Thursday, October 14, 2010

Individuality and Clothes

They called me tacky turtle.

I was a fourth grader, and they were fifth graders. It would happen in the lunch room, since our lunch tables were next to each other. Either my clothes didn't match or they were too loud or too patterned or too... I don't know... different, I guess.

When I read a recent post by Her Bad Mother, it all came back to me. Just like her daughter, I didn't care what was in style or what would be normal or what would be considered matching by typical standards. Instead, just like her daughter, I wore what I felt like wearing that day based on my own desires.

No, the clothes didn't always match. They were probably even tacky. It was the 80s, after all. I have this picture of me at that age wearing splatter-paint paints in primary colors, a jaguar sweatshirt, a florescent pink belt and a pastel pink satin jacket. It totally didn't match. But those were all of my favorite things at the time, and I wanted to wear them all at once.

So, they called me tacky turtle. It was a stupid name, but it hurt. In fact, it hurt for many years. It was only a year or two ago that I could say or write the name without wanting to cry. Tacky turtle. There, I can write it now. I can even say it outloud. Tacky Turtle. That's what they called me.

I don't know if it was considered bullying at the time, or if it would be considered that now. I've always just said that I was picked on about how I dressed, I was teased about what I wore. It hurt, and it affected me deeply. More deeply than I showed to them, I'm sure. I'm pretty sure I didn't cry, at least in front of them. I think I just tried not to react at all. Whatever I did, I think it worked because it didn't last long. The teasing, that is. The emotional affects lasted a very long time.

In the following two or three years, I started dressing in black more and more. I doubted myself and my fashion sense. My mom says that my sister started dressing in basic black at that time, and perhaps I was picking it up from her, though her style was always pretty preppy and mine was not. But I also remember thinking that everything goes with black, so I'd wear that. I couldn't mismatch or look tacky in black. So I wore more and more black, blending in with those around me during those difficult middle school years.

By the time I reached high school, we had moved and I was in a new school with all new people. I don't know what it was that motivated me specifically, but I decided I was not going to simply wear black and blend in anymore. I was going to figure out what was fashion and, more importantly, what was my style. I wanted to feel confident in what I wore, but not simply mimic what everyone else was wearing. I didn't want to dress preppy like my sister or in clothes my mom picked out for me. I wanted to wear things I thought were fun and cute and ME, but in a way that was fashionable and not "tacky."

I got a subscription to Vogue magazine and I started paying attention to high fashion. The clothes in Vogue and on the runway were not anything I could actually wear. That's not the point of high fashion. The point is set style trends that can be toned down in regular wear. It was the early 90s now, and the age of the supermodels was in full force. Fashion was diverse and interesting to me. And I decided to try it all.

In high school, I wore the grunge style, with ripped jeans and flannel shirts. I wore hippy clothes, with long flowy skirts and an anklet of bells. I wore preppy clothes, with white buttondown shirts and khaki pants. I wore the hip-hop style, with body suits and baggy jeans. I wore what I wanted to wear, with a confidence that gave me the ability to pull off just about anything and with complete disregard to what anyone else thought about my clothes. I went to college with the same diversity of style and the same confidence to pull it all off.

Instead of being a tacky turtle in high school and college, I was known for being stylish with cute and fun clothes. I was also known for not caring what others thought about what I wore. When my good friend in college joked to me about my baggy black and white stripped "prison" pants, I laughed and said that I loved them. When my roommate was surprised that I put fake dreadlocks I put in my hair, I made her take a picture of the temporary style so I would always remember it. When I would go to my sorority parties, I paired my chunky heels and a lime green cardigan with my little black dress. When I came back from studying abroad in Italy, I wowwed Londo in black leather pants with a fitted t-shirt the night I met him.

Over the many years since I was called tacky turtle, I've occasionally thought, "Why did my mom let me out of the house in those clothes?" Every time I've had that thought, I immediately dismissed it for two reasons:
1. Even at that age, I would very stubbornly insist on wearing what I wanted to wear.
2. She let me explore what I liked no matter what others might have thought, and it's because of that support that I was able to later develop my own style.

I must admit, I have mostly tamed down my natural inclinations ever since fourth grade. I realize that if left to my own devices, I would probably wear some really gaudy outfits. I LOVE animal print, bright colors, big patterns, fake fur, four-inch heels and anything sparkly. But I've learned how to match patterns and how to pair loud items with plainer items, like putting my animal print shoes with my brown suit or a bright blouse with a black blazer.

As a mother, I care a lot about how my kids look, including their clothes. I find myself explaining to my daughter what colors and styles match, and I do try to encourage her to pick clothes that generally go together. But I'm not going to get into a big fight over what she wears. As long as the clothes are age appropriate and weather appropriate, she can pick out what she wants. Most of the clothes in her closet are ones I picked out and bought for her, but I'm trying to encourage her to pick out her own clothes in the stores. I also try to buy fun clothes that I think she will like, especially items with monkeys on them, since she's my monkey girl.

Right now, the Pumpkin only vaguely cares about what she wears. I usually pick something out, and either she agrees to wear it or not. If she doesn't want to wear the first outfit, I tell her to pick out what she wants to wear, as long as it's appropriate and still fits. Just this morning, she refused the cute patterned shirt I picked, and instead picked out a bright blue shirt.

I want my kids to develop their own sense of style. I want them to have fun with clothes and shoes and accessories. Though I don't want them to go through the teasing and self-consciousness I went through, I also don't want to limit them or impose conformity on them. I especially don't want them to try to impose conformity on others. I want them to not only thrive in their own individuality, but to I want them to support and stick up for others who are eccentric or outside the norm.

What this world needs is less judgement and more individuality. From fifth graders to the parents who insist that their children and all children must wear clothing that blends in. The leaders in fashion have always pushed the boundries of what is normal and even okay to wear. And as I learned in high school, it's the high fashion that trickles down into everyday wear, turning what was once unacceptable into the style of the day.

Maybe my daughter or son will push the boundries. Maybe they won't care at all about fashion. Maybe they will be teased for how they dress. Maybe their style will be admired and copied. I just hope that they wear what they want and that they don't tease others for doing the same.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Spending My Time

I am totally out of my normal rhythm, so you'll have to excuse me if I'm not keeping up with the blogosphere. There are good reasons, and not-so-good reasons.

First, this weekend I went away with one of my BFFs and my cousin's college-age daughter to my cousin's house at a nearby lake. My BFF and I left husbands and kids behind for a girls' weekend! It was fantabulous! We stayed up late talking or playing games, we slept in late in the mornings, we ate out for every meal, we saw Life As We Know It and got ice cream, we sat outside on the deck reading in the sun on a beautiful fall day, and we generally did whatever we wanted!

I came back Sunday night, immediately picked up my daughter and Mom and aunt, and drove up to my brother's house for my mom's birthday dinner. The Pookie had a stuffy nose, so Londo stayed home with him. I had a great time, especially since the Pumpkin and her cousins that are around her age all ran off into the basement to play BY THEMSELVES! It's a good age.

Although we had a bit of a rough night that night, Monday was another good day. Both my husband and I were working from home that day (my office was closed for Columbus Day), but the kids' schools were open. So I dropped them off in the morning and went back home.

It was a beautiful day, so it didn't take much for Londo to convince me to pick up some food and go on a picnic. We had such a lovely time that we decided not to head back to the house right away to go back to work. Instead, we hiked around a park for a while, enjoying the weather and each other's company.

This was much needed for us, this reconnection. We had been short with each other lately, with so much stressors going on in our lives. It's too easy to take out the stress and frustration on the ones we are closest to, though we try so hard not to. An afternoon outside exploring and being together was just what we needed. And it helped to get us in the right spirits for what we had to deal with the next day.

You see, Sunday night I had noticed a little red bump on the Pumpkin's bottom. It's not unusual for her to get irritation bumps, since she has such sensitive skin. And on Sunday night, we had to borrow a pair of underwear from my niece due to a pee pee accident. I figured that her skin was just irritated by a different kind of detergent.

But then on Monday night, we noticed there were more bumps as she got into the bath with her brother. They looked odd, but I wasn't yet worried. I was only slightly worried the next morning when I noticed even more bumps, and that some looked like whiteheads. As I got her ready for the day, I saw a couple small bumps on her ribs and thighs. I was puzzled, but continued with our morning.

In fact, I didn't truly worry until I was getting the Pookie out of his highchair (about to get his shoes on and go out the door with both kids) and I noticed some small bumps on his leg. That's when I called a halt to the morning. It was one thing for my daughter to be getting a weird rash on her sensitive skin, but it's another to see the same rash on the other child. That quite clearly indicates that it can spread, which means no going to school.

I'd been hearing about bed bugs a lot lately, so I immediately start to panic that it was bed bugs and we'd have to sanitize the entire house! (It's not bed bugs.) I called the nurse at my doctors. I answer her questions, including the fact that the spots don't seem to be ichy to either kid. She doesn't think it's chicken pox, but now I start to worry that it's chicken pox. (It's not chicken pox. And no, neither kid has had that vaccine yet, although they will soon.) The nurse asks if I want to bring the kids in. And yes, I very much do want to bring them in!

It's impetigo. As soon as the doctor looks at it, she said right off that it's impetigo, from either a staph or strep infection. But just on the skin -- skin infection. Neither kid has a fever or sore throat, so that's good at least. We just apply a topical antibiotic three times a day until it clears up and cover with long pants and long sleeves.

I never thought I'd be so glad that my kids have a staph or strep infection! But what a relief that it's not bed bugs or chicken pox or some other worse skin disease. We still are keeping the Pumpkin home, because it apparently often spreads in pre-schoolers via the toilet, which explains the bumps on her bottom that were in the horseshoe shape of a toilet seat. My guess is she picked it up at school, but it could have been anywhere. I don't even know where she used the bathroom over the weekend, and I'm not going to bother to try to figure it out. Though I did clean our bathrooms from top to bottom.

So I stayed home with the kids yesterday, and I quite enjoyed playing with them all day. It's been like I had a double weekend, with plenty of time to enjoy myself (weekend away), my BFF (weekend away), my family (Sunday night), my husband (Monday) and my kids (Tuesday). But now, I have SO MUCH WORK TO DO and need to spend time at work. Oh well. It's almost the weekend again!