It's 5:50AM. My eyes are closed as I am enjoying the last few minutes of sleep. Before I am ready to wave goodbye to our summer schedule of free days, I hear my oldest son's footsteps. He comes into my bedroom, turns on the light and reminds me (and the rest of our household), that "today is the first day of school."
I look up at Dylan and try to hush him quickly enough to avoid waking the baby. But it's too late, my son is committed to getting everyone up, dressed and in the car. By the time 6:20 rolls around, Dylan is fully dressed and rushing me. As I look at him, I am not one bit surprised that he is in perfect dress code: collared shirt, navy shorts and sneakers. His hair is combed and his face is washed. Is this really my child? I look at myself in the mirror, and half-heartedly splash water on my face. No time for makeup remover to wash yesterday's mascara off. School does not start until 8AM, but by 7:25, Dylan has one foot out the door. I put my mug of coffee down; I'll just stop by Starbucks later.
You see, Dylan is only five-and-a-half years old. However, he is the prototypical first born child. Type A personality doesn't even begin to describe Dylan. He is meticulous, organized and a people pleaser. He thrives on rules and routines. I won't deny that I am blessed with a wonderful, conscientious son. But I can't help but wonder where he came from.
Talk about yin and yang: I am the opposite of Dylan. A middle child, I can sleep with lights on, TV blaring, music playing or even construction. Important dates and times are jotted on yellow post-it notes -- only to be found months later under a car seat. Playing in the mud, going barefoot and impulse decisions are all things that I love. So, when Dylan started going to school, he brought home the handbook and insisted on reading the rules. I skimmed through most of them and was surprised to see that 5-year-old children even have dress code. They have to wear a collared shirt? How can children climb monkey bars and participate in physical education when they were dressed like they were heading into a corporate office? Dylan took the rules to heart and asked that I put his collared shirts in the drawer he can reach, as this is the only type of shirt he would be wearing from now on. No free spirit here: Dylan is happy as can be abiding by the rules.
Just as I dropped Dylan off at school, I received a frantic text from my older sister, Amy. Amy is the oldest child in our family. Amy often empathizes with Dylan; they are both perfectionists. Amy's daughter, Sophia, is sassy, feisty, confident and definitely a free spirit. Sophia was not having an easy time accepting the dress code. After a few more urgent texts, I met my sister and Sophia in the car. My sister, flustered and agitated, explained that "Sophia refuses to wear sneakers, wants to wear her Hello Kitty pants, and does not like any collared dresses or shirts." Amy is fed up, and is livid that her daughter is going to be late for her first day of school. Sophia, on the other hand, is sitting comfortably in the car (in her underwear). She is not one bit stressed out. She calmly explains that she wants sandals or ballet shoes, and she refuses to wear "that" collared dress. I smile, and begin to negotiate with Sophia. We finally come to an agreement, and she walks into school with her Hello Kitty pajamas under a Ralph Lauren dress. She is carrying her dress code-appropriate sneakers in one hand, but has insisted on wearing her Hello Kitty flip flops on her feet. Amy, worried about the dress code rules, can not hide her anxiety.
The next few drop-offs are not much different. Sophia knows what she wants to wear. She is not shy about her choices and she doesn't want to change her style. Of course, being a mother myself, I understand the need for rules and structure, but I can't help but wonder if our children were switched at birth. While Dylan always reminds me that we have to pay for the soda I open while shopping at Target, and to lock the car doors, Sophia is much more interested in what makes her happy at that particular moment. Trust me, some of her outfits are pretty extraordinary. Think multiple layers, various colors and one, two or ten accessories.
I get the way Sophia feels, like, what's the big deal? After all, it is only clothing, and who can deny that some form of self-expression is actually a really good thing. My sister often reminds me not to encourage Sophia. Truth be told, Sophia often comes over and runs right into my bathroom. She knows exactly where my "pink" makeup is, and she loves my "cotton candy" perfume. I smile as she sprays perfume on every body part, and uses my lipliner, lipstick and lip gloss (all at once). The mess she leaves on her hands, face, towels and counter tops is similar to the debris left behind in my wake.
They say things happen for a reason, and there is an order to this crazy life we lead. Dylan will continue to keep me in line, and I will always encourage him to relax and take (some) risks. Sophia, on the other hand, recently walked out of her house wearing a wig. She thought she looked good with her ultra long, blonde curly locks. Dylan cringed in embarrassment as he saw her emerge with the wig. Thankfully, my sister and I have each other, and our children to swap, spoil and adore.
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