Why I ask My 3 Year Old To Select Her Own When We go Clothes Shopping.
Let me explain why this small and seemingly insignificant gesture of toddler-empowerment is quite pivotal in my eyes.
My childhood was messy. My narcissistic father didn’t involve himself in the tedium of the upbringing basics — he was the ultimate patriarch, so this fell on the hands of my borderline, ever-so-bonkers mother. Obviously.
One of the hallmarks of my mother’s personality type is a deep fear of how she is perceived by others. This fear was extended, blanket-coverage-style, to her three children. We represented potential triggers for abandonment so she had to artfully groom us, both physically and figuratively, to prevent her being perceived in a negative light. How we were dressed, how we spoke, what we spoke, and how we behaved were all policed by her bat-shit-crazy mind.
Let me give you an example. Until the age of about 14, I was dressed (by her) in dresses reserved for those pageant kids who resemble a cross between a drag-queen and an ornate barbie doll. I wasn’t allowed to wear jeans, or trainers (sneakers if you’re from the US), and I had to wear those god-awful ankle socks with the frilly bits around the ankle-bone. My face wrinkles as I think of them.
Another example. If I wanted a tuna sandwich, I had to say “tooona”, not “chewna”. If I wanted some pitta bread and hummus I had to say “peter bread” not “pitta bread”. If I wanted a bath I had to say “barth” not “bath”, the same for walking down a “path”, go figure.
As a teenager, when puberty struck me like a bird-shit out of the sky, and my armpits started taking on a special funk of their own, my mother would apologise to her friends for “my daughter’s terrible B-O”, “it’s so embarassing, please forgive me” she would say. Or as I took my shoes off when I returned from school her face would sour like a whale had just farted into her mouth, “Oh Amelie, your feet are absolutely disgusting, go and wash at once”, in her feigned Queen’s English.
When in the car sat at traffic lights and she looks down at my legs on the seat, she would pinch and squeeze the outer flab of my thighs and say “you’d better be careful, you’re storing fat here” — her brows furrowed with disapproval. I was barely 9 stone. When anorexia took hold and reduced those little fat reserves to nothing she said “look at you, you look disgusting, are you trying to get attention or something?”. I was 5.5 stone. To her friends — “She’s just trying to get attention. I cook beautiful food for her and she doesn’t want to eat it”.
When my first boyfriend broke up with me; “what did you expect Amelie, you are too sensitive, you killed it yourself.”
When depression and anxiety became a heavy cloak around my skin; “why can’t you make eye contact Amelie, I feel like my daughter has become a dishonest person, you’re hiding things from people”. Yes, she was right, I was hiding — myself, from her.
My little girl is beautiful. Of course she is, she’s my baby. But what I mean is, in spirit. Her character is full — like a rainbow, abundant with colour, bright, beaming. She is funny — playful, and she pokes at boundaries and rules all day long — just to see how far she can move the invisible lines that I set down as her mother. Laughter accompanies her every movement, and she is bold and super fierce.
I watch her at nursery, in the playground, when she has play-dates with her friends. I observe her innate tendencies. She is a natural leader, but not straight away. She surveys the land first, observing her surroundings and the people in it. Once she’s got the feel she dives in, head-first. She is bossy, but is the first one to stop and embrace another child when they are upset, angry or crying.
I watched the corners of her eyes droop downwards the other day when she witnessed my friend crying. My child’s eyes glossed over and I thought my heart might break from the weight and enormity of my love for her — she was expressing pure unadulterated empathy — she looked at me, “Mummy what’s happened to Auntie Zoe?” she looks at Zoe, then back at me, frantically searching our faces for an answer. “It’s OK my love” I say rubbing her little back, “we all get a bit upset sometimes, Auntie Zoe is just a bit sad today.”
I don’t allow my little girl to choose her own clothes because my mother didn’t allow me. I allow her to because I want her to express who she is — to find a myriad of ways to celebrate her individuality; for her to experiment with her own self-expression and to find confidence and empowerment in these opportunities. Don’t get me wrong, when she starts hovering around the mini skirts, or the meringues, or the fishnets, I will likely divert her attention to the subject matter of ice cream or sweeties(!) but honestly, it is a joy to bear witness to her creative expression. It is through this expression that she reinforces who she is — to the world, and to herself.
The other day she woke up from her nap and asked to wear a fancy dress outfit that she wore to a party last weekend. A great big puffy fairy tutu, rainbow stripes, butterfly wings, a tiara made of coloured paper roses. “OK then babygirl lets get you changed” — so she parades around the apartment for two hours before I tell her that we need to go to the supermarket and to put her shorts on. “No Mummy, I am a fairy today” — with a little scowl. I look down at her sweet face and laugh. “OK then flower”. So we walk out of the building and onto the street, I am swinging her sweet fairy arms in the air. We live in Asia, so many looks are thrust her way, the beautiful little expatriate fairy in her bright and colourful dress. And I am just so so proud of who she is and all that she expresses to the Universe.