11/16/2011 05:13 pm ET | Updated Feb 01, 2012

What Clothes Are Appropriate For School?

More or less from the time he could say no, my younger son despised wearing a coat. In preschool I would weather (pun intended) the stares of the other Moms as he breezed (also intended) into circle time dressed in shorts despite snow on the ground. Yes, I let him do this, because somewhere along the way I gave up, "Alex, you'll be cold," I said to him one morning. "I KNOW when this body is cold," he replied. And, I figured, he did. So well into high school he was the one who made parents feel cold just from looking at him. For Halloween one year his costume was plain old long pants and a sweatshirt, and everyone in town got the joke.

All this is why I love the following essay from Lisa T. McElroy on the moment her daughter made a similar transformation. Mostly it makes me feel less alone. And because she raises the bittersweet question at the end about what their chosen uniform -- and their out-of-the-blue decision to shed it -- means. -- Lisa Belkin, Parentlode


Today, my fifth-grader wore jeans and a sweatshirt to school.

Sure, you're saying to yourself, and so . . . .?

But if that's your reaction, then you have never met my kid. This is the frilliest, skirtiest, dressiest, tights-and-Mary Janes-iest kid you have ever met.

She has hair bows to match her socks. She has hats to match her purses. She has jewelry, and nail polish, and sparkly key rings. And she spends time coordinating them, fluffing them, and laying them out to admire them, even organizing all the outfits for a whole week on a rainy Sunday afternoon. And every teacher in the school knows her because she wears them, every day, to play in the snow, to run the 400 on field day, to skip for hours in the jump-rope-athon. All the time. Since she was three.

She's almost eleven now. That's eight entire years. Without wearing trousers even once. True, after pre-K she abandoned the princess crown that she wore every single day when she was four (we had to clear it with the school principal after the teacher sent home a note at the end of the first week), but until today, that was the only step toward ordinary school clothes she's been willing to take.

As a mom, I made a decision a long, long time ago not to interfere with my kids' clothing choices, unless there was some huge reason why I had to (case in point: a trip a couple of weeks ago to the United States Supreme Court, for which my little fashionista deemed a thrift-shop-purchased Juicy Couture skirt, two tank tops, and Ugg boots to be the perfect outfit), and as long as anything worn out of the house was clean and covered the relevant body parts. And I have to admit that, after witnessing my kid walk out to catch the school bus for years in crinolined polyester dresses from Kohl's (amazing how those turn up on the 90% off clearance rack with some regularity), I barely even noticed - except when the school librarian or the computer teacher would say, "Oh, you're Abby's mom!" while looking me up and down, puzzled by my Gap jeans and hoodie.

But today, I noticed. In fact, I pretty much spit hot coffee all over the kitchen when my kid showed up downstairs looking for a bagel and pouring orange juice, all while wearing black jeans, pink sweatshirt, and sparkly sneakers. She tried to look nonchalant when I stared at her, but a little grin broke through.

"What's up with the . . . um . . . pants?" I asked, trying not to make a big deal out of what was clearly A. BIG. DEAL. "Is it, like, some kind of fundraising day at school or something? Wear the thing you hate most and raise money for the animal shelter?" Abby loves animals. We have two shelter dogs. It was the only thing I could think of that would make her even consider denim as a wardrobe option.

"Nope. I just decided they were cool. Nana got them for me this weekend."

"And what about all your dresses and tights and stuff?"

Shoulder shrug. "I guess they're just getting a little young for me." This from the still-ten year-old, the one with gaps in her teeth.

So, now I'm wondering. Was it the same kid in those oh-so-different clothes? And, if so, what wheels have been turning inside that headband-decorated head for the past several weeks, culminating in what might be the biggest 180 my kid has ever pulled?

It's not that I mind that she wore jeans to school today. Heck, my life will almost certainly be easier if I don't have to steam petticoats or drip-dry rhinestone T-shirts anymore. I mind that I didn't see this coming. I mind that, every time I think I have my kids down cold, they go and change something big on me. I get the whole "let's keep Mom on her toes" concept - my kids are Olympic competitors at that one. But there's been something comforting for the past many years knowing that some things were, well, familiar and predictable. Like that Zoe, who's twelve, won't eat pork because her lovey, a stuffed pig who wears preemie clothes from BabyGap (don't even ask why Piggy will shop at the Gap but Abby wouldn't), calls it cannibalism (according to Zoe, Piggy thinks Zoe's a pig, too) and gets really upset. Or that Abby, since forever, adores anything purple and shoves all her stuff under her bed rather than clean her room (I'm onto that one, but she keeps trying - it's a routine we have).

I mind that my kids are turning into people whom I don't know inside and out.

I wonder what she'll wear tomorrow. I'll keep you posted.