My daughter definitely has a penchant for the plain when it comes to fashion. Her wardrobe choices alternate between swim shirts and plain t-shirts, with either mesh shorts or leggings. So on a trip to the store for a new pair of goggles, I pointed out some solid-colored Nike t-shirts on a clearance rack.
“Oh, but it doesn’t actually say Nike on it anywhere? Never mind. It has to say Nike.”
When did my daughter become aware of clothing labels? I admit I love the feel of a quality piece of clothing and a new Lululemon piece does make my heart flutter a bit, but I’m not really a shopper and I definitely don’t insist on a label showing when I wear it. Where did I go wrong?
Without trying to sound like I was lecturing, I told her it was a nice shirt at a great price, so it shouldn’t matter if someone else knew the brand. She shrugged her shoulders and walked back over to the goggles aisle.
She had just taken a three-hour standardized test, so her dad and I told her she could pick a spot for lunch after we got her goggles. She chose Golden Corral. I will say nothing further about this choice. (They do have a salad bar.)
Just inside the front door, the allure of bright lights and spiked rubber balls in the claw machine drew her in, but we steered her away and found a seat. As we sat, I overheard the girl behind us, probably not yet twenty, laying into the guy she was with. Many choice words were spoken, and the most oft-repeated began with “F”.
“Bleeping look at you in your bleeping Polo and ironed pants and nice shoes! I’m in bleeping no brand sweats and no name anything. How are you not bleeping ashamed of me?”
Elle kept looking at me, wide-eyed. For about ten minutes, the girl continued to hurl self-deprecating accusations at him, pause for a response we couldn’t hear, and then come at him from a different, but equally abrasive angle. We weren’t trying to listen, but you couldn’t help but hear. Profanity flew and several choice topics were raised. And I couldn’t get over the irony of hearing this girl assert that what was most lacking in her presentation was the absence of designer labels just a few minutes after I had the labels-don’t-matter conversation with Elle.
I wondered if her parents ever had that conversation with her. I wondered if her parents had ever told her our manner of speaking and the way we carry ourselves sends a much stronger message than any logo or brand we wear. I also reminded myself that I knew nothing of this girl’s story, that it was not my place to judge, and that I have many friends with a heart of gold and mouth of a sailor. But I was sad for her.
When the young couple left the restaurant, Elle made eyes at me again, and I asked her what she had noticed about them. She had noticed the young lady’s flagrant profanity, she had noticed the anger in her voice, and she had noticed that the young man hadn’t said much at all. I asked her if she had noticed what each of them was wearing.
“No. Why?” she asked, and then immediately asked her dad if he would try to win something for her from the claw machine.
I desperately wanted to resurrect the clothing-labels-aren’t-what-really-matters lecture. But I bit my tongue, happy that at least for now, regardless of wanting her Nike label to be visible, she wasn’t actually sizing people up by their outward appearance. And I’m grateful that at least for now, her dad winning her a spiked rubber ball from the claw machine still makes her happier than donning a designer label.
With the exception of sparklers, I’ve never let Elle within twenty feet of fireworks. (Go ahead. Roll your eyes. I’m that mom.)
So imagine my blood pressure spike when a New Year’s Eve cul-de-sac party featured fireworks at center court while kids aged 6 to 17 were shooting hoops and riding bikes right through the launchpad. Parents chatted as missile after missile went off just feet from their children. A bottle rocket tipped, shooting sparks and causing a bush to billow smoke and a neighbor to almost lose a window. The fireworks were beautiful, but while everyone seemed so chill, I was silently panic attacking. (Was I overreacting?)
Then I caught sight of my darling daughter holding a firework right along with her friends in the middle of this suburban warzone. She knows how I feel about fireworks. She knows that had she asked, I would have said no. So I told her in no uncertain terms to put the firework down. Then she pouted for the rest of the night. Yay, 2017.
The next day I sat with her to discuss why I felt so strongly about fireworks. I was prepared with statistics and YouTube PSAs and pictures of an NFL player with a disfigured hand. But I wasn’t prepared for what she was about to say.
“Elle, you know how I feel about fireworks. What were you thinking?”
Without hesitation she replied, “everyone else was doing it and it looked like fun.”
My heart sank. I felt sick. A high school teacher, I recalled every story of every kid I had ever known or heard of being killed because of drunk driving or an overdose or something they did because everyone else was doing it and it looked like fun. I wanted to cry. This was no longer about fireworks.
This was about engaging in dangerous behavior because of peer pressure and feeling left out and not wanting to be embarrassed because all the other kids are doing it. I can’t count how many times I told her the very words she had just spoken were the worst possible reason to ever do anything. Ever. (Am I overreacting?)
She must have read my face or actually heard the thud of my heart sink into my stomach because she immediately added, “and it looked safe, mom. It really looked safe.”
I didn’t yell. I appreciate her candor with me and don’t want to lose it. But I couldn’t hide my disappointment and sense of what I can only describe as fear. (Am I overreacting?)
I hung my head and thought for a moment and softly said what I had said so many times before. “Elle, that is the worst possible reason you could ever possibly give for doing anything. Ever.”
She acknowledged this and apologized and we continued the conversation with zero eye rolling. She understood my perspective. And I do understand hers. I was eleven once and I hope to never lose sight of who I was at eleven, or twelve, or whatever age she is. So while I was disappointed and did reprimand her, I didn’t fail to see that she very quickly recalled what I’ve been trying to teach her all these years. That though she acted impulsively, the understanding is there. It hasn’t yet cemented, and may remain a bit pliable for years to come. But the seeds have definitely been planted and they are trying to take root. Piaget, anyone?
Frederick Douglass once wrote, “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” We have but a few years in this construction phase of our children’s lives and I intend to overreact right through it. Because when you let things go and you overreact too late, well, it’s too late. So I will continue to be that mom and pour my heart into building a graceful girl, no matter how much eye rolling, pouting, foot stomping, or door slamming I get from her – or from the world around me.