Yesterday, my son, who has beautiful, wavy blond hair that we have kept long and now hangs to his shoulders, wore his hair back into a ponytail for church.
This was his first time to wear his hair in a ponytail out in public.
Almost immediately, his confidence was shattered when an older kid came up to us and said, "You're not a girl, Cooper, why are you wearing your hair like one?"
I nearly came unglued on this kid, who actually belongs to a church member whom I consider a dear friend.
"There is nothing about a having a ponytail that is girly."
"Haven't you seen Clay Matthews (a popular American football star)?
"He wears his hair long like Cooper's and almost always wears it back into a ponytail just like Coop's for his games and even on the red carpet.
"Do you think Clay Matthews looks like a girl?"
"Well, no," said the boy, who now had the good decency to look ashamed at his error in judgment.
"He was happy to wear his hair in a ponytail until you said that."
(Coop had already yanked the ponytail elastic from his hair at this point.)
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to hurt his feelings" he said.
"Well I'm glad you're sorry but you really should think about what you say to other children, especially about their looks.
"Every kid is different and deserves to be able to embrace their differences without others making fun of what they don't understand."
"Okay, Ms. Lena, I am really sorry and I didn't mean to hurt anybody."
"I know you didn't, we just have to think about what we say sometimes."
Unfortunately, this isn't the first conversation I've had with children over what they say to other kids.
The truth is, it's the parents who I need to have a conversation with.
Too often, our children are taught to hate or disapprove of things they don't understand because that's what we, the parents, are teaching them.
It's devastating to me that we as parents can control how our children perceive others who are different from them yet so many choose to teach their kids to hate instead of embrace differences.
This has been a problem since then dawn of time and sadly it's one that can easily be remedied.
I think we parents of the "different" children have a special calling to correct this wrong by educating other parents about our children's differences and why they are extraordinary because of their differences.
Maybe then, words like the r-word and stupid will disappear from our vocabularies, along with ignorant remarks made by people who just don't understand something or someone that's different.
What sort of sling do you use?