an old sponsor once told me, which I have adopted as my personal motto: “It doesn’t matter what people think about you, because no one’s thinking about you. They’re thinking about themselves.”
The first time I heard this, I had only to consider the enormous amount of time I think about myself to know that what she said was true. And what I realized is this: if people really aren’t thinking about me, then the things I’m afraid they’re thinking about me are really the things I’m thinking about myself. So my job isn’t to change their perception of me, but to change mine.
Clearly, we still have some work to do in that department.
But at least my kid went to school happy.