Recently, my artistic 9-year-old son wore a Knuckles the Echidna costume to school. Knuckles the Echidna is a giant red cartoon character that looks nothing like an actual echidna. He’s a character from the Sonic the Hedgehog book, videogame, and animation enterprise with which my son is obsessed.
On the way to school, I tried to prepare him for teasing and frustration, because as a woman in my 40s, I wouldn’t know what in the hell he was if I saw him, were he not my son. I told him, “You understand that I only know who you are because you’ve taught me, and echidnas aren’t actually red, nor are hedgehogs actually royal blue, so people may not know who you are today, right?”
“Well actually a lot of my friends like Sonic the Hedgehog, and…”
I cut him off, “Son… not everybody is going to know who you are today. Are you okay with that? You need to be. Your teachers, for example, don’t all know about Sonic the Hedgehog and the characters.”
“Yes, Mom,” he replied, but I could tell he thought everyone would immediately know his character and be as excited as he was about it. And yes, his obscure favorite superheroes are annoyingly hard to find every Halloween. This is the costume I found on Amazon:
When I picked him up after school, he wasn’t wearing the Knuckles the Echidna head, a piece held on by Velcro, with long, red spikes hanging down.
I asked him why he took off the head. Did he get hot?
“I took it off for self-esteem reasons,” he replied.
After deciding “for self-esteem reasons” will now be entering my personal vernacular because I kind of love it, I asked him what he meant.
“Some of the kids thought I was a court jester or a SQUID,” he answered, in a mortified voice. “They kept calling me squid even after I told them I was Knuckles the Echidna! ‘Squid, squid, squid,’ they laughed at me. It made me mad, and they kept calling me squid all day, so I finally took the costume head off!”
I wish he hadn’t done that.
He gave up his power to a few silly little mocking boys.
I thought I’d coached him better.
I constantly tell my child, “The person who cares the most has the least power in any interpersonal interaction or relationship,” because this is a very basic yet powerful fact of human psychology.
But he’s only 9, so when I explain to him that if you walk away from toxic people and bullies, you hold onto your power, he doesn’t fully understand.
On the ride home, I told him that when kids are unkind, if you let them get a rise out of you, you’re giving them exactly what they want: stimulation and power. The best way to ruin all the fun for a bully is by giving them no reaction. Or if possible, laugh along with them. A bully can’t laugh at someone who’s already laughing at themselves. What’s the fun in that?
I shared the idiom “never let them see you sweat” with him, and asked him if he understood what that means.
“It means never let them see they’re getting to you.”
“Right, son. When you got visibly angry today over the word ‘squid,’ you gave those boys exactly what they wanted from you: a reaction. Next time, just laugh. If you’d said, ‘You’re right! I can see how this costume looks like a squid, too!’ they probably would have moved on. But you got mad. You gave them the power. If you don’t let people know they bother you, you hold onto your power.”
And then to further illustrate my point, I shared with my son The Legend of Bitch Tit.
Telling a child this tale may call my parenting choices into question, but it felt right at the time, so judge freely. I’m not here to win any parenting awards.
(Do you see what I did there? I don’t care if you call me a squid. Call me a squid-parent again. Whatever. Power retained.)
The Legend of Bitch Tit was a story told to me by an ex-boyfriend. This ex-boyfriend was the shortest male I’ve ever dated at barely 5’10” (I’m 5’9”) and slightly built, yet he was completely confident about his size. He encouraged me to wear high-heeled boots or shoes, even though they made me taller than him because he told me, “Tall girls have presence. Be proud of your height… it doesn’t make me insecure if you’re taller, it makes me feel like, yeah, she’s with me!”
I was amazed by his confidence. He was extremely intelligent (I actually saw him on “Jeopardy!” recently), and he’d learned early in life as a smaller guy that he’d need to find other reasons to be confident. Because nothing is more attractive than confidence. Nothing. So he focused on his strengths, and gave no power to what others perceived as weaknesses.
For the first time in my life, rather than feeling insecure about being a tall, awkward chick in a world of adorably petite waifs, I felt good. It was extremely empowering, and I haven’t lost that feeling. It was a wonderful gift, and I still feel proud of my height rather than embarrassed by it.
During our years together, he told me The Legend of Bitch Tit, because this person taught him about confidence, and the power of owning it.
Bitch Tit was a guy who went to my ex-boyfriend’s high school with the surprisingly common condition of a male breast (gynecomastia). Not male breasts, plural, but one male breast. And not the kind to be hidden by clothing, but a full, round, obvious breast.
Being the guy in high school with one large breast is an extremely unfortunate card to be dealt in a world full of insecure people who try to feel bigger by tearing down others. We all know that humans can be cruel, but especially the not-yet-fully-formed ones with immature brains and little life experience to teach them empathy.
So, yeah. This guy was very quickly renamed “Bitch Tit” by his sensitive and kind-hearted fellow students.
Did he get angry or fight the people who mocked his physical appearance? He had every right to be mad, after all. Being an adolescent boy with a single huge boob isn’t exactly ideal.
Nope, my ex-boyfriend told me. Bitch Tit didn’t let anyone see him sweat. He didn’t get mad. Instead, he laughed along with the other teenagers, like, “I know, right? I’ve got a tit. Isn’t it weird?”
Bitch Tit owned it.
And by owning it, he took away the power from every single person who tried to tease him for his difference. Because there’s no fun or psychological stimulation to be gleaned from someone who’s laughing along with you.
Even if you’re hurt by what someone is saying, if you act like it doesn’t bother you – or better yet, you self-confidently laugh along with them – you retain your power.
Bitch Tit ended up casually called his offensive nickname—not ever making a big deal over it. Soon, the other kids accepted him and wanted to be his friend. His confidence and ability to hold his head high despite something that would make most people want to hide impressed his peers.
Bitch Tit was one of the most popular guys in his high school.
I told my son that Bitch Tit may have felt insecure about what the kids were calling him, and probably grew out of the breast as his hormones adjusted, or perhaps later had the breast surgically removed. Who knows?
But he never let mean people see his insecurity and take his power. He never let them win.
I told my son that the next time someone is making fun of him, laugh along with them, or at the very least, walk away. Never let them have power over you.
“Don’t let the jerks of the world win. Be like Bitch Tit,” I said.
And then I told him, “But don’t use the words ‘bitch’ or ‘tit’ at school, or you’ll get in trouble!”