Friday, January 30, 2009

When Mom's Fashions Become Daughter's Fashions

A couple of weeks ago my daughter Jess was wearing my favorite sweatshirt. "Take it off," I ordered of the garment that is as old as she is - 15 - worn and soft, with holes and tears both big and small. She was leaving in a few minutes to go back to boarding school. "I'll take it off when I get to my room and give it to daddy," she promised. "That's crazy!" I cried. "You just want to wear it to ride in a car?! Take it off now!" No dice.

Do you know why she didn't take it off, parental order and pulling on the sweatshirt notwithstanding? Because she had every intention of stealing it. I knew this, as this was hardly the first time I had discovered an article of my clothing or a pair of my shoes stuffed into her duffel bag. I also understood that she was hoping to distract her father upon arrival at her dorm, therefore my beloved and fragile sweatshirt would remain in her custody. I'm no fool, no fool at all. I've known this person for nearly 16 years; I am well-acquainted with the way she operates. And so I let her leave home thinking she was going to be successful in kidnapping my most prized apparel. I kept phoning my husband every hour of the three-hour drive reminding him to nab the finery. Once I figured they were safely back on campus, I phoned her: "Hand it over." Click. Mission accomplished.

Once upon a time she was wee and I could dress her at will, not to mention buy the fashions in which I desired to see her attired. I would lay her outfits out the night before school, the form looking like a headless and hand less figure, lying sprawled and creepy on the floor. Of course, and sort of expectantly, as she carried on through elementary school she began to develop her own tastes, some of which gave me pause. There was the Limited, Too and Abercrombie phase: tight jeans, leggings, tiny t-shirts and camisoles. Camisoles! Most of her girlfriends dressed the same; it seemed an unspoken dress code among the fourth and fifth grade set. But camisoles! Cut low enough to a point where a few years later there would actually be something there to make the neckline objectionable to parents (although 12 year-old boys and older didn't find the look risque). The fashions for 10 year olds looked uncannily like those of a 16-year-old. They still do.

"Back in the day" girls looked like, well, girls. Public school dress expectations were strict: we could not wear pants - or heaven forbid blue-jeans - until high school. Once we hit freshman year things loosened up a bit. Well, quite a bit for me actually as it was the 1970's. After years of buttons and bows all hell broke loose and as 14 year olds we let fly as if shot from a fashion cannon. So although I make Jess do the fingertip test to ensure skirts are not obscenely short, my friends and I sported "short-shorts" and micro-minis. I also hypocritically object to and often tug up on those darned camies when in fact we were somehow allowed to wear midriff shirts and halter tops (bra-less, naturally)! But I digress...

Jess caught up to me feet first. By eighth grade we were - and remain to this day - the same shoe size. Initially my heels would go missing, yet only briefly, as the art of walking in such footwear would take practice to perfect. I'd reach into the downstairs closet to grab my pair of Uggs only to discover that they were at that moment waltzing through the middle school. On a bad hair morning I would rifle though a drawer for a headband and find it too had decided to hop on the school bus. Mascaras, eyeliners, and blush would turn up missing. Then this past summer she began rifling through my tops and by autumn, my sweaters. Our pant sizes are only one apart (much to her horror and my glee at having lost weight), so I'm safe at least in that department.

Last night she ambled downstairs in a pair of my pajamas. Pajamas! Mommy jammies!

"What the heck?" I inquired both dumbfounded and amused. She just grinned and plopped herself down on the couch beside me. She leaned into me and cuddled. Aww. My little girl: My size in all respects. We have met in the middle for now, before I give in, grow up and
start dressing my age, and she begins to assert her own style to a greater extent. For now, however, we seem to agree that love is in fashion.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Is Ignorance Really Bliss Where Our Kids are Concerned?

The adage "ignorance is bliss" is true, to an extent. If I never knew what questionable actions my children had and have engaged in, if I believed in what they tried to pass off as truths, if I firmly believed that my angels were actually angels... Well, I would be blissfully happy. Perhaps I would be sporting no grey hairs, barely visible worry creases between my eyes, nor nagging headaches. I'd be content, peaceful and serene 24/7. I would also be a certifiable fool. And as my kids can well attest, I do not suffer fools gladly.

There is another cliche: "Nobody's perfect." I most certainly am not; not as a woman, a wife or as a mother. I was recently introduced on a local news channel as "knowing how to successfully raise children." I cringed mightily inside and had to choke back tears. "Successfully?!" When I watched the tape later with my family, I had to pause the segment after hearing those words again, excuse myself briefly, and go into the bathroom to weep. Does "successful" mean your kid never screws up? What exactly is the criteria for being "successful" as a parent? It is too large a concept for me to wrap my head around. Because not only am I not perfect, but my children are not as well. Everybody - absolutely everybody in this world - makes mistakes. Some are small, tiny, maybe imperceptible, and others are loud and bold and not easily forgivable, nor forgotten. I teared up because my kids have orchestrated their own missteps and sometimes I feel as if I might have been asleep at the wheel, or wasn't the proper role model, or assumed the best when the worst is always possible.

I had a friend in Weston who once wondered why, one by one, her nine-year-old son's friends began to decline playdates - myself included - though I never brought myself to completely cut her son out of my boy's life. Her son was a bully of sorts, whining when he didn't get his own way and prone to pushing when frustrated. If I recall, one mother had tried letting her know what was going on, gently of course, but I'm not sure if my friend brought herself to fully recognize or believe that could possibly be true. Perhaps you can see yourself in that scenario. Or maybe once your daughter was in middle school you figured she was coming home weepy due to the "mean girl syndrome," when in reality, she was the mean girl and the others were excluding her because of it. Getting to the bottom of what may actually be going on with your child, with the help of the school or friend's parents, I have found to be helpful.

I have heard rumors of, or actually witnessed, teen offspring of friends smoking cigarettes or drinking, and when their parents and I have discussed in generality such behaviors they are convinced that their son or daughter would never indulge themselves in these activities. I too have been thoroughly convinced of my own kids' innocence in such matters, until tips were offered from close friends. Though bliss was preferred a seed was nevertheless planted, I became suspicious, did some investigating, and lo and behold unhealthy and/or and unattractive experimentation was in fact part of reality. I was horrified, aghast - choose any synonym. The truth I am choosing to believe is that it has ceased. I'm no dummy though, and vigilance will continue. Another expression leaps to mind: "Once burned, twice shy." it applies to both me and my sons/daughter.

It is painful, though, not to trust your child completely. The lie can can leap out of the four-year-old's mouth: "No mommy I did not take this pack of gum from the grocery store" (when clearly a four-year-old does not boast a wallet full of cash); to an 11-year-old firmly telling you that the t.v. screen must have cracked on its own, in spite of the baseball bat lying carelessly at his feet, to your 18-year-old insisting that he is not drinking alcohol when confronted with empty beer cans discovered under his bed. What - did the beer bunny leave them there? The untruths can be head-spinningly astounding. "Just tell me the truth," I implore of them. "The consequences of lie upon lie are less - or even non-existent - if you tell me the truth." Accidents happen. So do spectacular lapses in judgment. The truth can often set you free.

And yes, the truth can hurt the parent. Upon learning of something uncomfortable, from a broken vase to a broken curfew, I have sat myself firmly upon the pity pot. I have cried for the unknown something I might have done better. I have cried for them and for the price they pay if the incident or indiscretion has harmed them in some way physically, socially or emotionally. This is not to say that my children are "bad" for they most certainly are not. Just as their dad and I slipped and fell during our time before them, so have and so shall they. The fact that mistakes are inevitable makes a parent feel helpless: We want to protect and to shield. We want bliss. We do not wish to be guilty-by-association. We want to believe that we have raised a straight edge child. Does it mean that we have failed if they occasionally flail?

Was I a happier camper when more freshly ignorant while raising my first-born? In the words of Sarah Palin, "You betcha!" But child by child my innocence has been chipped away, much like their own. Nobody expects to be disappointed or disillusioned, but it is part of the job description of "parent."

I'm not going to quit my job -- my "employees" are too precious. The bliss comes from having them in my life, warts and all.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

A Tall Tale: When Your Kids Sprout Up

Height happens.

Within the past two months, I have noticed that I am somehow eye-to-eye with my baby. Okay, so the baby is 12 years old. And his two brothers before him were beyond my eye level when they were his age. But still... How did I manage to become the shortest person in the house? Wait. I'm not exactly; my daughter is one inch shorter than me, and if I am to believe her pediatrician, at age 15 Jess has reached her adult height. Whew! Nevertheless...

There is something a bit disconcerting about having a child tower above you. For many years I was the towering presence: the grown-up, the authority figure, the "I'm-bigger-than-you-are" guy. When your kid suddenly sprouts up and you are literally knocking foreheads with him, well, it's a milestone of a different sort. It's not really a warm and fuzzy, get out the camera, lump-in-your-throat milestone. Maybe lump-in-your-throat because you ascertain that your baby is baby in concept only. But as I said up front, I have been on the south side of height with a child before, and it's just plain weird. it begs the question: "Can my child still look up to me without looking up at me?"

The answer to that is both yes and no. Why both? Easy -- Because when a child suddenly grow inches in stature, they are in the throes of adolescence, which
by nature means that they probably aren't going to "look up to" their parent on the more constant basis that they did before they began growing into their shoe size. You can still be - and are - their role model in many ways. They know in their heart-of-hearts that you are the boss, but being teens or teens-in-training, their job is to question, question, question and push the envelope every which way that they can. It doesn't really matter if you are shorter or taller than them at this point, this is just what they do. However, if you are vertically-challenged by them it is a bit dicier to cut the figure of the hero. Blake was a six-footer when he started high school, and six-foot-two when he graduated. I am a lofty five-foot, four-and-half inches (need to get that half inch in there). He thought - and still thinks on occasion - that because we hover in different atmospheres that he is the one in charge; the smarter, better one. How annoying was this during high school? In order to put him in his place, so to speak, I would make him sit down, so we were on a level playing field, and assure him that in fact I was still the parent. "Just because you're bigger, doesn't make you better," I'd say firmly. "I still have time and experience on my side, so cool it!" Due to carrying such a heavy pack during his Iraq deployments, he has actually lost an inch or two, but clearly I still need to crane my neck to have a conversation with him when he is at home. And even though he knows I am the parent, he still finds great joy in picking me up like a worthless rag doll if I stray toward lecture mode. Fair enough, I guess, but I do miss my dignity for those few seconds. What seems not fair, though, is how stealth the growing taller process is for children. It's insidious. One day you are kissing the top of their head as they run out the door, the next day it's their nose, and the next... their chin or their chest! They are wearing your clothes, they are borrowing their father's shoes, they are accidentally hitting their heads on the car door when they duck inside for a ride. "No! No!" I want to cry. "Stop it! I want you to grow up, but not... grow up!" Get more mature, more responsible; I can emotionally handle that. But grinning at me from several inches above my grin? Now just hold on a minute! My mother - who remained taller than me, but shorter than my brother - used to jokingly tell him that he was "not too old or too big to spank" when he was sassy to her. I used that line on Jack the other day, to which he replied all five-foot-four-y: "Yeah? You gotta catch me first!" Curses! Foiled again.