Saturday, January 17, 2009
Emma and her Clothing Issues, or: Calgon, Take Me Away!
When I was a naive mother of one daughter, I thought life was pretty easy. Despite the myriad ways Rachel and I clash today, when she was under five years old she was quite easy to manage. She had a lot of clothes, and with the exception of adorable hats that went with her outfits, she let me dress her in anything I wanted. Sometimes she'd choose a dress or a shirt, and then she would let me put the rest of the ensemble together, including socks or tights, shoes, and fetching hairdo. In fact, her very first complete sentence was in J.C. Penny's at 16 months old, when she spied a lovely dress and ran to it, crying Mama, it's so cute!
Then came Julia, and I despaired. I thought that dressing her was torture, mainly because she didn't enjoy clothes that matched. She was one of those kids that wholeheartedly believes that plaid, stripes and polka dots in myriad shades go together, that socks are meant to be worn mismatched, and that shoes are most definitely optional. She didn't like her hair to be put up, generally, although sometimes she'd ask for pigtails or barrettes...leaving them in all day was another story. She also had certain favorite outfits that she wanted to wear again and again, never mind that 75% of her clothes looked brand new because they went from closet/dresser to boxes in off-season storage and back again without further interaction. However, when I refused to allow her outside in her--ahem--ridiculous outfits, she would generally acquiesce and let me help her find less jarring combinations.
I had a brief interlude of clothing nirvana when I had Ben. By the time Ben was old enough to dress himself (or have fits about what I was dressing him in, as the case may be) Julia was largely over her fashion nonsense and was fairly reasonable about getting dressed. And in Ben's case, he has two things going for him--he's extremely meticulous, and he's a boy, so his choices are rather limited. Pants or shorts, along with a shirt, and all he has to do is find underwear and socks that match. He has only ever worn one pair of shoes till they are ragged--generally sneakers, though he did go through a work boot phase around two years old. All of this is unlike girls--who have a tremendous color palette to choose from/screw up, have dresses where tights are required 6 or 7 months of the year, and who have coordinating hats, sweaters, and a dozen pairs of shoes to choose from. And if you think about boys' clothes in the stores--you basically choose from red, blue, green or yellow in solids with a logo, perhaps stripes or a plaid, and jeans or Dockers. SO EASY!
But then came Emma. And that is when I realized that any torture that Julia was on the subject of clothes was a tiny grain of sand in the French Riviera that is Emma in regards to her clothing. Anyone looking at this adorable child, with her blue eyes, blonde curls, pink cheeks and little piping, lispy voice would think that she is the sweetest thing to have ever graced the planet. Oh, how wrong they would be! At least when it comes to getting her dressed and out of the house. Emma most certainly has her own opinions about what she should wear, and has told me almost daily that she wishes that she could wear pajamas and only pajamas every single day of her life. I think that rather than list everything that bothers her about different articles of clothing it would be simpler to list what doesn't. Oh, wait-- I can't actually think of anything that doesn't bother her about clothes! Hmmm....let's see. Nope, still can't think of anything. She hates tights (they somehow NEVER fit, isn't that interesting?), and so that lets out dresses from October to May, mostly. She hates leggings, because they are too close to tights. She hates most pairs of jeans, except two. One has a hole in the knee now, and the other she wears grudgingly. So I went and got another pair of these SAME jeans, just in a lighter wash for variety....and took them back to the store because she wouldn't even try them on. She hates sweatshirts with hoods or zippers. She hates almost every sweater. She hates overalls and jumper dresses. She likes t shirts--but of course it's too cold half the year to wear them, and I would let her wear them with a hoodie or sweater over them and let her strip down to the t shirt as the day wore on and it got warmer--oh, but I forgot, she hates hoodies and sweaters!
She likes certain long sleeved shirts--but never turtlenecks. Don't even attempt to show her a turtleneck. And she is also picky about socks--she only likes short socks, not any that might creep past her ankle. When we went ice skating for Matt's birthday, the skates gave her an evil blister on her tiny calf because she refused to wear longer socks, but she didn't care a bit. And shoes. Oy. Shoes are a nightmare! They are a double nightmare because she loves shoes-- in the store. And I am a sucker (some might say optimist) who tends to believe her squeals of delight over a pair of new shoes...until the next day, when she refuses to wear them. A friend gave us a pair of tan Crocs in 2006, when Emma was not even two--she wore those Crocs 6 out of 7 days until last December, when they finally broke on our Boston trip. Summer, winter, rain, snow, sun...she didn't care. Although I think that socks and Crocs are the dumbest thing ever, with Emma I didn't care, because at least I could count on her putting on the Crocs and getting out the door-- and I couldn't let her wear Crocs barefoot in January!
Now that you have a bit of an idea over the trauma involved in trying to choose clothes each day, I will say that you really have no idea what it's like. Our mornings take one of three paths. The first is the easiest--the path of no resistance because we're going nowhere and I decide that I really just don't want to give her the negative attention involved in the whole process. I let her stay in pajamas all day long. This happens at least once a week, sometimes two or three times depending on our schedule. (And you might think that if the other kids were going to play outside, it would change her mind and she'd cooperate, because I won't let her play outside in pajamas. Even I have limits, after all. Well, it doesn't. She stubbornly says, I don't want to play outside, anyway!)
The middle path is when I decide she has to get dressed, because how pathetic is it for her to stay in pajamas all day, anyway? This happens on a day when I am ready to argue, or days where we have somewhere to go later in the day, but don't have a schedule to keep. This involves reminding her anywhere from five to forty seven times that she needs to get dressed, and anywhere from one to fourteen tantrums about what she will wear, some screaming, and usually one of her siblings jollying her through picking an acceptable outfit (luckily they all have fashion sense now, she she always matches) because if I went up there, I might end up in jail. By jollying, I mean that they usually come up with some creative way to make her want to get dressed--they make it into a game, and she follows along. I simply don't have the patience anymore. On the few days where I listen to her sweet little plea: Mama, will you help me get dressed? I am generally stomping downstairs within two minutes because she has started about some item of clothing that she will not wear. And let's not forget this option always includes thirty four items of discarded clothing spread around her room....
The third and most exhausting path is when we have somewhere to go in the morning. This morning it was her dance class. Yesterday it was a play in Port Jefferson, Tuesday it was Bridgehampton for a class on pioneer life, and tomorrow it will be for church. The night before we remind her that we have somewhere to be and she will have to get dressed before she has any breakfast--if we let her sit down to breakfast in her pajamas (which she prefers) the game is over, and we end up going through path number two until we should have left the house ten minutes ago and it is an all-out screaming war to get her into the car. The best thing to do is to have her choose her outfit (including socks and shoes, please) the night before and have her bring it downstairs so she has it here--otherwise we risk her waking Rachel when she goes up to choose clothes and then has a fit about whatever she decides is wrong about them. (And waking Rachel more than twenty minutes before we need to be out the door is akin to putting your head into the mouth of a rabid lion....) The problem is that we often forget this salient little detail, and the whole thing reverts back to scenraio number two, and then we have Rachel on about why nobody in this house will ever just let her sleep...
Anyone who is reading this and doesn't have children, has only boys, or has only kids younger than two or maybe three years old... you probably should have stopped reading, because you're just thinking that I am ridiculous for letting this go on, and that I should just put my foot down, or spank her, or whatever it is you are thinking that is completely beside the point. Only parents of spirited girls know what I am talking about....these girls are a force of nature, and in their future it will serve them very well I am sure. In the present it is endangering their lives, or at the very least trying my patience and showing just how much self-control I actually have--because I haven't been put into prison. Yet.