Raleigh’s Shoes and Pink Metallic Rhinestone Awesome

A guest post by Val McKee.

I used to love shopping for shoes. I’d trot up Broadway during my lunch hour, pop in every store along the way, slide a nylon over my manicured foot, try on a half dozen shoes, and pose in front of a half mirror: toe pointed forward, toe pointed out, pant leg pulled up, pant leg down—you get the picture. It was sort of my thing.

But now, I’m a mom.  I will put off shoe shopping until my boys’ toes are practically bursting through the seams. When my seven year old’s coach pulled me aside and told me in an uncomfortable stage whisper that I needed to buy Carson new sneakers, I collected my mother-of-the-year trophy, downed a stiff drink, and drove my three boys to the shoe store.

(I’m joking about two of those things. Or…one of those things.)

After a couple of foot races through the aisles and a brief struggle with a two year old whipping shoe boxes off the shelves like he was on an episode of Supermarket Sweep, we were ready to get to business.

Carson chose his new sneakers right away: a conservative gray running shoe with a fun streak of bright orange. Two year old Simon, nicknamed “Me Too,” chose a miniature version of the exact gray and orange shoe. Score! We’ve been here twenty minutes and two kids have shoes! Now for Raleigh.

Sparkle shoesThere he is. In the part of the aisle devoted to sparkle. The pink part. The girl part.

“Raleigh, have you chosen some shoes?”

He has. They are pink. They are metallic. They have rhinestone toes. They have bows. They light up. They are for girls.

I hesitate for a moment.

This is my boy who finds beauty in everything. He spent the better half of his first four  years in a Tinkerbell dress. His third birthday party had a fairy theme. He was a peacock for Halloween twice. He has impeccable taste. But now he is five and I am worried. Then I see his face. Oh my word, he loves those shoes.

As we are checking out, Carson quietly says to me: “Mom, I’m worried about Raleigh getting those shoes. I mean, I think it’s fine, but…”

Carson is in the second grade. He totally gets it. I share his concern.

All three boys happily wear their new shoes out of the store. We survived shoe shopping and reward ourselves with a celebratory dinner at a real life restaurant. I’m not kidding. I took my three boys shoe shopping. I earned a dinner out.

Raleigh barely ate a bite of his dinner because he was far too busy examining his shoes under the table for the entire meal. He was deeply, madly in love. He talked on and on about their many beautiful features and imagined what all his envious friends would say when they saw them the next day in school.

Unfortunately, so did I. That night, I repeated the following prayer:  Please, God, don’t let those little twerps take this joy away from my baby. Don’t let them take away his awesome.

 The next morning, Raleigh is up and dressed before anyone else. He’s dancing around excitedly in his new shoes, singing a song all about their gorgeousness. I give him a hug goodbye and hand him his lunchbox, “Raleigh, are you super psyched to show off your new shoes?”

“I don’t know,” he says quietly. “I think I should just wear these shoes at home. They can be my home shoes.”

“Why?” I ask. “Are you worried you’ll get them dirty?”

“No.” He hesitates, “I’m worried my friends will tease me and say I’m wearing girl shoes.”

Aaaaaaaaand…there it is. I can almost see his awesome disappearing before my very eyes—like the bodies in Marty McFly’s family photo in Back to the Future, Raleigh’s awesome is slowly fading into nothing.

Suddenly, my worry transforms as an invisible someone pokes my inner Mama Bear.

“Raleigh…did you choose those shoes?”


“Do you love them?”


“Do they fit your feet perfectly?”


“Then they are your shoes, Raleigh.”


A slightly less awesome Raleigh shuffles heavily away in his pink and silver sparkle shoes, but he’s wearing them. He isn’t lifting his feet enough to illuminate the rhinestones, but he’s wearing them.

Thirty minutes later, I receive a text from my husband: “Raleigh refused to wear his shoes into the building.”

My heart broke.

Later, when I picked Raleigh up from school, he came skipping out of his classroom in a flurry of pink lights and sparkle. The shoes!

I practically knocked him out with my squeal: “Raleigh! Your dad said you didn’t want to wear your shoes! Did you change your mind?”

“Yes! I decided I really wanted to wear them!”

“And did anyone tease you?”

“No,” he said proudly. “I told all my friends: Did you know there is no such thing as girl shoes and boy shoes? I’m a boy. If these are girl shoes, why would I like them? Shoes are for everyone and colors are for everyone! And you know what, Mom? They said I was right! They agree!”

It’s such a simple, logical explanation. Why didn’t I think of that?

Oh right—because some twerp stole my awesome a long time ago—just like every other grown-up on the planet. Which is why I’m not the first person on the dance floor at wedding receptions, why I worry about my singing voice, why I don’t always speak up, why I weigh myself…the list goes on. But my boy is so awesome. And so damn smart.

And who among us couldn’t use a bit more sparkle in our lives?


Val McKee


Val McKee is a writer, a musician, and a teacher of both, but her life’s greatest challenge is also her greatest reason to drink–I mean–greatest reward: Her three crazy boys. When she’s not being their jungle gym, she likes to do anything else. Seriously. Absolutely anything else.




Little Kids, Gender Stereotypes, and Pink and Purple Buttcheek Sandwiches

I was packing my son’s lunch for kindergarten this morning in a total rush as I’ve had a crazy busy week, congratulating myself on finding enough peanut butter and bread to make a sandwich when I had one of *those* moments.

The only clean sandwich box I could find was our pink and purple one. I had already grabbed his green water bottle and a pink fork for his kiwi. Benny is obsessed with the color wheel right now and will only eat his food if he has a utensil in a color on the opposite side of the color wheel. So then I found myself worrying if a pink and purple sandwich box AND a pink fork would put his classmates over the edge and get him teased for having “girl colors”. Should I quick wash the lime green box bottom and pair it with the pink top? Benny loves all colors and does a great job of telling people “Colors are for everyone“.  But not all kids think like that….or rather, not all kids are taught to think like that. And some kids can be cruel when they see a peer not conforming to the strict gender codes we raise our kids with these days.

So I find myself standing in my kitchen at 7:58am and we have to be out the door and I’m wondering when childhood stopped being about kids and started being about marketing schemes and gender stereotypes. I think that teasing someone for the color of their lunch containers might be the single stupidest thing to tease someone about, yet I’m sure it happens all of the time. I look at my little guy and wonder if he’ll get teased at lunch today. My heart is constricting in fear of Benny being hurt at school and simultaneously exploding with pride knowing he would tell the teaser, “Colors are fer ebberyone and das not your busithness.”

I kneel down to Benny and say, “Buddy, I hope you have a great time at school. I hope you and your friends like all the fantastic colors packed in your lunch today.”

To which he replies, “I don care abou dee colors. I’ll juss tell dem I hab a buttcheek samwich.”

And I realize, no one messes with the kid who eats buttcheek sandwiches for lunch and we’re about to have one full of awesome day at school.

Making some wholesome buttcheek sandwiches for lunch.

Final note: While scraping the last ounce of peanut butter out of the jar I knocked the purple sandwich box bottom on the floor and into the jaws of our waiting dog, who slobbered all over it like a ravenous hog. Thus Benny went to school with the lime green box I then had to wash, the pink lid, green water bottle, and pink fork. Maybe he will blow a little mind or two at the lunch table today.

Pink Pumpkin: Colors Are For Everyone

A little story from our home over the weekend to let you all know that even at PPBB World Headquarters I have to give my kids reminders about pushing out marketing/cultural messages on gender and encourage them to be their own people.

So we were decorating seasonal gourds…..

“Mom, Ben is painting his pumpkin pink. Ben, pink is a girl’s color.” -7yo Pigtail Pal Amelia

“Ammeereeuh! Colors are for ebberyone.” -5yo Benny Boy

“Smalls, pink is a great color. Benny chose it as one of his colors for painting. Pink isn’t a girl color, today it is a Benny color. Colors are for everyone.” -Me

“I know. I was just reminding him what people might say.” -OPP

“Ammeereeuh! You are headed for trouble!” -Benny

“Smalls, what other people say about Ben’s pumpkin is none of his business. Kids can choose whatever colors they want. There aren’t rules to follow.” -Me

“Well, anyway, I’m painting mine purple and yellow to look like monster guts.” -OPP

“I’m painting mine pink to look like a jellybean an den dey will bite an der teef will fall out!” -Benny

“Guys, sometimes there is a lot of pressure on kids to only like certain colors because of some ideas adults hold. But kids shouldn’t have limits like that and the fake rules about colors that adults hold are ridiculous. And then they teach those fake rules to kids, which is even more ridiculous.” -Me

“Yeah. Iss really ridiffilicous.” -Benny


Colors are for everyone.

Why Face Painting Matters

I’ve had several parents write in to our Facebook  page sharing their experiences with face painters at community events and children’s museums. One comment and photo came in, then another, and another. I took a step back to think about why this was important and why parents were sharing this with me. And then it clicked — this was more than the individual choices of these kids.  Face painting is one of the few activities where a service for children is marketed directly to children in real time, and the child present picks the product directly in front of the marketer, with the marketer being able to immediately influence the choice.

Why does this matter?

How many thousands and thousands of kids do you think face painters come in contact with? What messages could and should those people be sending? Several parents have written to me saying their daughter was discouraged from getting a sports ball on her cheek, and instead got a yellow flower. Or the little boy who was discouraged from getting a butterfly, until his mom had to step in and defend his choice. When face painters say “Oh, that’s a girl color, you don’t want that” they are directly impacting the child’s imagination and reinforcing gender stereotypes. They are directly using sexism to change what your child thinks.

It seems pretty obvious how sexist the reactions steeped in gender stereotypes are and how they limit our kids. I would like to instead focus on a few fine artists and kiddos who got it right:

A satisfied customer! Tiger Snake Girl.


“I just need to give massive kudos to the lovely woman who painted my daughters face today at Adventure Aquarium. B asked to be a snake, the woman asked if she wanted to be a green snake or another color. B opted to be an orange tiger snake. But she never once suggested the bright pink or purple and told her an tiger snake was an awesome choice!”  — Alicia, PPBB mama

A pigtailed baby jaguar.


“FULL OF AWESOME! I thought you might like to see who was totally full of awesome and getting her face painted as a baby jaguar in a sea of girls all getting their faces painted to be Hawaiian princesses at the local street fair on Sunday… 🙂 (Tallie, in her Full of Awesome Shirt!)”  — Roby, PPBB mama

A very delighted blue butterfly.


“I thought I’d share my son’s photo from the recent Renaissance Faire. We had to fight with the artist to get him the painting he wanted, rather than the “Boy one” she was insisting he would like better. Check out this face, does he look unhappy???” — Morgan, PPBB mama

This is one serious predator!


Natalie (7 yrs) to the face-painter: “I’d like to look like a tiger please.”
Artist: “Ohh, why that? You’re so cute, and you have such a pretty sparkly top on; wouldn’t you like some flowers or a rainbow instead? It would maaaaatch…”
Natalie: “No thank you. This outfit is for when I’m a dancer. The paint is for when I’m a predator. Tulips aren’t very good camouflage in the jungle.”
(You see that the frustrated artist couldn’t help herself and HAD to add some sparkle to Talie’s forehead and nose anyway. I hope it doesn’t glare and scare off all the prey.)” — Rachel, PPBB mama

Childhood is not a time for limitations. Childhood is a time for choices. We need adults to remember to respect and honor that, and pack away our preconceived notions of what boys and girls can and cannot do. In childhood, they should be able to do it all.


The in-your-face sexism is easy to see, and for the most part easy to speak out against. It is the subtle, barely noticeable, should-I-even-say-something sexism and gender stereotyping that is harmful, and far more likely to directly touch our children. The subtle sexism is everywhere in childhood, and once you see it, you can’t unsee it. But you can speak out against it, and teach your kids to do so, too.

Here are some great examples sent to me this weekend from our Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies Facebook Community:

“At Payless Shoes today the saleslady was giving out stickers. I heard her ask several girls if they liked princesses, and boys if they liked cars. So I was pleased when she asked my 4-yr-old daughter if she wanted Hello Kitty, and then surprised when my daughter walked away with the sticker, very upset. Turns out she wanted spiderman, but that wasn’t a “girl” choice. So of course, we went right back up to the counter for spiderman.”  -Sarah B


” So earlier today I was at my little brother’s birthday party at a kid’s gym (I’m 20 and he just turned 7. I know, big age gap) and I was watching the kids get their goodie bags. My mom and I had packed them with fairly generic things (slinkys, stickers, toy lizards/frogs, gooey hands that stick to the wall, etc) and no bag was meant for any particular person. There were pink, blue, and purple bags.

I didn’t see them all being handed out, but what I DID see was a girl going up to the gym employee, asking for a blue bag, and the worker telling her no, she could have the pink one. Looking around the room, I don’t think a single girl got a blue bag. If that wasn’t bad enough, I heard one of my brother’s friends complaining to another friend about getting a purple bag. I interjected myself into the conversation and asked the boy what was wrong with the purple bag. He explained to me with disgust that purple was a “girl color”. I quickly replied “Well that sounds silly. How can one color be for a boy or a girl? Everyone likes colors.” He stopped for a second and pondered that, like he had honestly never heard anything like that before.

Being a college student, I don’t really have a ton of day-to-day interaction with kids. But it’s days like today that remind me why the work you do is so important. The funny thing is, when the kids opened their bags up, they were all having a blast playing together with the frogs and flinging their sticky hands around the room. Not a single one cared anymore about what color their bag was. I guess kids will be kids. We just need to learn to step back and let them.”  -Ellisa B


While at a community event this weekend, I ran into a good friend who told me what she had observed in the children’s area at a craft table: A father and son were about to start the craft that the children chose, either a crown or a shield. The boy wanted to make a crown. The father said no, crowns were for girls, and the boy would make a shield. The boy then tried to choose a pink crayon to start decorating it, and the father said no, pink was for girls, and switched out the crayon for another color.

At this same event, this happened to my family:
The lady volunteer announced who each of us would be, telling Benny he was a knight, Amelia a princess. Amelia’s shoulders fell.
“I wanted to be a knight.” -Amelia
“Girls weren’t knights. You can be a princess because you’re too young to be a lady in waiting.” -Volunteer
“Huh?” -Amelia
“I think she’s suggesting you go inside and rewrite history, Smalls.” -Me

Thankfully, when I posted this story on the facbook page, several commentors left names of women like Joan of Arc, Boudica, Grace O’Malley, Nicola de la Haye, and the children’s series Jane and the Dragon so that I have evidence to show her to the contrary.

In this post, my colleague Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker does a great job showing how really easy it is to get kids thinking critically about their media! Click HERE.

We also need to get kids challenging the stereotypes they face day to day, usually completely unintentionally by the other person. But therein lays the problem — the sexism is so engrained it is invisible.  

Jane and the Dragon