Friday, March 13, 2009
Dressed for success
As my friend Meredith awaits the birth of her first child later this month, I imagine her folding tiny new onesies and sweaters, stacking little pastel-colored hats, rolling minuscule socks into spheres the size of ping-pong balls. I still remember the thrill of opening boxes that held adorable yellow and green outfits at my baby shower, trying to picture putting these pristine, cottony items on the unknown child who would eventually enter my world.
And then the sight of my ten-year-old son interrupts my reverie. “Tim, you’ve worn that t-shirt every day for the past two weeks,” I say wearily. “Put it in the laundry and find something else to wear today.”
As I discovered while preparing for Tim’s birth more than a decade ago, clothes are in some ways our earliest tangible representation of our child-to-be. Even before most of us buy or receive clothes, there are other signs, of course: the heartbeat through a stethoscope; the image on an ultrasound. Or for those whose babies arrive through other means than pregnancy, the final paperwork completed; the photo arriving in the mail.
But all of those are the pragmatic details. It’s the clothes that affirm to new parents that a real person will soon be among us, wearing these tiny things. Dressing our infants becomes one of the quiet joys of new parenthood, sliding soft little arms into sleeves, working itty-bitty buttons into their buttonholes.
And from that moment on, clothes form a link between us and our children. First there’s the caressing act of dressing infants, then the more athletic feat required to wrestle a busy toddler into pants and a shirt. Preschool years bring with them a different sartorial issue: the often bizarre sense of fashion that a three-year-old possesses. The first time I saw a small child wearing a sticker that said “I dressed myself today!” I thought a parent had given her the sticker to celebrate her accomplishment. Only later did I understand that the sticker had a subtext: the mother who affixed it to the child’s outfit was actually saying “Don’t blame me; she picked out this combination herself.”
But that stage passes. As a first grader, my daughter now has a better sense of style than I do. She’ll come down to breakfast in a pair of slim black jeans and a white t-shirt with a bright pink cardigan casually buttoned at the top and I’ll stare, wondering how she knew to put that particular combination together. With her, the sticking point is hair. She likes to wear hers loose and uncombed in what I charitably call “haystack style;” I’m constantly imploring her to let me braid it, or at the very least brush it. Instead, she looks like a fashion plate from the shoulders down and like the inside of an automatic car wash from the neck up.
My son continues to be in a phase in which he likes to wear the same thing every day, which is a disproportionate source of frustration in our household. Part of me can objectively acknowledge that it brings him a sense of comfort to wear the same beloved Heinz ketchup t-shirt – a present from Grandma after her visit to Pittsburgh last spring – day in and day out, and that as long as it’s clean, there’s really no harm to it. But another part of me can still remember which boys in my fourth grade class wore the same sweatshirt or t-shirt every day, and how sloppy it seemed to me even then.
“Priorities,” I tell myself. “It matters more that he does his homework and washes his hands before meals than that he wears something other than a red t-shirt now and then.”
So instead of feeling frustrated by it, I try to simply admire the parents who are doing better than I am in this regard: the ones whose little boys dress like Kids Gap models or whose young daughters boast perfectly symmetrical French braids. In the meantime, I just hope that Tim eventually tires of his Heinz ketchup t-shirt.
But I’m not convinced that he will, which is why before my husband’s birthday last month I called the Heinz headquarters in Pittsburgh to order a second t-shirt, size adult large. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. Tim and Dad can wear matching outfits this summer.
And maybe, just maybe, the embarrassment of dressing like Dad will inspire Tim to put on a different shirt one of these days. ∆
© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito