When I was a kid, I hated getting my hair cut. Hated it. My mom or dad would say “Graeme, get your shoes on” and I’d ask “where are we going?” and one of my least favourite answers was “you need a haircut”. Even going to the dentist wasn’t as bad. Was this because I was particular about how my hair looked, and the barbers we went to didn’t do a good enough job? No, I didn’t generally care what it looked like. Was it an unpleasant place? Did the barber smell bad? I don’t think so, but I actually don’t remember where we went the times when my mom didn’t do it herself. It was because of school. Whenever I got a haircut, the kids at school would make fun of me, and I hated it.
You may be surprised to learn that despite the mountain of manly musculature you see before you today, I was bullied a lot as a kid. (I’ll just pause a minute here while you get your laughter under control. Dum de dum de dum… all better now? Great.) I wasn’t really short, but in the lower half of the class height-wise. I was also pretty scrawny and not exactly a star on the sports field. This was not helped by the fact that I did grades one and two in the same year and so was a year younger than everyone else. I don’t remember being beaten up all that often, it was more verbal bullying, i.e. being made fun of. Whenever I got my hair cut, there were always a few kids at school the next day pointing and saying “Ha ha! You got a haircut!” The brilliant comeback “So?” never occurred to me, nor did the concept of simply not giving a shit, so I just put up with the teasing, silently cursing my parents for not letting me grow my hair to the floor.
I don’t imagine I was unique in having to deal with this. I was lucky enough to never wear braces and I didn’t wear glasses until high school, but I knew kids who had one or the other (or even worse, both) and they went through endless teasing as well. It was not unusual at all to hear “brace face” or “metal mouth” or “four eyes” or other names thrown about. I remember going to school and seeing a friend wearing glasses or braces for the first time and feeling sorry for them – not because of the problems with their eyes or teeth, but because it meant years of teasing were about to begin. Gail got her glasses in grade two, and endured years of it.
Eventually my classmates and I matured to the point where the teasing stopped. When I got glasses in grade ten, I don’t remember being called names or being made fun of at all. For the next fifteen years or so, that kind of teasing was a thing of the past. It was something I just didn’t think about. It wasn’t until I had kids of my own who started school that I thought about it again. I almost apologized to Ryan when we took him to get a haircut for the first time after he started kindergarten because of the teasing he’d have to go through at school. The next day I asked him about it, and he had no idea what I was talking about. Being made fun of because of a haircut? Why? I was very glad to hear that this wasn’t an issue, at least in his class.
A little while later, Ryan said that a girl in his class came to school with glasses for the first time. Again I asked if people made fun of her, partially to make sure that Ryan wasn’t one of them, and again he was puzzled. “No,” he said, “most people didn’t say anything, and some just said they looked good on her.” The further he got in school, the more I found that this was the norm for them – people get haircuts all the time, some have to wear glasses or braces, and that’s just how it is. Nobody is made fun of because of it, and nobody dreads going to school because of it. Ryan got his glasses back in 2008, just having finished grade 4. I remember being at the optometrist and Ryan didn’t even blink when the doctor told him he needed glasses. He didn’t get the glasses until something like the third week of June, so we didn’t bother making him wear them to school for the last week, but he didn’t care either way.
The original inspiration for this article is that this past week, Ryan had a (fixed) retainer put in, and will be getting braces in a few months. We’ve known this has been coming for a couple of years, and Ryan has never shown any unhappiness or concern about it at all. In fact while I can’t say he’s exactly excited, it’s a bit of a novelty to him right now, and he’s curious about how it will work. Two days after Ryan got his retainer, I took Nicky to the optometrist for his annual eye exam, and now he needs glasses too. Similarly, his reaction was a nonchalant “Oh. Cool.”
I realize that this is quite a different thing, but I hope that other forms of verbal bullying and discrimination similarly vanish over the years. Right now, I could tell my kids “Not long before I was born, black people had to use different entrances in schools and sit at the back of the bus while the white people sat at the front!” and they’d be amazed. They’d ask me why that was the case, and I wouldn’t be able to give them a compelling answer, or even one that makes any sense at all. I envision my kids talking to their kids in a few decades, telling them “When I was a kid, gay people weren’t allowed to get married!”, and their kids being amazed. They’d ask why, and my boys would have to give the same “That’s just the way it was back then” non-answer.
Of course, kids are still kids. The bullying is still there, but it’s a little different now: “Ha ha! Alexis’ dad only has an iPhone 3, and Matthew’s mom still uses a Blackberry! LOSERS!”