After you have kids, you become a line walker.
You want them to do well in school but not obsess over grades so much that they develop ulcers and become social outcasts who can’t carry on a conversation without throwing in words such as congruent or onomatopoeia.
You hope they eat healthful foods, exercise and drink water without one day developing an eating disorder that has them spitting out half-chewed M&Ms in between marathon jumping jack sessions.
You also hope they develop their own sense of style—wearing clothes and hair styles that not necessarily define them but suit their personalities and interests.
But you walk the line that represents a normal, well-adjusted human being and on either side lies a child who obsesses over every test answer or just doesn’t give a flip.
On our walk home from school yesterday, my kindergartener fell abnormally quiet. I could tell she was distracted.
Me: What’s up?
She: (with a pained expression, leans into me and whispers) What is she wearing?
Me: (looking at the girl ahead of us—probably a fourth grader) Looks like a white shirt and white shorts.
She: Well, it looks weird.
Me: It’s just a shirt and a pair of shorts. What’s so weird?
She: (still frowning) It just is.
Me: Well, maybe her mom hasn’t done laundry lately and that’s all she had to wear. Or maybe it’s her favorite outfit. (her brothers have been casualties of both)
She: Well, she shouldn’t wear it. Doesn’t it look like she has on boy’s underwear?
Me: (wondering why she cares so much about this girl’s choice of clothes) I don’t think so. Besides, you shouldn’t worry about what she’s wearing. I’m sure she’s not.
She: I think she should worry if people think she’s going to school in boy’s underwear.
Me: (deciding this conversation needs diverting) Wow, look, Mia. A butterfly. I’ll bet that’s one you raised last year and released in the back yard.
She: It is. I recognize her. That’s Giselle.
Some time in the night, the child got out of bed and went through her closet and picked out clothing options for today. When I got her up and presented her with a dress to wear, she said, “That’s not what I’m wearing today. I already picked out my clothes.” She had two outfits beside the bed. A yellow skirt and top combo with horses on it and a pair of khakis and a shirt. We went with the horse ensemble.
Now I just hope if someone tells her she looks nice today, she says ‘thank you’ and then goes about getting her school work done. And if she happens to spot the fourth grade girl we saw yesterday, she realizes that the clothes don’t define the girl any more than the grades or the weight or the hair. And if she starts in again on the walk home from school, I can create a diversion. “Look, Mia. A lizard. Isn’t that the one that we see every night on the bathroom window…”