This column was first published in Practical Parenting Magazine, March 2013
Pregnant with my first child, I was enthralled with the idea of dressing my very own baby person. In a slightly cracked ritual, I liked to lay out different outfits in the empty bassinette every night, and would spend long, delightful minutes before bed, mixing and matching hats and socks and shoes and jumpsuits. My third trimester awakened some kind of latent dress-ups gene. Tiny stripy leggings! Doll-sized hoodies! Adorable t-shirts and smocks and socks and knitted jumpers! They all delighted me. I drew the line at pink, however. Peanut’s closet was a pink-free zone, and I was determined to avoid the princess-fairy-glitter syndrome.
How deluded I was. Fast-forward four years, and preschooler Peanut would only wear pink, and what’s more, referred to herself as ‘Pinky Winky’. She liked her outfits ruffled, sparkly, and glittering, and preferably all of these at once. This princess phase came upon her suddenly, after a period of dressing as a character she called the Black Ghost, who wore nothing but a feathered face mask. At two, her favourite outfit was a t-shirt that read ‘Bring Back Warney’, satin Wiggles boxer shorts and a pair of sunglasses, made for her birthday, that featured two cardboard Wiggles permanently and maniacally leaping from the arm-pieces. It was quite an arresting look, and one I am almost positive I never rehearsed during my pregnancy fantasies.
My middle child T-Bone went to his pre-school orientation recently. He had taken that week to wearing all of his clothes backwards, and to sporting a different type of shoe on each foot. At one stage all the children gathered in a circle around the teacher and took it in turns to dance alone in the centre as she blew bubbles. As T-Bones turn came up, he suffered an extreme wardrobe malfunction, and his jeans slid south. Very far south. But did it stop him? Not for a moment. He cavorted enthusiastically about, popping bubbles joyfully, with almost his entire bottom exposed to the rest of his class. The kids didn’t really notice, but the other mums and I were in tears of laughter. And I was, under the tears, fiercely proud of my eccentric and cheerful son.
This clothing thing has been one of many lessons for me in letting go, in giving up the fantasy of motherhood in my head, and looking with clear eyes on the reality of motherhood in front of me. This reality in which the children are unmatched, and often dirty, and wearing the outfits that they chose themselves. These are not my fantasy kids, they are the real people who share my house and own my heart - entirely separate humans from me, with their own ideas and desires and taste in sparkles. The fun of dress-ups that I imagined in my long-ago first pregnancy only lasts a short time, I have come to realise. But then it is replaced with the richer joy of watching the children pick out their own clothes. This act of choosing, of individual style, is all part of the larger theatre I have the privilege of watching, as these kids go about the process of becoming exactly who they are meant to be. Bedazzled, unexpected, inappropriately nude, and utterly delightful.