Entering my kindergarten classroom, I shuffled around my blueberry shaped classmates as some began throwing their winter layers into cubbies. Admittedly, my torso was equally bulbous – covered with the threats and extortions of my mother: a heavy jacket, gloves, and a hat. But, below the waist I wore only a pair of frigid khaki shorts. As I walked proudly to my seat, my teacher quickly approached me. Bug-eyed, in what I assumed was intense admiration, she asked “Stephen, aren’t you the tiniest bit cold?”.
“No,” I replied, smiling. “I don’t get cold.”
For as long as I can remember, those words were my battle cry. Everyday, I endured questions from playground supervisors, taunts from my classmates, and concerned looks from parents. But, everyday I stood my ground, refusing pants on principle. I would never wear pants. I would never conform. I would never ever be cold.
Ten years later, on a non-descript winter morning, I woke up shivering. Moving mechanically to my khaki drawer, I felt my legs cringe at the prospect of another “pantsless” walk to school. My boundless heat had left with elementary school, but my identity hadn’t. I was fifteen now, often miserable, but unable to do what felt like a betrayal of the past nine years of my life. Pausing to open my khaki drawer, I noticed a pair of jeans neatly folded on top. Looking out my frost lined windows, I clenched my jaw and decided. Gingerly, as if afraid of some microbial contagion, I picked up the jeans.
Putting on pants was not a moment of gleaming insight, but the beginning of an understanding. I realize now that every day I’d stubbornly worn shorts under the banner of “being myself,” I had not been preserving who I was, but who I had once been. By spurning pants, I had chained myself to who my past wanted me to be: a slave to the errant belief that by changing who we are, we betray who we once were.
When I slipped on the jeans, I ended one lifelong tradition and began another: acceptance of the concept that who I am is not a static goal but a moving target. Who we are is not ever to be achieved but always to be chased.
I was always taught to be myself, and as a pantsless blueberry, I took this to mean that I could not let others define me. But, now, as a larger, better-clothed blueberry, I realize the preconceptions we hold of ourselves, the traditions we create, and the dogma we overlook, cage us more effectively than any regime. Though I was unaware at the time, putting on those pants changed my life. I put aside years of tradition in beginning the struggle to question my own assumptions, look at myself critically, and live the changes that I find. For, when it comes to deciding “who I am,” it is not my friends, family, nor even my past self, but I who wears the pants.