"Wow those shorts are short!" my girlfriend couldn't contain the surprise and horror at the denim underwear masquerading as clothing my daughter was wearing in public. She stared at me open-mouthed, waiting for some sensible answer, like maybe all of my child's pants were dirty or better yet, stolen.
She knew me well. I was the mother she depended on for child rearing advice and now, with those shorts, I had let her down. I wasn't one of those permissive parents that believed children should be given free reign over their upbringing. I had ironclad expectations when it came to education, behavior and clothing. I hoped one day, when my daughter grew up to become a self-supporting adult, she would chose me as a friend, but until then, the lines were clearly drawn. I am the parent, she is the child and usually what her parents say amounts to law.
"Yep, they're short," I answered my friend as her 2-year-old daughter held hands with mine up ahead, giving us an unimpeded view of her short shorts.
"I fought it for almost two years but I finally went to that store with the half-naked teens in the doorway. I made her try on eleven pairs. You should have seen the others," I attempted to defend myself. Six months earlier I had harshly glared at a mother who's 10-year-old rocked the shorts with Ugg boots, Kardashian style, as my own kid glared at me.
"We're different people," my daughter had argued. "My style is not like yours -- I wear color." She threw in that last point to call attention to my all-black wardrobe.
"Zoe, I am not letting you wear anything that inappropriate." I laughed at the absurdity.
"But everybody has them." She then named a few mothers stricter than me whose daughters owned them. I saved my Brooklyn Bridge comment for high school.
"No. I don't want your teachers to think I am that kind of mother," I responded. There, I had said it out loud. Those concerns had lain under the surface. What kind of mother risks her child's reputation in order to follow a trend? And once you cross that line, how do you ever go back? Don't get me started on the exposed belly often paired with said shorts. What's to stop these girls from creating a clothing-optional society? They're already dangerously close.
"So how old do I have to be before I can dress like me? The same age as when I get a boyfriend? 30. It's not fair." She cried out in that way that any person has who has either been a middle-school age child or has had one can relate to.
"Life is not fair." I know it annoyed her when I took this stand.
"What would you do if you were me?" She asked, lips quivering with preteen angst. And that's when it all began to change for me. I had been her. I'd been raised by an uber-feminist mother, a mother who reminded my sisters and me that makeup, skirts and any attention to improve our physical appearance was a total waste of time. In her defense, she thought she was helping us by insisting we put our focus on social causes and helping those less fortunate. My mother had grown up as the prettiest girl in the room -- and I mean any one that she entered. By the time I had reached middle school, she had come to view her looks as more of a curse than a gift. She wanted to save us the downside of being focused on our external selves, but we were teenagers and that ship had sailed.
She cared that people knew she was raising us right. But once my mother was out the door to work, my oldest sister had already changed out of her approved outfit into hot pants, midriff-baring top and suede, knee-high boots. Where she got these clothes I'd never know, but neither would my mother. Our teenage years were one gigantic secret kept from our mother. We knew she wouldn't approve and so we learned not to share anything with her. Did I want my child sneaking off with a second set of clothing in her bag as she went off to school? Wouldn't that happen anyway? I didn't want her to think that in order to be "her" she had to keep secrets from me.
"Pick your battles" -- that is the one piece of sage advice I'd consistently received as a parent. I wasn't the first parent to hate my child's wardrobe, music... you fill in the blank. But I've also seen great big oceans develop between parents and children because of wardrobe and music choices. It made me take a hard look at how I was choosing to parent. Could I become more flexible? My daughter is a passionate student, respectful, kind and a really good person who readily communicates her thoughts, opinions and fears with me. If the worst thing I can say in twelve years is that I don't like her shorts, then I think I could learn to bend. I want her to know that she can trust me to listen when she tells me what's important to her. I may not always agree. There are going to be many things along the way that I'm less flexible about. For today, I've drawn the line at the cut-off tops and cowboy boots with the shorts, but get back to me in a couple of years. The one lesson motherhood has taught me is, "never to say never." I turn to my friend whose oldest kid is 5 and give her the advice I am finally learning to take.
"Parenthood is all about picking your battles."
"Alright," She says in that tone that lets me know she would never allow her daughter to don similar shorts. But instead of arguing with her, I just laugh, because I was she once upon a time... and then my child became a tweener.