I distinctly remember the jean jacket. I was about to start first grade. My mom tried to convince me to wear it, saying all the other kids wore ones just like it. I refused, said I hated it. I did that with most stylish things she bought me. Not that we had a lot of money, and if I’d known how much she’d spent I would have been appreciative, but the fact that she kept saying it was what everyone else wore made me huff and cross my arms and refuse to let her slip the sleeves on.
Fast forward to my late twenties, when I found out the baby I was carrying was a girl. I had a feeling I’d raise a version of myself, a strong girl who’d fight me on every little thing. I was right. She’s identical to me in looks, but almost a complete opposite in personality.
Mia, my daughter, is eight now and she dances in her room to Taylor Swift while making up dance routines. She listens to that album so much, sometimes when I’m cooking I find myself singing a line of “Trouble” or that one where we’re never ever ever getting back together. Mia knows more popular phrases, songs, and styles than I do. Somehow Santa managed to send her two American Girl dolls last Christmas at both her mom and dad’s house. They both sit, poised on a shelf, fully dressed, combed, and accessorized.
When she was little and jumping in mud puddles and never wanting to take a bath, I thought she’d be a little more like me. I’d worn the same Carhartts and hoodies for years, and only bought clothes when the ones I had tore too many holes. Now, Mia compares my everyday style to “house clothes.” We were about to leave the other day, and I told her I needed to change out of my pajama pants first. “Why, Mom,” she said. “Everyone knows you’re a writer and you work at home. Nobody expects you to wear pants.”
Her ages of 3 and 4 were so hard, I’d sit up at night, shell-shocked on the couch, drinking wine. Sometimes I’d go over our arguments, wondering how I could have handled myself better. We lived in a studio apartment for most of that time, and I only had about fifty bucks a month in spending money. One day over breakfast on a Saturday I asked her if she needed more girlie stuff.
“What kind of stuff?” she said, a little cautious.
“You know, like clips and bows and mirrors and lip gloss,” I said. Her eyes got all big and she nodded. We went to Target that afternoon and spent a long hour going up and down their hair and make-up aisles.
Mia got home and put everything on the table, carefully taking out the mirror I’d bought and stood it up on its little legs. She asked if I could put her hair in pig tails.
“Two little ones in front,” she said. I flushed with the honor of being able to brush her hair instead of our wrestling matches after her bath. She carefully applied eye shadow, blush, and lip gloss, commenting on how pretty she looked, making kissy faces at herself in the mirror. The feminist in me sighed.
Last year her sense of style took on new demands of matching shoes and hats. Sometimes she’d wear white, elbow-length gloves to school. She coordinated dresses, socks and scarves. Her room would have American Girl catalogues strewn about on the floor so she could mimic the outfits, and she’d arrange everything neatly again before leaving. Even the dolls had to be dressed properly.
All of this, of course, made us incredibly late.
I’d tell her to hurry, that it didn’t matter what shoes she wore. She’d look at me like I’m sure I’d looked at my mom when I refused the jacket. It was never in a crestfallen way, but anger in being misunderstood. This was something important to her, something that identified her, and I stood there telling her to rush and that it didn’t matter.
For school this year, her dad’s mom sent her huge boxes of clothes from JC Penney. The gesture, so uncharacteristic, shocked Mia more than me. We opened every carefully wrapped box, pulling out opaque fabrics and strappy tank tops. Some of the shirts had matching necklaces attached and skirts to go with. Mia laughed and smiled and jumped up and down. None of these clothes would have been ones I’d have picked. Her grandma, who she saw maybe once a year, knew how to pick out clothes for my daughter better than I could have if I tried.
I made her save some of the outfits just for school. She carefully hung them up in her closet and talks about them every so often, planning which ones to wear. I know she’ll need some extra time to get ready this year, and I’ll give it to her gladly. But we’ve had extensive talks on the importance of getting to the bus stop on time.
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