I pushed the cart through the store aisles, my toddler CJ in the child seat. The store had only a few customers late at night. We rounded the corner and entered the detergent aisle. Only one other, a shabby, odorous older man, was leaning on his cart and shuffling along the row. We moved more quickly, and soon came even with the man. My little darling in the cart wrinkled her nose, and said loudly, "Peee-Yooo! What's that smell?"
I hoped the man was deaf as well as slow, and said, "It smells funny in this aisle because of all the kinds of soaps." I found what we needed and moved quickly to another aisle, avoiding eye contact with the man.
When her grandma came to visit, our small home had only one extra bed, in the same room as CJ's toddler bed. We put her to bed at the normal time, and continued to visit. The little darling should have been asleep, but when her grandmother quietly prepared to sleep in the guest bed, CJ was instantly awake, and definitely not happy to share her room. She was very good at hysterical tantrums that could not be calmed with a gentle backrub and softly spoken encouragements. I apologized to my mother, and eventually the house settled down. CJ sobbed herself back to sleep, still wary of the stranger in her room.
CJ grew older, ready for school. On kindergarten screening day, I prepared her in advance, telling her some teachers would ask her questions. She would get to see her new school room. The workers were very gentle and positive, using all their skills to help her feel comfortable. She firmly refused to leave my side. It was the worst hysterical refusal so far. No amount of soothing or stern commands could break through to her. I felt totally helpless and inadequate as a parent, apologizing repeatedly. Finally, the school staff asked me to leave her with them, and wait outside. It was hard, but effective.
As she grew, she learned to manage those fearful moments. Her confidence increased, as well as her independence. It's what parents are working toward, yet are never quite ready when it happens.
"Mom, my friends asked if I could go hang out with them."
"Where are you going to "hang out," and who will be there?"
"Just a few people, at the quick stop."
"No. That won't work. But you're welcome to invite them to hang out here."
She shook her head, rolled her eyes, and said, "Never mind."
We worked through all the normal stages: "It's not fair...Everyone else gets to...I thought you loved me."
We moved from middle school into high school. I dreaded the annual shopping trip for school clothes, because I was never good at picking the right size or color. She was very fashion conscious. She had to take me along, though, because I had the money! And I still had some...um...strange ideas...about what is acceptable for a young woman to wear. Things like "undergarments are supposed to stay under." "Do you have anything that isn't cut so low?" "It's too short, leaves a gap from shirt to jeans." "No spaghetti straps unless you find something to wear with it."
I thought she needed help to make wise, modest choices. From rack to rack, I spoke my thoughts: too short, too tight. Not enough fabric. Design too suggestive.
I looked up to her face, ready to point out yet another faulty garment. Her back was turned to me, facing the sales clerk, and she was shaking her head, hand over face, and mouthing something. The clerk's face had an expression that plainly said, "you need to get rid of her so we can get something done."
Okay, I had said enough. I decided to let her lead. Talk less, listen more. There had to be something in that store we could both live with. I watched my daughter, my very fashion-conscious daughter, use her own sense of what was acceptable, combined with a wonderful ability to mix and match, to create a fashion statement that stood out, but didn't compromise.
She's a young mother now, with a daughter of her own. At three, my granddaughter already has a fashion sense that is sure to provide adventures in shopping.
I think I'll just watch this time, since I don't have to pay the bill.
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