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What a Mom Said About My Son's Hair Changed Everything

Sometimes it truly amazes me that the kindness of strangers can completely change your day for the better. With just a few words, a heart can be lifted. If people knew how powerful their words were, would they use them more often? Would they be more mindful of how they interact out in the world?

My son has long hair. It's not super long, but it comes close to his shoulders. His big, wavy curls are the envy of many (mostly moms, not other kids), and he wears it just the way he wants it. It's not a statement of any kind, nor does it imply anything about his gender identity. He just likes his hair long.

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The risk of a long-haired boy, of course, is that people sometimes refer to him as a "girl" or "the little sister." For a while, it didn't seem to bother him. But lately, his eyes turn toward the ground when people make this mistake.

Also by his own choice, he is generally dressed head to toe in athletic attire, with a red and blue Patriots hat firmly in place. You'll never catch him in anything other than red, blue, orange or fluorescent yellow, and his Under Armour sneakers (practically torn to shreds) are always on his feet. Also, he does that super high basketball sock thing—a trend among young boys that doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon.

If I could find her again I would throw my arms around her.

When people mistake him for a girl, the mama bear in me wants to scream, "Really? You took one look at him and thought girl?" But I don't. I smile and say, "This is my son." Then we move on.

To be clear, he loves his sister something fierce and is quite certain that she's the strongest person he knows. He has plenty of girl friends and will play with anyone who wants to kick a soccer ball or shoot some hoops. He genuinely enjoys playing with other kids, regardless of gender. He has nothing against girls.

But he's a 7-year-old boy who gets tired of being mistaken for a girl simply because he likes his hair long. While we talk about why people might make that mistake and what to say in response, I see him shrink each time it happens. But a recent encounter at the 99 Cent Store changed everything.

A mom of twin babies, struggling to get one of them back in the stroller, looked up to see my two kids smiling at hers. She seemed to appreciate the distraction and said something along the lines of, "Look at these beautiful girls."

I quickly gave my stock response, "That's my son," and then shared their names. Normally, people become uncomfortable in this scenario and walk away. But not this day. That mom looked my son straight in the eyes and said, "I am so sorry, young man! You know, you are just so gorgeous that I took a quick look and thought anyone that gorgeous has to be a girl! Of course you're a boy!"

We all make mistakes. We all say things we wish we could take back. But we don't always do take it back.

My son's face lit up in an instant. He asked her a question about her babies, and the mom and I chatted quickly about those tiring baby days before she went on her way.

If I could find her again I would throw my arms around her. I would thank her over and over again for responding in kind and making my son smile that day. I would buy her a coffee and hold her babies and give her a moment of relaxation during those long, late afternoon hours.

Mistakes happen. It's easy to see where people take a look a long, shaggy hair and quickly think "girl" without really studying the face beneath the hat. I get it. But taking the time to apologize for the mistake and say something kind changes everything. And it teaches children a valuable lesson about second chances.

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We all make mistakes. We all say things we wish we could take back. But we don't always do take it back. That mom did. That mom saw my son look toward the ground and responded immediately. And I thank her for it.

A few kind words go a long way toward making others feel accepted and appreciated. I know my son will pay it forward to another person on another occasion, and I sure hope that I meet that mom again someday soon, so that I can thank her for making a difference.

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