I will always carry a picture in my mind of my little blonde firstborn trotting down the path ahead of me, curls bouncing, in her denim overall dress with a white flowered t-shirt underneath. Or was it her gingham tunic with grey leggings? Actually I think on that particular day she had on a mini-skirt and striped tights with baby Ugg knock-offs. I still have all of these adorable outfits packed away in age-marked ziplocks for my second daughter, and I can hardly wait to see them again.
From the moment I heard the word “girl” for the first time, some primal, ancient synapse began to fire and I went a little nuts with the clothing. In fact, after nine months of gender-neutral everything, I’m pretty sure I ordered my husband to go out and buy something pink on the very day of Clare’s birth. This was actually kind of surprising as shopping for kids clothes with my older sisters was the worst. I hated it. But with my own children, it’s like cracking out the paint set and a fresh canvas each morning. Most of the clothes come from second-hand stores or are hand-me-downs, but dressing the girls is one of my primary creative outlets these days.
This past-time, however, is becoming increasingly problematic. My four-year-old has strong opinions about what she wears. And this didn’t start overnight; I think she’s been making noise about clothing since age two. Our morning conflicts have become startlingly raw, to the point that, a few weeks ago, I found myself sucking back tears of frustration over her refusal to wear something I picked out. A few hours later, after packing her off to school red-faced and angry and pulling at her shirt like it was scalding her, I sat in the car wondering what was making this issue so disproportionately huge.
The truth is, some hidden part of me believes that what she wears reflects me – my taste, my identity, my parenting. That if I keep her looking groomed, tasteful, put together, it means I am doing my mom-job well. And what’s worse, this belief extends past her clothing to her behaviour, her manners, even her personality. Some part of me silently – stealthily – goes about thinking that it is my job to make her into a person who is groomed, tasteful, put together.
So I decided to start an experiment. Although I’ve always been a bit “judgey” of mothers who do this, I told Clare she could pick out her own clothes for one week – anything she wanted from her closet or drawers other than costumes. She looked stunned when I told her this and then she looked like she had won the lottery. On day one she picked out a black dress with a white t-shirt underneath and pink leggings, not the worst possibility, but still it pained me all day to see those leggings under that dress. On day two, she wore a huge, fluffy yellow Easter dress to school with brown leather boots. On day three – oh glory – she wore socks under her sandals. I have to take deep breaths.
Yet there is part of me that loves watching her choose. She is so proud of her choices, so pleased to represent herself, flouncing around in layers of tulle and dollar store beaded necklaces. Somehow it reminds me that, ultimately, she is responsible for herself. Although we’ll have to guide her for many years yet, we are also observers. God has given us front-row seats to the Clare show, and we get to sit back and watch as she unfurls into this glorious other. Prying my hands off this one small area of my daughter’s life, although it has been so ridiculously difficult, reminds me every morning as I take off her jammies that she is not mine, but His.
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