As can sometimes happen in large families, I have a cousin who is the same age as my son Noah. We were all at a party last weekend and while there, my little cousin was wearing bright yellow shorts. He looked really cute, like a little safety reflector running all over the yard.
It turned out that with the sudden turn to nice weather, both my boys were in need of new pairs of shorts. I waited until they were both at school yesterday, and then went off to buy some. Of course, the bright picture in my mind was of those cute little yellow shorts. "Wouldn't my boys look so cute in them?" I cooed to myself.
I was thrilled to find that the store carried not just yellow, but a whole variety of brightly colored summer attire. I chose a pair of melon/salmon shorts for Joey, because he'd seen his uncle wearing them all last summer, and the yellow for Noah. I bought them matching shirts, and as I walked out to the car with my giant bags of success, I imagined them stealing the show on Mother's Day or at some other summer-ish event.
Joey normally has to wear a uniform to school, but he told me this morning that today was an out-of-uniform day. "Score!" I thought to myself. "We can try out the new shorts!"
I had left the bag near the door, and went to retrieve it. Joey was watching television, still in his pajamas.
"Joey!" I called, swinging the bag up high to build expectation. "I got you some new shorts. Guess what? They're just like...Uncle Mike's." I pulled them from the bag for a big reveal.
Joey closed his eyes a moment and whispered, "Yesss." Out loud he said, "They are just like Uncle Mike's! Thanks, Mom!"
Then I turned to Noah. "And Noah, I got you a pair of cool shorts, too. Only instead of the color Joey has, I got you--" I let the bag drop so the darling yellow shorts showed--"YELLOW!"
Noah's whole face changed. It contorted into a terrible scowl. "Give those to some kid else!" he shouted. "I will never, EVER wear yellow clothes!" He said the word yellow the way I might have said the word germy.
"But Noah! These are the same cool shorts that your cousin was wearing at the party. Lots of people are wearing yellow."
"I don't care! Yellow is NOT my thing. Throw them in the garbage."
I looked at this with two hands. On the first one, there's the thought that my child should be a little more grateful. But on the other one, I'm a firm believer that kids should be entitled to their own opinions and tastes in harmless matters. To me, clothes are generally a harmless matter. (For now. If he someday wants to wear a slashed-up t-shirt that has "Death to Mom" scrawled on it in blood, I'll object.) So I relented.
"Okay," I said. "I'll take these shorts back and see if they have something better. You can wear your old shorts today."
However, I could not let the first hand, the one about being nicer and more grateful, just drop. I decided that after Noah was done with school, two things would happen. He would have to accompany me to return the clothes (because what kid wants to go clothes shopping?) and also, he'd be subjected to a discussion on the value of Opinion. Both his and those of other people.
In the car, driving to the store, I began to sing a little.
"Mom! That song is horrible!"
"Actually, Noah," I said, "the song might be horrible to you, but that doesn't make it horrible to everyone. When it comes to thoughts and feelings, those types of things are called OPINIONS. It means you're allowed to think one way about something, but another person could feel completely different."
"But Mom, the song IS--"
"Some things are FACTS," I went on. "Like if I say the sky is blue today, that's a fact. Nobody can come along and tell me it's not blue. But if I say I like sushi, well, does Joey like sushi?"
"I like sushi."
"But does Joey like sushi?"
"That's right. And that's okay, because his opinion is that sushi isn't very good. My opinion and your opinion is that sushi is delicious."
"Subs are delicious, too."
"Yes, we do all like subs." I waited a long moment. "So what's the word we learned today?"
"O-pin-YUN," I corrected.
"That's what I said. Opinsun."
"Like onion, Noah, but it's oPINion."
"Opinion!" he said, pleased to finally get it right.
"Yes, and so, you know, it might be your OPINION that yellow shorts aren't cool, but some people think they are." I decided to do some name-dropping. It had served me so well with Joey this morning. "I'm sure Uncle Mike really likes yellow shorts."
"No, Mom. That's NOT an opinion. Nobody should wear yellow shorts. Ever."