When I was pregnant, I spent a lot of time with my cousin, a mother of three. One day, we went to the park with her youngest daughter dressed in a fairy costume. When I asked my cousin if it was a special occasion, she said no, her daughter simply refused to wear anything else and had for months. So, every evening she washed the fairy outfit out by hand so that it would be clean and dry for the next day.
Laughing, I told her about my four year old niece’s pleasure in what she had accomplished when she dressed herself in her favorite yellow corduroy vest with an orange chiffon skirt and a pink blouse for church. And I secretly remembered her crestfallen expression when her mother made her change into a more appropriate outfit.
And then, unbidden, came the memory of my eight-year old joy in a pair of three-inch hot pink Mary Jane heels that my parent’s dancer friend gave me. I had secretly coveted those shoes and, once they were mine, nothing could stop me. I would strap them on and, no matter what else I was wearing, I felt invincible.
On a really good day, I would add my white feather boa and imagine that I was a 1920s starlet accustomed to walking down a red carpet and welcomed the world over. For about six months, I wore this outfit everywhere – in school, at the playground, and over to friends’ houses. When my feet grew another two sizes, I finally retired the shoes but not the confidence I associated with them.
This morning my one and a half year old son demanded that I put his boots on. Or, more specifically, he brought me his miniature Wellingtons and stated in an implacable way ‘Boot on!’. I tried to reason with him, explaining that he didn’t need his boots on to go to the beach since it was the middle of summer and perfectly sunny out. When that didn’t work, I tried bribery: “Look at these nice new sandals Mummy bought you. Don’t you want to try them on? You’ll look so snazzy in them’. As a response, he started to put the boot on himself.
As I sat back and tried to figure out how to get him shod appropriately, I thought back to the fairy in the park and realized that this was likely the first of many such battles. Looking at my son’s pride and pleasure-filled face as he pointed to his boot-clad feet, I also remembered my magic shoes and the Communion dress that I had begged my Jewish parents for and wore at any social gathering that involved more than two people until I could no longer do up the back zipper. In that moment, I realized that it didn’t matter if my son was shod appropriately or not. As long as it wasn’t going to harm him, I decided that from now one, he could wear whatever he wanted. Interested strangers would simply have to read the button on his shirt stating ‘I dress myself’.