It’s about time for school to start again, and that means back-to-school shopping. I absolutely LOVE school supply shopping. The smell of paper, erasers, and crayons gives me goosebumps. Clothes shopping, on the other hand, well, let’s just say I’m not a fan. The majority of Story’s clothes come from yard sales and thrift stores. Nearly everything, minus her undergarments, is secondhand. It just made no sense to spend so much money on new clothes that would either be outgrown or destroyed within a couple months’ time. My mom and Ali were rather scandalized when I didn’t take Story clothes shopping prior to the start of school last year – her kindergarten year; yard sales kept us stocked, so I didn’t see the problem. Ali shook her head and took Story herself.
This year, I didn’t hesitate to participate in the back-to-school clothes shopping ritual. I didn’t only participate; I controlled that mall! I surprised even myself. Such a change in beliefs is not common for me — I rather like showing off my stubbornness, especially to Ali or my mom — so I became suspicious. Why did I suddenly care that Story have brand-new clothes? Not even just brand-new clothes, but stylish ones, the ones I saw other little girls her age wearing. I censored her choices, and she very barely convinced me to buy her trademark knee-high socks with outrageously loud colors and designs.
I’ve come to realize that I’ve grown quite shallow over the course of this past year. You see, Story wasn’t a “popular” girl in kindergarten. She didn’t play with the well-dressed, perfectly groomed, adorable little girls with the involved parents who have already established themselves as the in-crowd, or whatever it’s called these days. No, Story played with boys mostly, rough and tumble, dirty, raucous boys whose parents were rarely seen around the school and who taught her to play armpit music.
I kinda figured that Story would play with the boys. That’s what she did in preschool, and she once told me that boys did what she told them to do and that’s why she liked them. Yes, that fits quite well with Story’s, um, leadership qualities, so I wasn’t surprised. What I didn’t expect was the sort of boys she would play with — and thus become associated with as a group. I hate myself for saying this, for labeling children, but we all know that kids find their social order as early as kindergarten. Story is part of the outcast group.
Her teacher told me this — of course, not in those words. What she told me was that she was impressed with Story’s compassion and concern for others. She said that Story always sought out those who played alone and engaged them. She helped those who were struggling with an aspect of the work being done. She was, in some cases, the only friend of some of the at-risk kids in the class. During the parent-teacher conference, Story’s teacher gave me the rundown of Story’s academics, but in the written report, she wrote in “kindness” as the primary strength. She explained that this was unusual, but she wanted to draw attention to Story’s behaviors. I was proud of Story, so proud.
And now, I’m subconsciously trying to change her in order to change her circle of friends because I’m afraid that Story will be bullied, shunned, and pigeonholed into a particular stereotyped group that she will live in for the next twelve years. I thought I was wholeheartedly against stereotyping, but here I am perpetuating it. And all with clothes no less.
This sounds so ridiculous as I write it. I’m sure you are all shaking your heads at me, admonishing me in your minds to just let her be herself. And I agree! That’s the thing. But how do I let go of these fears? Apparently they are strong enough that my subconscious is taking over control of the situation. I don’t know the answer, but I’m hoping the realization will help me to better face the reality of who my daughter is and my own prejudices.
I can tell you one thing, I’m ordering more knee-high socks!