Wearing the edges off of dogmatic motherhood

The compromises began as soon as Sophie was born. I had thought I would be the kind of mother who never stored her child in a playpen. I was going to hold Sophie all the time, like those South American villagers I read about whose children’s feet don’t touch the ground for the first twelve months of their lives. But I don’t live in a village, I wasn’t surrounded by extra generations of caregivers, and it turned out that I actually had to put Sophie down sometimes so I could go to the bathroom, or cook dinner, or clean the cat’s litter box. I never did get a playpen, but the bouncy-chair that I had scorned became one of my favorite things, and my ideas of extreme attachment parenting became less extreme.

I think parenthood makes most of us less dogmatic.

Two days ago, I looked at Sophie and realized just how much I have compromised. Soph happened to be wearing high-heeled plexiglass slippers (a present), a multicolored flowered pajama top, no pajama bottoms at all, a princess crown (the large conical kind with a pink veil hanging off of it, as in fairy-tales), and all-over body-glitter.  This is not an atypical outfit for a Saturday at home. When we go outside, I try to limit the nudity and the unsafe shoes, but as long as we’re indoors, I allow Soph a fair amount of latitude.

Theoretically, I don’t approve of putting makeup on three-year-olds. I don’t approve of the early sexualization of girls, or the overconsumption of contemporary childhood, or the chemicals that infuse our lives. But I do approve of creativity.

So, realistically, when we were at the party store, getting ready for Soph’s birthday and she decided that the fifty-cent tubes of Hello-Kitty body-glitter were exactly the right thing for the goody bags, I agreed with her idea. She doesn’t want body-glitter to be sexy; she wants it because she likes anything sparkly. She’s not trying to be an adolescent too early, I think: she is simply being three. She wants body-glitter because it’s fun. We got enough for all the goody-bags, plus one extra to try out early, because it’s her birthday month, and because it turns out that I am not as rigid a mom as I thought I would be. I allowed my daughter to buy a cheap tube of glorified vaseline with sparkles in it. This has brought her an immense amount of joy.

Sunday, Sophie went out to breakfast wearing pajamas with the conical princess hat and sensible street-shoes. In our town, everyone thinks that is an adorably appropriate outfit to wear to a restaurant. Strangers just kept grinning at her and me. Is there any other kind of town, Ben asked, but maybe it’s because I was raised on the east coast, or maybe it is just because it was 30 years ago, but I don’t think we used to wear pajamas in public, or really, extravagantly large princess hats, except on Halloween.

By Sunday afternoon, Sophie had changed into a bright blue shirt adorned with a sparkly butterfly, which she paired with the sober gray British-school-uniform skirt we bought back when we lived in England, along with her much-loved pink slippers that feature stuffed-animal hello-kitty dolls protruding from her toes. We went to a Hullabaloo concert, where she received many compliments on her choice of footwear. Eventually, all the dancing made her feet hot, so she took off her slippers. I asked the venue-owner whether it was okay that my daughter was barefoot for the moment. “Oh, she can be barefoot all day long! I think that’s wonderful,” the woman told me. “No shoes, no service,” is apparently not a slogan in our beach-town.

I hope I’m not compromising crucial things. It turns out, I think, that I value joy in the present moment more than I value my preconceived notions about what I used to think was inappropriate.


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