Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Before I had children, before I had a clue about the ins and outs of gnarled hair, snotty noses, “washable” markers, and the improbability of finding two matching socks on a Sunday morning, I vowed that when I was a mother my kids would be neatly pressed and sufficiently scrubbed, to the point of sparkling. I had visions of my future daughter in a gingham-checked dress with two auburn braids hanging perfectly straight, and tied with slender ribbons. We would be adorable, she and I, best of friends walking hand-in-hand, repelling dirt and bad taste with our Teflon like resistance to tacky trends and media plastered apparel.
Fast forward two-and-a-half years later, I had long since eaten and swallowed those foolish notions. With the introduction of spit-up, I was humbled. By the time I experienced potty training, I was full on laughing at myself, the old self who was certain that a toilet bowl was plenty wide to contain those first erratic attempts of a preschooler trying to hit his mark. “Don’t change those pants!” became my standard order, “I’ll just get a washcloth.”
With the birth of our second-born, Priscilla, however, old dreams sprung back to life. There were ponytails, sparkly barrettes, patent leather shoes, and bibs to keep dribbles of juice off her floral jumpers. There were the appropriate “oohs and ahs” from relatives, neighbors, and cashiers at the grocery store. Days of cuteness turned into months, months turned into years – three to be exact before my power to choose which coordinated outfit would be wriggled over her dimpled legs and cooperatively raised arms, came to a screeching halt. “No mama,” she said, pointing to the tasteful blouse poised above her head, “not that one!”
Firmly, I insisted on maintaining some semblance of tidiness. Every morning we both stiffened, arranging our game faces in front of her dresser. She’d hold up a pleated skirt to be paired with jeans, and a polka dot sweater. “Sorry,” I’d say, “That’s not going to work.” And her wailing, the sobbing, the grieving over the loss of control would effectively dampen both of our moods for hours. Eventually, I figured, the dust would settle and she would come around. Later on, when it was obvious to an older and more practical Priscilla that I was only trying to help her, the madness would simmer down and peace would once again return in the form of preplanned ensembles, we both could agree on, laid out the evening before.
Months of tension turned into years – two to be exact before I questioned the legitimacy of my stubborn stance on such an external issue. “Please mama,” said five-year-old Priscilla, searching for ways to express herself, pleading for a chance to take ownership of her body. In a culture where the self-esteem of little girls is battered and bruised by a societal dictation on what equals “pretty,” did I really want to deny my daughter an opportunity to feel comfortable in her own skin?
I was embarrassed by my three-year-old all decked out in a pajama top and sweat pants. I was self-conscious accompanying her, as a four-year-old, to a birthday party to which she insisted on wearing a gaudy 1990’s hair bow. I had tried my best this morning to smile approvingly at Priscilla as she bounded out of her room in jean shorts, leggings, and snow boots, to keep my mouth shut while she downed that one last reckless swig of chocolate milk before the bus arrived to pick her up for afternoon kindergarten, resulting in a brown puddle that soiled her favorite unicorn t-shirt. When her disappointed eyes turned watery and red, however, I instinctively jumped into action. “Don’t change!” I called out with conviction. “I’ll just get a washcloth.”