My just-turned 13-year-old traipsed down the stairs last week on her way to a youth leadership event at school. (Verbs like traipsed, along with sulked, stomped, and our all time favorite skulked have increasing become a part of our vocabulary in the last month.) I was cooking breakfast, but happened to notice that she was wearing flip-flops. The fact that she was wearing flip-flops in the middle of winter was not unusual. They are a part of her well honed style. What is unusual is that it was 6 degrees outside—that would be six degrees Fahrenheit!
Me: It’s six degrees outside. Go put on some actual shoes.
Me: (Louder and slower in case she hadn’t heard) It – is – six – degrees – today. The coldest day this year. The coldest day in the last couple of years. I am very invested in your reaching adulthood with all your toes. Now, go put on some shoes.
Her: I’m going to be indoors all day and flip-flops are more comfortable.
Me (pausing to think through her logic): Put on shoes. If you want to change into flip-flops once there, fine.
Her: (stomping up the stairs) FINE. You are so mean!
OK, it’s obvious: it’s six degrees, you wear shoes, case closed. But here’s the part that I’m not particularly proud of. The main reason I wanted her to wear shoes was because of what the other adults would think about me.
I’m a big believer in picking my battles and I don’t usually pick clothes. The day before, this same daughter had worn flip flops to church, but it was 15 degrees then, and I hadn’t noticed it until we were there. (I know, I know, flip-flops in church, but they were her dressy ones. How my standards for what constitutes “church-clothes” has eroded to this sad state could be the topic for a whole other blog.) One of my other children wore a red power ranger custom with red cowboy boots everyday for most of his preschool years. When my children were younger, I seldom got into a power struggle about wearing a coat unless we would be outside for a long time. The key to deciding whether to insist was how long I’d have to listen to them whine and complain, not how cold they would be.
I take the approach of pointing out the advantage of weather appropriate clothing, but then backing off and letting them learn it for themselves by actually experiencing the cold. This has usually worked well. More often than not, my children choose appropriate clothing. Although, there was that unfortunate camping incident with an 11 year old, but hey, Peter and I both went over (and over) what he needed to pack before hand, we just didn’t check to make sure he had actually followed through. He did learn his lesson, unfortunately his take home message was that camping in the cold was no fun and to be avoided at all costs. He quit scouts the next year, but there may not be a direct causal link between the two events.
I also have a pretty good guess why my daughter likes to wear flip-flops in the middle of winter. She says it’s because they are comfortable, but really, how comfortable can cold feet be? I think she likes to wear them because of the reaction she gets from her friends and particularly from the adults in her world. “Aren’t you cold?” “Why in the world are you wearing those in winter?” It’s a fairly safe way to challenge the status quo and also draw some, but not too much, attention to herself.
Now some would say this desire to challenge or draw attention is somehow related to her status as a transracially adopted child; to being one of the few Asians in a sea of white. But I have one word to say to this: hip-huggers. I have more than a few unfortunate pictures of me, an non-adopted Caucasian kid, in middle school wearing rather dubious fashion statements of my own, including a few years in hip-huggers. Let’s just say that even in middle school, I didn’t have the figure for hip-huggers.
So when my dearest daughter appeared in flip flops last week, my usual response would be to point out the perils and pain of frostbite and then let her decide. But on that day she was one of a selected few from her school to be at the all day leadership event. Also in attendance would be her principal, vice principal, lead teacher, and guidance counselor. Heck, the mayor would even be there. We live in a small town, so this is less of a big deal than it sounds, but suffice it to say that adults on a first name basis with the folks at DSS would be in attendance; adults who might think less of me for not insisting on more appropriate shoes. So, I decided to draw my line in the sand and earn the title of “The World’s Meanest Mom”. I’ll live. Still, I squirmed a bit at my reasons why.
But then life handed me a do-over. My 16-year-old son attended a weekend church retreat for all the youth in our neck of the woods. Upon returning, one of the adult chaperons questioned why we had allowed him to wear a sweatshirt with the words “State Prison: 1235652” to a church event. My 16-year-old spent all weekend at a church retreat and came home saying he had a great time, and I’m suppose to care that his sweatshirt implied he had served time in prison. Huhh?? It was a neon orange sweat shirt and ugly as all get out, but still… I suspect he wore it hoping to get just this reaction, and I’m happy for him that he got it. I’m also happy that I got the gift of being in my comfort zone again when I told my son that I trusted his judgment on his choice of clothes. I can just hear his younger sister harumphing in the background.
Image credit: ken seghers