Big Cook, Little Cook

Dan Wright contemplates being ginger

It’s happened.
I sort of expected it, even though it only really occurred to me when I was watching a documentary about it.

Ben has already asked,
“Mummy, what colour is my hair?”

And when I ask why he wants to know he says,
“The big boys at school say it’s ginger, but I thought it was strawberry blond.”

I know kids get teased for having ginger hair, but I thought it would just be a bit of benevolent joshing among friends, along the lines of,
“You’ve got ginger hair.”
“So? You’ve got brown hair.”
“Shall we play spies?”

But today, at the park, I watch as he trudges back to me looking disconsolate.
I ask if he’s alright and he says,
“Not really.”
“Why?” I ask, assuming it’s because he hasn’t any friends with him and his sister has – as always – teamed up with a new pal within thirty seconds of arriving.

“They were teasing me about my hair.”
“Really? Who were? What were they saying?”
“Things like – keep away, don’t touch me, I’m allergic to ginger.”
“Who said that?” I stand up, ready to pounce, and he points to some eleven and twelve year olds bouncing high up on the ropes of the witch’s hat.

My poor little boy. His hair is beautiful. When the sun shines it glints with a thousand different shades from platinum blond to deep auburn. He has highlights you’d pay megabucks for, and hairdressers always say how lovely and thick it is.

His sister, on the other hand, has thin, mousey-coloured hair that hangs in lank, stringy, seaweed fronds just minutes after it’s been brushed.
But I bet in a few years he’s going to wish he had his sister’s nondescript hair.

I’m not sure what to say, whether to underplay it with a breezy nonchalance or to sympathise, thereby accentuating the seriousness of it. I decide to ask how he feels.
“Are you cross about it, or upset?”

How do I tell him those kids are a bunch of mean, insecure low-lifes who aren’t worth as much as his little toe, without seeming like a total cow?

“Just ignore them, they’re being mean because they’re in a big gang and they don’t know you.”

He hangs about me for a while, then goes off again.
I remember feeling worried about walking past the Big Boys when I was little, and I didn’t have the hair to worry about.

For half an hour or so, all is well.
Then he comes back again, asking to go home.

“Had enough?” I ask.
“They’ve been mean to me again. They called me a freak.”
“A freak?”
“Why are my eyebrows and eyelashes so much lighter than my hair?”

I forgot to mention his long, to-die-for eyelashes, even paler than his Scottish, cream with a hint of blue, skin; and his almost invisibly fair eyebrows.

“Do you want me to go and tell them how horrid they’re being?”
“No-o!” he insists.

I restrain myself and hug him. He’s going to have to deal with more of this as he grows older; kids don’t get kinder as they get bigger.

If only he could swap with his sister. She’d have what she wants – long, luscious, shiny hair that grows thickly to her bottom and swings from side to side in heavy Rapunzel plaits; and he could just have hair.

It doesn’t help that he likes to keep his hair long, surfer-style, as it doesn’t match the number one skinhead look favoured by the well-hard Plymouth playground posse.

We go home via the corner shop, where I buy them some sweets to perk him up.

An hour later as he bounces off the walls laughing hysterically and doing the “funny show”, I wish I hadn’t.

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22 Responses to Big Cook, Little Cook

  1. Carter-Ann says:

    Oh poor little guy! My partner has bright, bright red hair and was teased horribly growing up. He even gets comments as an adult (but only when we are in the UK). I was secretly happy when my baby came out with blondy brown hair, I didn’t want her to have to go through all the ridicule. Kids can be so mean.

  2. It is a very werid prejudice that seems to be quite specific to Britain. In North America, there isn’t nearly the same level of teasing associated with red hair – of course, there was always some gentle barbs about red head being more firey and angry but nothing like here. I’ve heard adults say they hate ginger hair which when I first came here really shocked and surpised me!! My partner reckons it’s tied to racial stuff around the Celts.

  3. spymum says:

    Scruffy Mummy’s right – the red hair teasing thing is substantially ‘stronger’ in the UK. I remember feeling shocked at a wedding when the Titian haired groom thanked his mother ‘for not pushing me back in when she saw I was a Ginger’. !!!!!!

    Please tell him that red heads are a minority – they are rare and they are therefore more ‘valuable’ and much more special than all those other kids! Who wants to be just like everyone else – how boring!

  4. Omega Mummy says:

    I’d love his hair. Francis would love his hair. If’s any consolation, we’ve got the matching cat and she’s the most talked about in the area – ginger, proud of it and absolutely beautiful. Are there any ginger-haired famous footballers/musicians/artists he might relate to? Sort of Auburn Hall of Fame

  5. debio says:

    Some children are so cruel – and to think they grow up, but do they learn to be pleasant adults or is all that cruelty just bubbling under?

  6. Be the wicked mum when you put down the playground bullies. I have to say, when the kids at the stables tell me aabut who is calling whom what and why, I say: “Do you care what they think? I don’t care what people think of me, and neither should you.” But it’s easier to say that when you’re 37 …

  7. I almost forgot about how much school-age bullies suck.

    Have him tell them “I would rather it be ginger that look like poop like their’s”
    And then have him tell those guys to stop being so insecure about themselves, because picking on him won’t make their lives any better.

    Then have him punch them and run…!

  8. Tracey says:

    Looks like it’s one of the not so good things Australia has inherited from the UK – I found out recently that the 13 year old brother of one of my daughter’s friends dyed his hair brown because he got teased about having red hair. What is it with kids?
    Middle daughter has a friend with very ginger/red hair and masses of freckles. She gets teased about the freckles, and thankfully has learnt to say ‘yeah, but at least I don’t look like you’ in response, which usually shuts them up. I hope she remains that strong as she heads into high school next year.

  9. BetsyW says:

    Oh no, that is just awful. Poor you and poor Ben.

    My baby is 7 months and has orange hair (there is no other way of describing it!), and I worry so much about future bullying. He is such a lovely little thing, the most smiley baby in the world, with the most beautiful face; it breaks my heart to think that there will come a day when he realises that lots of people are being mean to him just because of his hair.

    It makes me so cross too; if it was skin colour that was being picked on, or even a disability, it would not be tolerated, yet people are allowed to be so offensive to people just because of the colour of their hair.

    I feel like as a parent I need help in trying to equip him to deal with it all; but I have searched and searched the internet to find advice, but to no avail. You would have thought someone would have written a book on this by now, wouldn’t you! It is just going to be so hard, when no-one in our family has red hair, and therefore hasnt experienced the ridicule. Are there other red haired people in your family, or is Ben a genetic surprise, like my little Fred?!

    I have been reading your blog for a while now (I loved the entry about the cartoon book – hilarious. Also, poor old Johnnie), but this really struck a cord with me. Oh dear, life is so cruel sometimes.. Please keep your blog updated with any parenting tips for mums of redhaired little boys!

  10. Sums up motherhood so well. Nothing’s benevolent any more is it?

  11. Beta Mum says:

    I will have to give Ben some good one-liners so he can retaliate with wit, rather than get himself beaten up by the local hard nuts!
    Poop is a good one – they’ll probaly spend a few seconds wondering what it means, giving him time to skedaddle.
    Betsy – My partner’s Mum used to have dark red hair (she still dyes it that colour at 80 so she must have liked it!) but I don’t know of anyone in my family. There must have been, as I’ve read you need two recessive red hair genes, one from each parent, to have a child with red hair.
    But it does mean we don’t have any personal experience of it to share with him.
    M&M – I’m big on not caring what people think, but as you say, that’s hard to feel at 8.

  12. Drunk Mummy says:

    Poor little mite!
    You are right about the gender thing – girls with red hair are seen as exotic and desirable.
    I used to work with a lovely bloke who had red hair. He used to make a really big thing of it – saying to all the women ‘Come on, you know you all really fancy a bit of ginge!’ He was so charming and funny that we all agreed with him.
    Can’t see that helping your son for a while, though!

  13. Lucy Diamond says:

    Ohhh…my heart went out to your son (and you) when I read this. People can say such hurtful things and as a mum, it’s horrible when you can’t shield or protect them from everything.
    It sounds as if you are dealing with it really sensitively, and the only thing you can do is keep building his self-esteem so that he feels confident enough not to let people’s teasing bring him down too much. But of course, that’s easier said than done.

    PS Damian Lewis might be a good role model/hero (or is that just in my eyes??)

  14. My husband had orange hair when he was a kid; it’s faded to mousey/fairish over the years, but there’s still a ginger tinge in certain lights. He got bullied, too as a kid, like your son. Children can be so cruel, can’t they, it’s heartbreaking to see and hear about, and that’s when it’s other people’s children. When my husband told me about the childhood bullying it made me fall more deeply in love with him. What I’m trying, in a really incompetent, round-about way, to say, is that I sympathise with you and your son.

  15. COSTAPACKET says:

    I have ‘ginger’ hair myself and I am the mother of 3 ‘ginger’ haired children. When they got picked on at school I told them to say to the tormentors ‘don’t be gingerist’ – seemed to work.

    One child was tormented at Cubs for having ginger hair by a black child and eventually he shut him up by calling him a ‘hamburger’ LOL

  16. Amber says:

    Hi there,

    I’ve been meaning to comment here ever since your comment on my blog… I’m so sorry to hear your son has been on the receiving end of this stupid prejudice. I was lucky not to be too badly bullied because of my hair, but however hard it was for me, I often think it must have been almost as bad for my poor mother to have to hear about it.

    The way my parents used to deal with it was by constantly reassuring me that my hair was beautiful, and that it was the kids who teased me about it who had the problem, not me. If nothing else, “gingerism” is at least a way to work out who’s stupid and who’s not :) I love my hair now and I wouldn’t change it, but I do get frustrated by people who seem to expect me to feel self-conscious or apologietic about it.

    Hang in there – I bet his hair is gorgeous.


  17. Beta Mum says:

    Costa – I will try the “gingerist” suggestion when it happens again – although it’s not a problem at school, not yet anyhow.
    Thanks for dropping by Amber – his hair is gorgeous, but I don’t think he’ll see it like that if it becomes even more of a problem. I’m working on the self-confidence route, so he’ll see it as their problem and not his, if it does get worse.

  18. jill says:

    Get a hair dye. Sorry but ginga is minga!!!!!!!!!!!!

  19. The speaker of the truth says:

    Jill, you’re a c**t.

  20. Beta Mum says:

    speaker of the truth – while I agree with your sentiments, I’ve bleeped out your comment, in case younger readers – my ginger son perhaps – happen upon it.

  21. Lindsay says:

    Hey, I’m a naturally born red head from the U.S. I guess I’ve been really lucky in regards towards ‘ginger’ racism…also known as ‘gingerism’.
    There were a few minor things that got me down:
    1. When people called me ginger, they meant it in a mean and negative way. Even the act of labeling a person makes them feel as if they are less of a value, special… they are now just part of a group (however, today, i have changed my view on the word. I even have a picture of the word ginger on my wall. it’s supposed to be talking about the crop, but everyone knows the word serves a different meaning).
    2. people called me stupid names like carrot top, and other stupid things..
    3. One reason I began hating my hair was because the first month of 7th grade, as i began making friends in my new school, a bully came up to me and asked me if I had a fire crotch.. And I’m sure all of you can safely deduce exactly what he meant by that. I didn’t for a little while, but after I caught on, the fire crotch phenomenon had already broke loose. It was normal to get questions about my pubic hair from 7th-8th grade. As a result, from 7th grade up until the beginning of 9th grade I was incredibly sensitive about my hair…down there. But, today, still in high school, if anyone asks me what my hair color down there is, I tell them to use their logic and figure it out on their own.

    There is no reason to be ashamed of diversity. We are unique and colorful. The U.K. is filled with stupid arrogant blonde, brunette, and black haired people. If they had some of the comments thrown at them that we had to deal with, then they’d be in a completely different mindset.

    The world is beautiful, the people who live on it are beautiful, and we red heads are beautiful.

  22. Lindsay says:

    by the way jill,

    you’re racist. and your manners are disgusting.

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