My daughter, perhaps stereotypically (as much as I hate stereotypes) has always been the one to resist letting me pick out her clothes. Even as a baby, she had very firm convictions about what she would and wouldn’t wear. So now that she’s five years old, she gives me a daily glimpse of the battle royale awaiting us in the years to come.
My son, in contrast, was my easy child—at least sartorially. “I put your clothes out for today on your bed,” I’d say. “Thanks!” would be the trouble-free answer I’d always get back, and he’d scurry upstairs to put on whatever I’d laid out for him.
Until, that is, this year.
Suddenly, pre-pubescent priorities have taken hold of my once easy-going boy and turned him into …
…the difficult dresser. The finicky fashionista. The close-minded clothes minder.
I’m not saying that he’s got excellent taste in clothes, or even a sense of what matches. He’s no Tim Gunn or Daniel Craig, and he is just nine years old, after all. But that’s exactly what’s at the root of the problem—he’s nine.
Suddenly, the outside world of the peer group is so much more important than anything we have to say, especially when it comes to how he expresses himself through what he wears.
Lately, he’s been insisting on wearing only the following: sweat pants, gym/track pants or his first choice—shorts; a short sleeved t-shirt; sneakers…and that’s it. If given the preference, he’d be like the “mail carrier of shorts”—no matter wind, rain, sleet or snow, he’d still go bare-legged. Heaven forbid we ask him to wear a coat or (gasp!) a hat. Judging by the protest he mounts, you’d have thought we’d asked the boy to don a dress.
Most usually, the dispute devolves into this back-and-forth exchange:
Me: “You’ve got to put on a coat.”
Him: “Don’t worry. I won’t be cold.”
Me: “It’s 25-degrees outside. I don’t care, you’ve got to wear a coat.”
Him: “Mom, you just don’t get it!”
Me: “Oh, I got it about 40 years ago, it’s not like I was born yesterday, so I totally get it! And if you don’t wear a coat, what you’ll get is sick!”
And suddenly, I’ve (stereotypically) become my mother. And you know how much I hate stereotypes.
I’ve heard the realm of funny lines from him; things like, “No one wears jeans!” and “Everybody else is wearing shorts!” We have become cliché.
In the last year his changing approach to attire has simply reflected his changing attitude—not in the snippy, back-talking, bad-behavior ‘tude sort of way, but in something more profound that the attentive, caring parent in me can appreciate. And he’s right on schedule, as I’m sure all my friends with kids just a tad older can attest.
He’s flexing his budding independent personality, and he’s exploring how he fits in and compares with the world that he suddenly noticed is expanding beyond the insular cocoon of just his family. He’s figuring out what his own personal choices are, even if they’re now more influenced by his friends than by me, and he’s feeling what it feels like to differentiate himself from the family pack.
If only he doesn’t lose sight of what differentiates himself from the wolf pack. By that I mean that I hope he doesn’t lose what has always made him uniquely him, unafraid to say, “That’s okay, I don’t care what anybody else thinks. I like it fine my way.”
Before he paid more attention to whether or not everybody else was wearing shorts and shedding outerwear, he wasn’t afraid to walk into school with a shirt inside out or backwards. Now, heaven forbid.
Truthfully, it’s also something I need to learn to let go of. I know what he’s doing is developmentally appropriate for his age, and all that jazz. He’s learning to take more control and I’m learning to let go of it a little more.
So we agreed to set the coat and hat barometer at 45-degrees; if the thermometer reaches that mark, then he’ll be sure to wear the outerwear. And because I “get it” I’m sure the outerwear will disappear as soon as he’s out of my sight, tucked into the backpack, just like everybody else.
Thankfully, my daughter happens to like wearing a coat. At least, for now.