As I have said before, motherhood has brought a number of unexpected teachers into my life. One of which (or, two, I should say!) is a gaudy pair of children’s shoes. I’ve written before about how moms tend to like control. We have ideas, both grand and small, about the way things should be, and we intend to see them come to fruition, thankyouverymuch. A perfect example of this is the way we, pretty nonsensically, dress our babies. Those of you who live in the South know, you can’t go anywhere in public without seeing a baby girl adorned with a hair bow as big as her face. And who invented skinny jeans for babies? Tiny Timberland boots in size one?
Anyone who knows me well knows that I love to wear three colors: gray, black, and white. I do enjoy getting dressed up for the right occasion, but I’m very at home in a good pair of jeans and a T-shirt. My jewelry and makeup are relatively simple. I love to edge on laid-back with a feminine twist. And although I am not by nature controlling, when our daughter was just a baby, it was absolutely my prerogative to dress her like a little mini-me. She had a pair of fringed Minnetonka moccasins, a buffalo plaid shirt, tiny red Toms. I banned any thought of licensed characters on her clothing (no Pooh Bear allowed!). We bought her toys that were less bright and noisy than the rest, and attempted to entice her with Sesame Street as our TV show of choice (not because her Mama loved the occasional appearances from Jude Law and David Beckham. Definitely not). All was going to plan!
Somewhere around her third birthday, a massive wrench was thrown in my system of mini-narcissism. Or maybe I just started noticing said wrench. In any case, my daughter became increasingly opinionated… about the way I sliced her banana at lunch. About the stuffed animals in her bed and the books we read before she went to sleep. And most of all, about the way she dressed.
It was a week before her first day of preschool. My mom and I took her to the mall to pick out a fresh pair of shoes to celebrate the occasion. I, of course, had in my mind the kind of shoes I wanted to find for her. Casual… maybe some Bensimon shoes or Converse, I thought. I eyed the Saltwater sandals that wouldn’t work out because of her school’s closed-toe requirements and left the store empty-handed. We decided to pop into a well-known children’s shoe store to get fitted and take a look around. There they were: the pair that caught her eye and instantly won her over. Quicker than I could say, “Let’s keep looking!” my daughter was slipping into this pair of tennis shoes with my mom by her side, leading the charge. Bright pink and purple shoes. With sparkles. And velcro. Her face lit up as she tried them on. Once they were secure, she waltzed across the store and immediately took off running and dancing. She just adored these neon-colored monstrosities. I truly wanted to say no; In my mind, I was asking the store, “You want us to pay how much for those?” My mom gave me the look and advice of a mother who learned this lesson a long, long time ago: Get over it. Let go. We’re getting these shoes.
Those shoes broke me that day, truly. At some point, at many points in our parenting journeys, we need to let go. It happens gradually, but I am learning how to just let be a truth that I not only already know, but am thrilled about: that my daughter is her own person. In all of the instructing and guiding I am charged with as her mother, there is no actual part of me that wants to turn her into someone she’s not. I revel in her ability to create intricate and unique works of art from play-doh. I’m amazed that she goes back and straightens items on a store shelf if she notices they’re askew. It’s endearing to me that, despite my initial efforts, she is attracted to all things pink and purple. If every item of clothing she owned was emblazoned with Hello Kitty, she’d be thrilled. In her world, the loveliest attire she owns is glittery, frilly, and made for twirling. Seeing her happy and comfortable in the things she chooses to wear is beautiful to me.
While there are times, still, that I browse Pinterest and admire tiny versions of bohemian-styled apparel, I know that letting my girl pick out clothes that make her eyes wide and her feet dance is an important step to take now. I’ve reflected on those shoes numerous times since we purchased them, and am allowing them to set a healthy precedent moving forward. In the spirit of encouraging my daughter to flesh out the nuances of her personhood, I now, with joy, strap those ugly suckers on her feet and let her go.
Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.