Sometimes my daughter bounces out of her bedroom dressed and ready to head out the door and I cringe. Maybe “sometimes” is too generous. Maybe it’s every time she’s not in a school uniform and has the chance to dress herself.
The odd color choices. The patterns screaming at each other. Mismatched socks with shoes that don’t go. A sensible hair clip and a giant flower headband. The jewelry and purse. A sparkly belt with hearts on it to top it all off.
My husband exclaims, “You look wonderful! Let’s go!” and then he senses my hesitation and we have an eyeball conversation.
“Tell her she looks nice,” his eyes say.
“But… but… none of it goes together!” my eyes reply.
“Just. Do. It,” his eyes say back firmly.
Sometimes I inhale, exhale, and do the thing that is good for my kid: let her be wild and free. (She’s worn a tutu to Home Depot a time or two.)
But more often than I like to admit, I gently persuade her to swap out something from her ensemble to tone it down a bit.
I always regret it.
In 5th grade, there was a girl in my class who I thought was The. Coolest. She had (what I viewed at the time as) a daring, short, crimpy haircut with the part way over to one side, and she didn’t wear the department-store kids’ clothes, side ponytails, and coordinating scrunchies that I wore. In fact, nothing she wore matched—t-shirts with writing on them and patterned shorts, crazy neon socks with dirty sneakers. I secretly admired her bravery. She carried herself like she did not care one bit what she was wearing.
So I begged my mom to let me wear mismatched clothes to school—not on Tacky Tourist day, either—and one day she let me. The hilarity of it is how much time I spent trying to put together an outfit in which I could look like I didn’t care what I was wearing. (I’m laughing while slightly ashamed because I think I did this very thing last weekend.)
I let Mom go back to laying out my clothes for me after that.
Turns out I just like matching, okay?
My sweet and spunky daughter did not inherit my affinity for things that go together, so I find myself enrolled in the School of Parenting a Free Spirit. I’m trying hard to be a good student here. I’ve flunked a few pop quizzes on Letting Her Dress Herself (Within Reason), but I think I passed the Decorating Her Own Bedroom exam. And that one was a doozy.
Last summer, we let her pick a color and repainted her room, which I had worked hard to get to Pottery Barn standards when she was a toddler. (Well. Close enough.) She chose cotton candy pink. (I talked her down from red, because I felt she’d find that to be a mistake later. Within reason, right?) The bedding we agreed on, along with the new dresser (age 7 and she still had a changing table in her room, sorry kiddo). Okay! This room was really starting to come together!
But then that pink paint dried and the girl had vision for what she wanted on those pristine walls: Farm animal art from her nursery and all the photos and her favorite posters and a canvas TOMS flag that came in a shoebox and the Disney princess decals and the papier-mâché globe she made at school and a piece of construction paper with random stickers on it and the Hello Kitty clock and the paper flowers she made with one of her grandmas.
It looked like Rainbow Dash and Princess Sofia went into the interior design business and she was their first client.
This room is not exactly Instagrammable. It is not going to show up on Pinterest as some mom’s inspiration for a dreamy, light, bright children’s room. It actually kind of hurts my eyes sometimes. But here’s the thing—who cares? It is her space, and she loves it. She thrives in all of its pink-ness with all of her favorite things scattered around.
My room was a little chaotic-looking when I was a kid, too—my mom gave us free reign and let’s just say I went through a lot of Scotch tape over the years. But as an adult, how I struggle with the desire for things to be just so! Something urges me to step in and fix, pretty-up, instruct, gently (or not so gently) persuade my child to do something the way I would do it.
The voice in my head says to her, What if you drew a purple flower instead of a black heart on that birthday card? How about if we just put this special paper in the drawer to keep it safe instead of taping it to your wall? Do you really need the sparkly belt today?
I am learning to tell that voice to hush up.
She is creative and inventive. She likes clashing patterns and things that sparkle. So what? Let her do her thing. Let her make messes. Let her be playful. Let her embrace the unique qualities God wove into her being.
She and I are different in many ways, but we’re not opposites. I often catch glimpses of my childhood self in her, bits of my personality and quirks that have trickled through. (Sorry baby girl.) Sometimes I just know exactly what she’s thinking and why she’s thinking it, because Oh sweet pea, me too. I know. Other times I feel completely mystified and can turn nowhere else but to God’s Word for help parenting this little person He’s entrusted to my care.
Where else would I turn? He has hemmed her in, before and behind. He knows her; He is the author of her story.
God is good that way, isn’t He? The things I’ve learned from mothering… Well, the list is long already, and with little sister coming up five years behind, it’s going to get longer. I may be raising these girls, but I’m the one doing the growing up around here.