Jen Anderson Shattuck's 3-year-old son is just like every other kid. He has a variety of interests, including playing with trucks and puzzles and eating plums. He also likes to wear sparkly tutus, as Shattuck explained in a now-viral Facebook post about how the boy was cruelly targeted by a stranger during a walk outside.
In the post, which as of this writing has been shared more than 44,000 times, little Roo's mama explains about his love of the poufy skirts, "If asked, he will say the tutus make him feel beautiful and brave. If asked, he will say there are no rules about what boys can wear or what girls can wear."
Shattuck goes on to share, "My son has worn tutus to church. He has worn tutus to the grocery store. He has worn tutus on the train and in the sandbox. It has been, in our part of the world, a non-issue. We have been asked some well-intentioned questions; we've answered them; it has been fine. It WAS fine, until yesterday."
That was the day someone "accosted" them and "demanded to know why" Shattuck's son was "wearing a skirt." The shaken mom says he was a stranger, but seemed to have been watching them for a while.
Shattuck recounts how the man said, "I'm just curious. Why do you keep doing this to your son?" But she knew he wasn't curious; rather, this stranger wanted her to know he thought what they were doing was wrong.
"'She shouldn't keep doing this to you,' he said. He spoke directly to my son. 'You're a boy. She's a bad mommy. It's child abuse.'"
OMG. Can you even imagine? That a stranger would presume to know what is better for your child than you do? I'm trembling with anger on behalf of this mama! But...it gets worse. Shattuck writes, "He took pictures of us, although I asked him not to; he threatened me. 'Now everyone will know.'"
As if she was trying to hide anything! Shattuck understandably called the police. She writes, "They came, they took their report, they complimented the skirt."
Unfortunately, Shattuck says her son does not feel safe. "He wants to know: 'Is the man coming back? The bad man? Is he going to shout more unkind things about my skirt? Is he going to take more pictures?'"
But this is one strong mama who won't be intimidated. "I will not be made to feel vulnerable or afraid," she writes. "I will not let angry strangers tell my son what he can or cannot wear. The world may not love my son for who he is, but I do. I was put on this earth to make sure he knows it. I will shout my love from street corners. I will defend, shouting, his right to walk down the street in peace, wearing whatever items of clothing he wants to wear. I will show him, in whatever way I can, that I value the person he is, trust in his vision for himself, and support his choices---no matter what anybody else says, no matter who tries to stop him or how often."
And then, and then, she shares her family's motto: "We are loving. We are kind. We are determined and persistent. We are beautiful and brave. We know who we are. Angry strangers will not change who we are. The world will not change who we are---we will change the world."
I know I'm officially inspired, awed, changed. And I'm not alone.
Shattuck posted an update just yesterday thanking readers for sharing their story, as well as their own photos and experiences (you can, too, using the hashtag #TutusForRoo). Then she adds, "If you disagree with my family's choices, know that my goal is not to change your mind or the way you choose to parent. My only goal is to support my son."
She also writes, "Roo may not always want to dress this way, but we hope that he'll remember that, when he did, he was loved. We hope he'll know that no matter what other people thought or said in response, there was always peace and safety in our home. "
She ends her post by sharing this beautiful, simple truth: "Parenthood calls us—immediately, from the moment our children are born—to a new hospitality, both in our families and outside them. We are called to be brave and open-hearted so that our children might learn to be brave and open-hearted too. We are called to show them how to love without condition. I am doing what I am called to do."
So powerful. Roo is one lucky little guy to have Jen as his mom. I can only hope for the strength and wisdom to support my own children as wholly and completely.
Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.