Wednesday, September 21, 2016

the struggle is real.




Every morning, a secret, unknown battle wages between my daughter and me. Actually, it’s only a secret if you don’t live in my house. Those who live there, know.

It begins a little something like this: I tell Kenzie to go pick out something to wear, and she'll return with a blue shirt with flowers all over it and purple leggings with hearts all over them. And she’ll say innocently, “Mommy, how about this?”

I’ll sigh, brace myself and say, “Cute, Kenz. But that’s maybe a little too much going on for one outfit. It doesn’t really match.”

And she’ll counter, “Yes it does. Seeeeeee … flowers and hearts. It matches.”

I’ll tell her to keep the shirt but swap the leggings for any other pair in her dresser – as long as they are in the same color family as her shirt and aren't outrageous.

She’ll sigh, trudge back into her room – rejected leggings in hand – and reemerge proudly. With a sequined tutu.

I’ll take a deep breath and explain that a tutu is neither a pair of leggings nor "non-outrageous" and she’ll look up at me with her big brown eyes and plead, “But mo-om, I LOVE this. It matches. SEEEEE.”

No, I don’t see.

Soon, it becomes time for me to enter her bedroom. We begin intense negotiations on a shirt and pant combo and suddenly, somehow, every article of clothing is sprawled out on her floor and someone is crying. We eventually manage to get her into an outfit that I don't love, but at least it's over. Until she plucks a fuchsia sweater with sparkly jewels around the collar out of her closet and says, “I’ll just put this over my shirt.” I bite my tongue. She might be dressed for a Vegas show rather than a day at Preschool, but, I let it go.

And the scenario above is BEST CASE. Worst case, we are in a hurry, I pick something out myself (GASP) and she looks quietly at the ground, then back up me, and says the five words I dread in life, “I don’t like that mama.”

What do you mean you don’t like it, I say. It’s so cute and with these pants and these shoes – ADORABLE. Come on, put it on.

“But mooooommm …”

And, oh what follows. The explanations I’ve heard.

Those sleeves are too long. Those buttons are not my favorite. This zipper is too bright. My toes feel weird in these shoes.  

And, my all-time favorite, “This shirt is too sad.”

Too SAD? Sad?  I’ll show you sad.

The outcome is always unpredictable. Sometimes she gives in and walks out of the door looking like a respectable 4 year-old. Sometimes she’s dressed for a Christmas pageant and it’s August and we’re going to the park. Some days I’ll firmly insist and she’ll defiantly refuse and we’ll both end up throwing a fit (except hers are overt and loud and involve consequences, and mine are more internal and involve silent swear words). We’ve had many a time out, many a lost privilege, many a lost mind over the morning’s outfit.

My friends tell me they can relate. They say, pick your battles. And I try. It’s just asking a lot. She has ALL this cute stuff that I dream of dressing her in, and she just wants to wear everything at inappropriate times and in inappropriate ways. I mean, whyyyyy will she not wear her cute, stylish demin vest? The one I die for and matches with just about anything? Instead, she’d rather wear an over-sized poncho with a huge white snowflake on it. Still in August.  I cannot handle it.

And yet. I choose to pick these clothing battles with her, time and time again. I stand my ground far more than I give in. I’ve said, you HAVE to wear these boots in the rain and this sweater when it’s chilly and you cannot wear a Princess Jasmine costume to church. 

She is headstrong. For sure. I can let A LOT of things go with her because, you know, I have to survive in life and leave the house. You want the pink plate, not the purple one? Sure! You want to walk instead of ride in the cart? Of course! You want an apple instead of a banana? No problem! You will only play Go Fish with me if I show you all my cards and let you win? Why not?!!

But her outfits. The everyday struggle that happens so early every morning. THAT's the battle I pick? WHHHYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY?

It may stem from my childhood.

In middle school, my process for getting ready was so ridiculous – I’ll never forget it. I’d write down everything I wore each day, from top to bottom, in a little journal - just to make sure I was mixing it up and not repeating outfits too frequently. I was NOT the most stylish girl at all, but how I looked and what I wore mattered to me. That was certain.

But as I think about it more deeply, since I’m no diva and don’t have a particular passion for fashion – why did my clothes matter SO much to me? So much so that I’d lay my outfits out every night, make sure everything was precisely right and then log them in my journal? Why did I care what the tags said on the inside of my shirts or that my purse displayed a certain brand? Why was it all so important to me?

I think my answer is because they were important to me. Everyone else. The people who would be seeing me. I didn’t want to look bad in front of them. I never had a particular desire to stand out, but I was all about fitting in. Being cool. Keeping up with the trends. I clothed myself in whatever would protect me from judgment or ridicule – whatever would not set me apart as different or weird – whatever would allow me to pass for a nice, acceptable person. I rarely felt attractive, and since I couldn’t really do anything to change my physical appearance, I knew I had to take control over how I dressed and presented myself.

These days, I’m not the best dresser. I don’t care about wearing the right clothes or the right brands and I certainly don’t log my outfits in a journal. I’ve grown out of that particular insecurity. But I still care very much about my appearance. I still sometimes feel unattractive and out of place. I still try to make myself up or dress in ways that will solicit the least amount of criticism, attention or judgement. I still like to blend, to fit in rather than stand out in any way – good or bad. But the older I get, I am seeing how harmful and counterproductive this can be. For me, it's a survival tactic. A protection. A way to neither be too lousy or too great. A way to be "just right" and perfectly safe.

I think of Kenzie and her crazy outfits and I wonder why I care so much. Is it because I want to teach her to listen to her mother? To deal with disappointment? To follow orders? To match?

I wonder if I was ever like her. I wonder if 4-year-old me used to wear what felt good and comfortable and pretty to ME at the moment. I wonder if I used to never worry about how people looked at me or what they thought of me. I wonder if I ever just wanted to wear pink flowers with red and white hearts or tennis shoes with a pageant dress or a random snowflake sweater in the middle of summer. Back before I cared about labels and fitting in and staying safe and being just like everyone else.

When do we start becoming so aware of all the superfluous, superficial stuff? When does that happen?

These silly little battles that I have with my girl tell me that she is stubborn and headstrong. And that she doesn’t care about the basic laws of fashion.

But they also tell me that she's already unlocked a little secret in life: We are MEANT to stand out.

And I love her for that. I envy her for that.  She doesn’t know about status and judgements and insecurities and images and perceptions and fitting in or not fitting in or any of that stuff. She doesn’t care what she looks like, AND she also doesn’t care what anyone else looks like. She loves who she is and she loves others for who they are. 

Please let THAT be her world. Please let that never change. 

As difficult as it may make my life, I hope she always sticks up for what’s in her gut. I hope she always stays true to who she is and makes no apologies about it. Unless I tell her to apologize. And then she better, otherwise no ipad.  

I hope she pursues what makes her feel alive and fulfilled, regardless of whether it's lucrative or popular. I hope she questions authority and asks, why not? Why not a pageant dress in the park? Who said you can’t swing in sequins? What's so wrong with dressing like an Eskimo in the middle of summer?

All I know is that my girl is beautiful and it comes from every unique quality that shines so brightly inside of her. And all I wish is for her to strive to keep the fire inside of her roaring strong so she can show others, no matter who they are and where they fit, that they are beautiful, too.





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