When she was a toddler, I tried not to gasp in “horror” every time she fell over, so as not to teach her to panic and freak out every time she stumbled. Now, I try not to laugh when these outbursts happen, so as not to invalidate her very real feelings. And make her think I’m an even bigger bitch than she already does, by forcing her to dress appropriately. I also try not to “fight” back, because it really isn’t worth it, and sure as hell don’t want to validate this. So I stay calm.
“But mom, that’s what I wear. I wear jeans and Converse, it’s what I wear. Everyone knows that.”
I repeat that she has to dress up for this dinner.
I said, “You will have to dress up for this, I’m sorry it’s hard for you. “
She heard, “You will have to eat your kittens, I’m sorry it’s hard for you.”
She bursts into tears.
I tell her that I get it, totally. I’m a jeans and t-shirt girl myself, but there comes a time when you have to learn to modify your behavior for the situation. When I go to a meeting, I dress a little differently. When I go to a party, I dress a little differently. That’s part of growing up, learning contextually appropriate behavior.
“But mom, I’m only twelve!”
“Exactly, you’re old enough to learn contextually appropriate behavior.”
Her aunt is turning 40. In a ridiculously generous, but totally characteristic, act of generosity, her father’s parents are flying all the kids and grandkids to Atlanta to celebrate. On Saturday they are going to a very nice restaurant for dinner. And it is not appropriate for my daughter to wear her trademark skinny-jeans, converse and ironic t-shirt.
“You can’t make me wear a dress, I won’t do it. I can’t wear a skirt or a dress. I can’t.”
I fucking hate the words “I can’t.” I resist the urge to say, “You can’t? Like your body will crumble, or get paralyzed if a skirt or dress touches you? You won’t be able to move, breathe? What? CAN’T?”
“Honey, I didn’t say you had to wear a skirt or a dress. I just said that you can’t wear jeans and Converse. We can totally come up with a great outfit that is your style, your design, but is appropriate for such an occasion.”
“My style is jeans and Converse.”
“Well, you’re gonna expand that.”
I explain to her that her grandparents have gone out of their way to make a special weekend for everyone. One way to show respect and appreciation for that is to treat it as if it is special. Show them that you appreciate it by behaving in a manner that is special.
It’s an uphill battle. Not only is she a pre-teen girl, but we live in Seattle, a city in which people go to the opera in Polar Fleece. I will not raise a human who would go to the opera in Polar Fleece. It’s just rude.
“But mom, I can’t.”
“Look, you’re going to. We can design anything you want. I’m a seamstress, I will stay up all night making you anything you want. We can look at magazines, online, downtown and find a style that you like. Anything, but you have to dress up a bit. You can wear anything in my closet.”
“I don’t like your clothes.”
An argument that would be much more believable if most of the clothes in piles on her floor weren’t mine, and she weren’t wearing my Paul Franks jammies as she stood, sobbing, in front of me.
“Ugh. You don’t understand, I can’t.”
Her throat tightens again. I can almost feel the kitten fur and whiskers gagging her throat in that silent moment before the tears come again.
“Yes, you can. Let’s go in my closet and see what we can find.”
To be clear, people have fantasies about that sentence. My closet (s) is (are) filled with everything from vintage suits to designer gowns to fur bikinis and a t-shirt collection that could keep a frat in clean clothes for an entire academic year. And the shoes and boots, lordy, Imelda Marcos aint’ got nothing on me. I’m not proud of this, it’s just true.
We gather satin cargo pants, leggings, t-shirt dresses. I mean, I’m a tomboy too, I know how to rock the tomboy look. We have some of everything.
“I can’t believe you’re making me wear a dress.”
“I’m not. We’re trying to find something, we have lots of options.”
“Then why did you give me all those dresses?”
“I gave you lots of things. Pants, knickers, skirts, dresses, leggings, boots, flats…..”
“Dresses. You’re gonna make me wear a dress.”
“I’m not going to make you do anything.”
“Yes you are, you’re gonna make me not wear jeans and Converse.”
“That’s making you NOT do something.”
Don’t fight back, don’t fight back, don’t fight back.
“Honey, this is my job. It is my job to help you learn how to behave in all of the situations you will face in life.”
“And I can’t wear Converse in life?”
“Not all the time, no.”
We discuss that she could get away with either jeans OR Converse. Converse with leggings and a long t-shirt dress. Jeans with boots and a nice t-shirt. Just not the whole grunge / emo package. Not appropriate.
“That doesn’t make sense. It’s stupid. This is stupid. You can’t make me do it.”
“Fine. Here’s the deal. If you refuse to dress appropriately, you do not have to go to Atlanta at all. It’s that simple.”
First rule of parenting: never make a threat that you are not prepared to follow through on. I am not prepared to follow through on this. I have plans this weekend, and not having a kid around to witness my debauchery is a key part of my plans. But she’ll back down, I know it, she’s so excited.
“Fine, I won’t go. Who cares?”
I have underestimated the aggressive power of adolescent apathy. Fuck. (Or not, as the case may be if she doesn’t get out of town.)
“We’ll talk about this tomorrow honey. I love you.”
I went shopping today. I did what I always do in a fashion or costume emergency. I went to the Goodwill outlet and spent $19 on two huge bags filled with anything that could possibly dress up a tomboy for a special occasion. (All of which I will happily wear, when she throws them at me in tears and disgust at my bossy-bitchy-don’t-get-it-ness.)
And a new pair of Converse. She has a great sense of style, really.