The other day, my 7-year-old daughter, Tate, and I were heading to the movie theater to meet another mom-and-girl pair for a little double date: Ben & Jerry’s and Brave. Being a one-car family, my husband was dropping us off before he and the boys went on a Manly Errand (they needed to go to Home Depot only because we’re renovating our house, but it sounds awfully iconic, doesn’t it? The girls eating ice cream; the boys shopping for tools.).
The kids were in the back talking about who-knows-what, most certainly spiraling down to petty annoyances and creeping their fingers over to My Side. In other words, they weren’t paying attention to the grown-ups in the front. Which is good, because I was talking to Kyle about a subject that, embarrassingly, has become a rather big issue in my short stint of parenting.
See, Tate had spent the day in her latest summer camp t-shirt, messy shorts, and tangled hair. The shirt is an adult size small (I have no idea why her camp—a kids’ camp—does not make kid-sized shirts, but I digress), which means her shorts are invisibly tucked away underneath the shirt, miles above. Her lanky, summer-tanned legs protrude out the bottom of her shirt, planted on the ground by two different, mismatched flip-flops. This would be her Daily Uniform if it was her way. That, and a pair of 3D glasses with the lenses popped out. This is her latest stylistic expression.
I’m lenient at home—honestly, she can wear whatever she wants, so long as the natural elements don’t argue otherwise (she plays outside a LOT). And I’m pretty laid-back when it comes to errands and other minor occurrences out in the real world. She’ll have to brush her hair and change her shirt if it’s been worn three days in a row, but otherwise, holed-jeans and ridiculous t-shirts? Fine. There are much bigger issues in the world.
But every now and then, an occasion warrants a smidge of decency. I’m not talking much—a simple t-shirt in an appropriate size and bottoms that are visible and clean. Brushed hair. Matching shoes. It shows that you care about the body you’ve been given, that you understand basic social norms, and heck, sometimes it’s just fun to look a bit more put-together.
And of course I’m not talking about a dress. My daughter has hated dresses going on three years now. Until she was four, it’s all she would wear. But somewhere, somehow, she woke up a few months after turning four and decided that dresses weren’t her thing. The only time she’s worn a dress since then has been: 1. to her uncle’s wedding, 2. for Easter, and 3. to go see The Nutcracker. I’m not exaggerating.
Now, I get it, I really, really do—there are seriously more important issues in the world. I’m so thankful all three of my kids are healthy, that I’m healthy enough to spend my days raising them, and that we have food on the table every night. We have all we need, plus some serious blessings we don’t deserve. I am grateful.
But if I’m honest here, I’d have to admit it: Tate and I really butt heads over clothes. We’re civil about it; I’ll pull some clothes out of her dresser, and I’ll calmly ask her if she likes it. If she says no, I’ll ask her what it is she doesn’t like (while inside, my heart lurches and I think, but this is CUTE!), and she’ll usually say something like, “I don’t know, I just don’t.” I’ll throw out some suggestions—maybe the color, or the flowers over here on the side, or even that the tag itches. She’ll eventually figure something out, and I’ll reluctantly but determinedly set it in the “donate” pile. Because I don’t want drawers full of clothes that will never be worn.
I’ll continue by dragging out the bags of clothes her grandma, the Goodwill Queen, has bought for her and her future body sizes. One by one, I’ll pull out something, and she’ll either say yes or no. Yes to the simple t-shirts and shorts, not really to the dresses and skirts.
I smile, I sit with her and talk about things besides clothes, and we’ll work through these items, deciding what works and what would be better for some other girl.
But I confess that I’ve cried tears over this issue. Never in front of her. But actual tears.
It’s silly, I know. The girl prefers giant t-shirts and hole-y jeans over quirky skirts and matching headbands. She has to be reminded constantly to brush her hair (which she’s adamant about keeping long, funnily enough), and her nightly summer bedtime ritual involves scrubbing her blackened feet in the bathtub. She’d spend her afternoons up in a tree over playing with makeup any day.
I’ve got a tomboy.
And I’ve also got two other boys. She’s my only girl, and I think that’s really the issue with me. She’s my one female counterpart in our family, and she’s growing up crazy fast. The days of pudgy legs twirling a tutu skirt are long-gone; she’s become her own person with her own interests and passions. And that person would rather draw the anatomy of the human body on the sidewalk than have me braid her hair.
So back to the beginning of my story here, where I was in the car rehashing this issue with my husband en route to the movies. Tate and I just had a polite squabble over what to wear, and I was giving him the play-by-play. She wanted to wear her fluorescent orange camp t-shirt and pink baseball camp with her pair of jeans with giant holes in both knees. We compromised with a solid-colored t-shirt in her size and a pair of striped capris. Brushed hair under the baseball cap.
He’s heard this a million times before, but he’s the only one who knows my heart here, so I shared my sadness over all the unworn (gifted by Grandma) dresses hanging in her closet. The fact that because she won’t wear them, they should leave our family and be passed on to another girl who would gladly have them. And thankfully, Tate can’t hear this, because I don’t ever want her to think my love or acceptance of her has one iota of anything to do with what she wears. I don’t want her to feel less-than for not liking dresses. I love her spark and quirkiness, and my heart would break into a million pieces if I were to ever squelch that over something as silly as clothing.
And then we went to see Brave.
If you’ve seen the movie, you know the irony in this discussion mere minutes before the lights went dim in the theater. Without giving away too much, the basic plot involves a tomboyish girl at odds with her mother that wants her to be someone she’s not.
I felt my cheeks grow hot in that cooled, darkened theater. That crazy-curly mass of red hair on Merida could have easily been Tate’s blonde mane of tangles. The princesses’ prized bow and arrows are Tate’s chalk drawings all over the sidewalk and the forts built in the living room. And while I watch the movie unfold and feel Tate’s hand squeeze mine during the scary parts, I look over at her with wet eyes. This is my girl. My precious girl, who delights in being herself and no one else.
I’m sure I’ll still offer the occasional dress some Sunday before church, but that simple summer movie reminded some of some profound truths as a parent:
Our relationship matters way more than my idea of who my daughter should be.
Tate’s expression of herself is the best gift she can give to the world.
What a shame if her strongest memories of her childhood involve me nitpicking about clothes.
Tate’s tangles have nothing on Merida’s—I guess I should be thankful she doesn’t have curly hair.
This could be a phase, or Tate could truly be someone who simply doesn’t prioritize things like clothing and hair. She still likes me to paint her nails, and she loves things like flowers and the color purple, so really, what are we even talking about here? A few yards of fabric, really. My 7-year-old is who she is, and I couldn’t love her any more if I tried.
I’m proud to be the mama of a scabby-kneed, dirty-faced daughter. You go, girl.