January 18, 2020 by Rick

The Boy with the French Braids

I am proudly stomping in my purple sneakers up the stairs towards my first day in 1st grade.

On my chest is my crest… a sparkling unicorn with wings, silver body, and rainbow sequins for the mane and tail on a violet background. My skirt is rainbow colored and flowing around me. And my skinned-up knees and elbows reflect my hearty physicalness.

My long blond hair which has never been cut is put up in pretty French braids.

At the top of the stairs I make my entrance, smiling at my classmates and Mrs. Molinas, the first grade teacher. I’m so excited! I feel so alive and… ME!

I’m about to shout out, “Hello everyone! I’m The Rainbow Unicorn SuperHero, but the people who love me just call me Rickity Rick” …when…

I wake up.

I was dreaming… and it stopped just before it became a Nightmare.

You see, there’s NO WAY I could have showed up anyplace dressed like that at 6-years-old. NO WAY!

They had a “saying” back then, repeated to me by too many adults who failed to create a safe space:

Stick and Stones will break my bones, but Names will never hurt me!

Such utter crap. Yeah, I was pushed around and sometimes physically hit by other kids. That actually did NOT wound and scar me as much as being called Four-Eyes, Teacher’s Pet, Homo, and worse.

When we’re not physically or emotionally safe around other humans in our spaces, we mal-adapt.

That’s a fancy way of saying it messes us up by forcing us to figure out ways to survive.

And mal-adapting shuts down aspects of us… you know, things like imagination, generosity, and authentic kindness and respect.  

Of course, it can look “successful.” I mal-adapted by putting almost all my energy into being “the good, smart boy.” Others I know put it into being pretty & happy (even when despairing on the inside). Some became as invisible as can be, putting their Light under a bushel smothered by a wet blanket and covered in dead dreams. Still others become noisy and bossy, domineering and controlling, emotionally volatile, physically threatening, or  status driven.

Lack of safety amongst parents, teachers, and peers turns everyone into a warped caricature of who they might be if they were safe and emotionally free. 

And I need to share something vulnerable here. The bullying by other kids that included calling me “homo” (and worse)… name-calling that was not called out as being “not okay!” by the adults around me… made me susceptible.

It’s true I wasn’t singled out for this abuse; I figure I don’t know any boy in my school or playground that wasn’t called this! So… what’s the big deal, right?

Well, at 13-years-old a male teacher and employer in a position of trust started sexually abusing me.  I cannot imagine, even now, of any way I could have revealed that secret without escalating emotional abuse and name-calling or being ostracized... or worse. I simply could NOT have survived. There was no “safer space.” Thus… it continued for 3 more years. And it was 15 years before I told anyone else.

I’ve come to understand the hard way that… No matter what armoring we fashion to protect ourselves from unsafe situations and abuse, there are chinks in the armor.

Manipulators and predators know where the susceptible points are in certain types of armor… and they exploit them.

That’s part of reality. But it’s not the entire reality.

It’s true: There are places (and people) in the physical world that are hostile to human well-being. I’m picturing a volcano… and an angry, vindictive boss. Both are hard to survive, right?

Yet, there are also a growing number of places where people devoted to crafting safer and braver spaces are coming together to:  say what hasn’t been said, share what needs to be shared, and co-create Agreements that allow people to live, laugh, and love more as… themselves.

Being a co-creator of such a space can be hard, messy, awkward… and so worth it. Participating in such a space can transform us in ways we can’t even fathom before we have the experience the first time, then again, and again. Let me give some examples.

You know that dream I had, where I had become a 1st grade superhero? Well, I make my home now with my heart-adopted boy and my partner, his mom. He’s a just-turned 6-year-old Rainbow Superhero with long blond hair he often has his mom put into French braids while he watches Stinky & Dirty on the T.V.

The three of us go to ecstatic dance on Sunday mornings. Sometimes he wears his unicorn emblazoned rainbow dress. He dances his dance, like all of us are invited to do. He goes to an outdoor farm and forest school where he also sometimes wears a dress with unicorns, or a purple skirt, or rugged pants, or rain gear… and always seems to come home wearing lots of mud.

In both these spaces there’s Acceptance. Kindness and Respect are cultivated. The requirement for Clear Consent is reinforced every day. There’s explicit Freedom to explore what’s your unique expression in the world, as long as it does not cause harm to others or yourself…

I can’t tell you how deeply HEALING it has been to be by his side as he gets to be himself in these spaces, safer than I could ever have imagined being at his age.

You may be asking, “What about the outside world? I mean, you live in North Carolina!!”

Yes, I know. Like I said, there are spaces and places that are more hospitable to emotional freedom than others. His Mom and I are selective, and we’re also aware of his growing confidence, too. He’s had SO MANY positive interactions of acceptance and celebration (not just tolerance) that there’s a Resiliency rising and strengthening in him… and it’s also rising and strengthening in me.

We went to this event where fire trucks, excavators, trash trucks, and electric busses were open to climb in and explore. The boy was in his French braids. As a man was helping him into the operator’s cab, he said, “Oh, she likes excavators!” I replied simply, “He sure does!”

There was a brief moment of awkwardness, a shift in awareness, and then the man smiled and continued, adjusting his pronouns to match the boy’s preferred ones. That easeful.

I know I am part of co-creating a safer world for my boy… and you are, too.

Every time we support spaces and attitudes that allow more safety, respect, and freedom, we’re allowing all of us to transform… to take off the armor and stop all the mal-adapting and pretending. It’s really time we get to dress and walk and talk and dance and live as our authentic selves. And THAT takes mutual support.

Thank you, Boy with the French Braids, for making this so vivid… meaningful… and REAL. I Love You So Much.

Until next time, I'm Rick at Thrivingnow. And… I heartily invite you to email me at Rick@EmotionalFreedom.Love and share how this touched you, inspired you, or challenged you. Or visit EmotionalFreedom.Love and leave a comment. Thanks for listening.

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Share Comments Below
  • This is a vulnerable one for me, as you’ll hear. I have come to understand the hard way how the armor we put on to “protect ourselves” has places where we actually end up being more susceptible to harm by those who are willing to exploit others. Even while I was being abused, I had become so skilled at presenting like the Good and Smart Boy that’s doing just fine that not even my mother knew what was going on.

    And with all my heart I feel there is HOPE. I am blessed to participate in spaces where there is respect and consent. Our Emotional Freedom Circle has been for myself and so many others over the 15 years a place for Realness, where laughter and tears are welcome and we are Present with each other (and tap together). https://www.thrivingnow.com/circle/

    Thank you to everyone who stands for Safety, Respect, and Freedom. Appreciation to all of you who have engaged with this podcast and the invitation to help co-create Emotional Freedom for All.

    With love,
    Rick

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    Angelsloveyou says:

    Beautiful Rick! I cried all the way through it and tapped too. I was called “Quiver lip”, “harelip” and more. So yes name calling does hurt. I mal-adapted by putting almost all my energy into being “the good, girl, smiling and putting on a brave front.” I also became as invisible as can be, putting my Light under a bushel smothered by a wet blanket and covered in dead dreams. Yes I have come forth much more since being a member on Thriving now, which has opened me up to feeling safer but I have become so aware of those dead dreams too.
    Thank you for being you and being so vulnerable. I am so glad you created this safe space for us in the circle.

    Jean

    Reply

  • I want to thank everyone who shared here and also those who emailed me your private stories and the ways this touched you and for some offered hope and a direction for us to engage together to make the world safer and kinder. Love to you for the deep nourishment

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