When he was two years old, my son marveled at the rainbow-colored balloon archway that spanned the courtyard in town. “Bah-woons!” he would screech, and heaven help us if we didn’t leave with a bah-woon of our own later in the day.
When he was three years old, my son watched as a variety of drag queens, all decked out to the nines, danced down the street, their hands waving and their wigs flowing.
“So many pretty ladies,” he whispered in awe.
When he was four, he quickly caught on to the fact that almost every float also tossed out brightly wrapped pieces of candy, and would zip in and out of the crowd, filling up his overalls with his bounty.
This past year, however, something seemed to click for him. He realized that this yearly event that causes our little city to burst at the seam with rainbows, loud music, and tourists actually celebrates something and wasn’t just carefully planned and executed to amuse balloon and candy lovers everywhere.
The night before Pride, we were in his bed, engaged in our usual pre-bedtime snuggle and chat. Sometimes we talked about our day, other times we made our plans for the next day.
“When’s the rainbow parade?” he asked, his body buzzing with excitement.
“Remember? It’s called Pride,” I gently corrected.
His little voice echoed mine, and even through the darkness of his bedroom, I could see the little wheels turning in his head.
“What’s that?” He finally asked.
I took a moment to gather my thoughts, trying to figure out the best way to explain to my five year old just what Pride is all about. I must have taken too long, since I felt an insistent hand tugging at my sleeve.
“Well,” I began. “It’s a parade and big party where people celebrate. Because in some places, no matter how much you love somebody, you aren’t allowed to marry them if it’s two men or two women.”
I could almost feel his frustration as he grappled to understand my words. What I was telling him and what he has experienced didn’t seem to jive, and he told me as much. He reminded me of his many friends who had two moms or two dads. I tried to explain to him that it was a little different where we live. Our state not only recognizes gay marriage as a legal institution, but we live in our happy valley—one where same-sex parents are really de rigueur. My sweet, rainbow-loving son hasn’t experienced anything different, and at times that thrills me to no end, and at others I wonder if it paints an overly-optimistic view of the world at large. He just couldn’t wrap his head around the fact that somewhere outside his bubble, people wouldn’t let other people love who they wanted.
As he sat with his confusion, I decided to come at it in another way.
“Hey bud,” I asked, snapping him out of his thoughts. “Do you know what Pride actually means?”
I could feel his hair brush against my arm as he shook his head no.
“Pride is being proud of who you are, no matter what. It means being proud of who you are, even if you stand out and don’t fit in with everyone else. Pride means loving yourself, even when people may say hateful things. Pride is knowing that you do your best, are kind and loving, and that is what matters.”
As I finished my little speech, I realized that truly, that is what Pride is for me. It’s a chance for us to celebrate and support my friends, family, and neighbors. It’s a chance to show that even if you’re a little (or a lot!) different than the status quo, that you can, and should, feel proud of who you are.
It seemed to sink in, and the next morning my son ransacked his costume drawer, ready to add his own brand of glitz and glamour to the proceedings. We ended up marching in the parade with his school, and I beamed with pride of my own as I watched his shout “Again!” to his friends, leading them in our chant: “…Be who you want to be, Monnnnnnntessori.”
Photo courtesy of the author