I grew up as the youngest of three kids and, regardless of the fact that my two older siblings are male, I was the not-so-proud recipient of their hand-me-down clothing.
As I look back, though, I’m not nearly as affected by it today as I was when I wearing my brother’s Boy Scout pants to one of my Brownies meetings. Or at my ice skating class in one of their old elementary school uniforms.
Nope, I’m actually grateful to my mother for teaching me at young age that clothes do not make the man. Or woman, as it were.
It wasn’t that we were poor growing up; we simply “worried about what was important…” my mother explained whenever I complained, “…and we were grateful for what wasn’t.”
I’m certain that a therapist would agree with anyone reading this that my upbringing spent in perpetual wardrobe envy has had a profound affect on how I dress my own children. Or, more accurately, how they dress themselves.
My oldest son is 9 and has not worn a pair of long pants since he was 4. And the only reason he did then was because we were in Wyoming visiting my in-laws in the middle of February, where ski pants – apparently – don’t come in knee-length. My youngest, by contrast, is 6, and only wears long pants, save for sleeping, showering or when he plays tennis … in which case he wears his pajamas. But these quirks are part of who they are and what gets them on the bus in the morning. Plus, who am I – a grown woman who still carries a grudge against tube socks – to deny my kids their right to wear what makes them comfortable?
“Who are you to deny them?!” asked my elderly neighbor one morning, tired of looking at Jackson’s scabby knees. “You’re their MOTHER.”
So does enforcing a more appropriate dress code really make me a better mom? Did denying me a pink coat over my brother’s navy blazer make my mother less of one?
It’s a funny phenomenon – when our kids are in utero, our first instinct is to purchase as many onesies from our alma maters as possible. And then, as soon as they can crawl, we lovingly duct tape bows on our daughters’ baldheads and fasten basketball shoes onto our sons’ tiny feet. But the moment our kids are old enough to throw a Sippy Cup at our heads in protest over having to wear a coat; or wake up from a nap in the middle of a Target run, pawing for one of the Halloween costumes they keep in inventory all year – BOOM – the fashion show’s over. Their minds have become their own.
It is in these poignant moments, in my opinion, that parents are faced with a choice: We can either a) accept that we have no control over what our children will wear from this point forward, or b) we lace up our white gloves in preparation for the Battle of What’s Going to Make ME Look Good every morning, night and Easter Sunday.
I don’t know, maybe it’s because I grew up with two older brothers that I take a pacifist stance when either one of my boys comes to me with a self-inflicted haircut, or mismatched shoes … I never really had to fight my own battles.
Or maybe I’m still just a terrible dresser.
Last Saturday, I was at Target with my kids when another woman and her cart-wielding son accosted us.
“I’m so sorry,” she said me. “He’s throwing a tantrum over this sweater I’m buying for his piano recital.”
My youngest, wearing a sparkly hat with a leprechaun on it at the time, said, “I had a piano recital once. I wore my rain boots.”
His recital was during a beautiful sunny day in September.
“Well, you’re clearly a better mother than I am, now, aren’t you?” the woman said to me sarcastically, and then stomped off with her screaming son.
Oh, I don’t know about that, I thought to myself as my oldest threw another pair of shorts in the cart. Maybe I just worry about what’s important … and am grateful what isn’t.