I don’t pay much attention to holidays, since I don’t celebrate them. Although I vaguely knew it was St. Patrick’s Day today, it wasn’t until I was driving home and saw a guy wearing a huge bright green hat that I remembered that there’s a thing about wearing green on this day. Which I wasn’t, but that was by chance; I’d considered wearing a green shirt but decided that none of my pairs of green shoes would match. Thinking of that brought back a memory of maybe 35 years ago, give or take a couple of years but no days.
I was in a schoolyard playing. I was wearing a somewhat ruffly dress that was an olive and red print. (In retrospect, it must’ve been hideous, but I liked that it was fluffy and such.) And two boys came over, said “You’re not wearing green!” and started pinching me.
I was hurt and bewildered. Probably not indignant, though I did point out to them that the olive in my dress was a shade of green. But I probably wasn’t trying to claim that I had chosen that dress in order to wear green, just trying to get them to stop by pointing out that their mysterious and mean rule didn’t apply in this case. Hurt and bewildered… how could this be okay for them to do?
How do you deal with this as a parent*? You and your kid don’t observe holidays — more, actively choose not to celebrate or participate, not just ignore or go along with it — but can’t always avoid being around those that do. And while some activities are self-contained and can be selectively avoided (I used to go home early on Valentine’s Day because cards were distributed in class near the end of the school day, for example), the green-wearing thing and the pinching of those who do not comply is hardly a class activity, nor does it have a specific timeframe. The choices are:
- Wear green (thus giving the appearance of observing a holiday you don’t wish to observe) and don’t get pinched.
- Choose not to wear green and get pinched, like a child-sized sample of being abused for your beliefs.
- Dress as you please without paying any attention to what day it is and deal with things as they come.
Obviously, (3) was the choice both as a child and today. But today I am coming up on 42 and moving into the invisibility of middle age; no one is likely to bug me about it. Nor, I suspect, is pinching strangers as socially acceptable as it was decades ago. Back then, though, if I’d known about the holiday and the implication of the green thing, I would have had a hard time choosing between (1) and (2) (I was young, but old enough to decide not to participate in holidays and know why not), because there was no way to win. I wouldn’t be able to choose (3) once I knew there was a custom involving green and the penalties thereof. And I did know that kids could be mean, especially if they had a custom on their side to give them an excuse, and my having chosen not to participate wouldn’t be the slightest bit effective in keeping them from hurting me. They wouldn’t care why I wasn’t wearing green, just that they were “allowed” to target me.
In retrospect, probably wearing olive was the best I could do. It wouldn’t look like I was dressing up for the holiday, since it’s hardly green (it’s really blackened yellow), but I could point out that it was green to people who were intent on pinching whoever they could and weren’t going to care about the principle anyway.
I don’t think I thought it through like that at the time, though. And obviously it didn’t work, since I got pinched anyway.
* The relevant parent of mine is likely to read this. I should note that some of the potential conversation could well have taken place and simply not as memorable to me as the injustice of the pinching thing. Which really does make me mad.