Sweet as Pie?

A mother learns that allowing her daughter to be herself is the best way of raising her.

In Her Words

Sugar & Spice

A daughter’s individuality shines through

-Stephanie Elliot

Sugar and spice and EVERYTHING nice? If that’s what little girls are made of, then somebody skimped on the ingredients of my daughter.

Five years ago, on the night before picture day at her school, my 4-year-old daughter, McKaelen, and I spent an hour choosing which outfit she would wear. After three nice options were laid out, she chose her outfit the most diplomatic way any 4-year-old would. She EENY-MEENY-MINEE-MOED! Fortunately, she landed on the cute denim dress and tights that, had she not chosen, I would have said, “You are wearing this tomorrow.” We were set, and McKaelen was excited for picture day.

On picture day, my husband kissed me good-bye as I forced myself into morning. I asked him what the status of our children was. He told me our baby was still asleep, our oldest son was glued to Cartoon Network, and our precious daughter was up and dressed, waiting anxiously for school.

“She’s dressed ALREADY?” I asked incredulously. “With tights and all?”

“I helped with the tights,” he beamed.

I bounded down the stairs, excited to see my sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice sweetie pie.

She looked beautiful, and twirled around in her dress to show me how it poufed out. I asked if she wanted ponytails.


And that’s when the sugar dissolved, and the spice turned out to be cumin.

It was OK that she didn’t want to wear ponytails. I’ve always been glad when my kids expressed their personal choices by not conforming to the norm. But then, she hit me with this: “I DON’T wanna wear these tights. I want to wear pants under my dress,” McKaelen stated, arms folded across her chest.

This one was going to take some negotiating. “Well, today is picture day, so you really should wear the tights. Other days, you can wear pants under your dress.”

“I DON’T wanna wear this dress anymore.”

Oh, no, here we go.

“What do you want to wear?” I was trying to be diplomatic, as she had done the night before when she chose her outfit. I hoped we could eeny-meeny-minee-moe through this one.

She went to her drawer and pulled out RED stretchy pants, and a crinkly T-shirt the color of a margarita. At that point, I was wishing I had one to drink.

“Honey, that doesn’t match,” I said.

“But this is what I want to wear.” She held up the shirt and smiled.

“All the other girls are going to be wearing dresses and tights today, I promise you.”

“I don’t care.”

I helped her out of her cute denim dress and tights, and let her put on the god-awful tomato-colored pants and margarita-colored T-shirt. She looked startlingly like a homeless child, and I expressed my thoughts aloud. “You look like a homeless chick.”

“Thank you.” I guess she thought that was a compliment.

And so I succumbed to McKaelen’s individuality, remembering my long-ago second-grade picture day. My grandparents had been watching us while my parents were on vacation. Mom had put out matching outfits for my sister and me and told us, “THIS is what you will wear on picture day.”

I hadn’t worn the Garanimals green corduroy culottes and green-and-yellow pinstriped shirt with the Peter Pan collar that day. Instead, I chose a long, ruffle-sleeved, white button-down shirt with embroidered trim around the neckline. The picture-day instructions had stated, “Don’t dress your child in white, as the picture will look washed out.”

I remember waiting in line for my turn to pose. I took the complimentary shiny black plastic comb the photographer handed out and ran it through my hair. The flash of the bulb was blinding, but I smiled as if I were Miss America receiving my well-deserved crown.

Two weeks later, when our pictures were sent home in our school bags, my mom didn’t notice my tooth-perfect grin, the sparkle in my eyes or how my hair fell neatly and softly around my shoulders. She said, “You didn’t wear the outfit I wanted you to wear.”

No, I hadn’t.

So, I straightened McKaelen’s margarita T-shirt, wrinkles and all, picked a piece of lint off her ketchup-colored pants and sent her off to school with all the other girls, who were tucked neatly in their tights and ironed dresses; bows in their hair, black patent-leather shoes on their feet.

I kissed McKaelen goodbye and told her to smile like a movie star for the camera. But I couldn’t let it go at that and asked, “Why didn’t you want to wear the dress and tights?”

“I just want to be colorful.”

Thank heaven for little girls.

Stephanie Elliot is Manic Mommy. Visit her at www.stephanieelliot.com or www.manicmommy.net.

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