I was born bald. My mother, raising a child in the 70s, dressed me in primary colored homemade clothing. The sex of this sweet little bald child with gender neutral clothes caused a few comments and questions, much to my mother’s dismay. This frustrated her so much that she not only taped – yes taped – a pink bow to my head, she also hand-embroidered “I am a Girl” on my clothes. Where was Etsy when she needed it?
Fast forward many years. My mother’s bald little pink-bowed girl gets married, waits 11 years, and has a baby. A girl.
I am pretty sure I was able to get Lilly into dresses, based on photographic evidence, maybe until she was two. I guess I should have enjoyed the cute while I had a chance. I should have clued in to the fact that even as an infant, every time I put one of those crocheted headbands on her head and attached a big ass bow, she would promptly rip it off. I can remember having fights with her about dresses early on. “Honey, only for church, then you can change into your overalls,” I would plead. She conceded back then, because she hadn’t yet realized she could use all of her stubborn at one time.
And then there was the year of the Easter Dress. I let her pick it out. It was a sailor-style dress with a hat and big white collar. She had little tights and shoes to match. She wasn’t thrilled with it, but she reluctantly said yes and allowed it to go in the shopping cart.
Easter morning as we prepared for church, she avoided getting dressed. I avoided it too, knowing that the longer I waited, the cleaner it would stay. I was so foolish back then. If only cleanliness was the issue. Ha. Then came the inevitable moment when she HAD to get dressed. I fought to get the dress on her and once I did, she screamed in agony. Apparently, dresses burn her skin. It was burning the flesh right off her, according to the screams. I ripped the dress off, thinking it was the material and maybe she had developed a rash. Nope. Nothing. “I am allergic to dresses! They make my skin burn off!” I would enroll her in drama classes if I wasn’t sure she’d need to wear a dress occasionally.
Our WWF match carried on a bit longer, legs flailing, chairs crashing on heads, bells ringing, until I conceded defeat, threw a t-shirt and pants on her, and headed out the door. That was the last time I was brave, or stupid enough, to even attempt to put a dress on her, which on a daily basis is not a big deal.
I shop in the boy’s section most of the time because well, let’s be real, they have cooler t-shirts. The Ninja Turtles wear their colored masks and look ferocious in the boy’s section. Ninja Turtle shirts on the other side of the store rely on pink, light purple, light blue, and yellow masks. What respectable Ninja Turtle wears a pink mask? “Is that supposed to be Raphael? Don’t they know he would never wear a pink mask? Uh, I won’t wear that thankyouverymuch.”
As long as the activity involves a t-shirt, khaki shorts, and crocs, she is good.
And most days, our activities are rather ordinary. Get up, go to school, come home, and on occasion shop for groceries. Every once in a while, we will go out to lunch or dinner. Nothing requiring too much dressing up. When we attend church, we go to a contemporary service that doesn’t frown on Ninja Turtle t-shirts and khaki shorts, but instead encourages them. So most of the time, the clothing thing isn’t an issue.
Until it’s picture day. Or the first day of school.
Most kids live for the first-day-of-school outfit. They set it out expectantly with dreams of getting noticed for their sense of style. My child picks out the green Christmas tree t-shirt and the red shorts, because in her mind, they match, of course.
I dread picture day. With every fiber of my being. Not so much the individual picture, I mean, let’s be real. Having a photo of my child in anything other than a t-shirt would seem as though an alien abduction had taken place. But there is the group photo. Bright shiny Kindergarten girls in their perfectly kept dresses, little boys in their suits and ties. And then there is Lilly, disheveled from the battle royale we just had; Lilly who needed to be bribed with ice cream or snow cones or a new Ninja Turtle toy in order to put on something with an actual collar.
One of these things, is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong….
I won’t lie, it has sometimes crossed my mind to hand embroider, “I am a girl” on her clothes during picture day. Don’t doubt that I have at times dreamed of gluing a bow on her head.
But really, what she wears doesn’t change who she is. My child, who is funny, and smart, silly, and witty won’t change based on what she wears. My child who is in a nice boy’s polo and khaki pants, will be smiling just like the others and no matter what, will feel confident in her own skin. If only the rest of us felt that confident.