Sunday, 31 May 2009

The Mismatched and the Misinformed

It is at gatherings of unschooling families that kids of all ages are free to express their outward appearance without negative judgement or comment. They are free to be themselves and this happens so organically that it ends up being one of the greatest fringe benefits of attending such a get together.

Of course, our kids know no other way. They wear clothes that make them feel good. They brush their hair when it is no longer comfortable to lie down rather than for the sole purpose of not getting looks and comments in public. They go months without wearing shoes. On the way home from the conference, stopping to get milk, a cashier smiled at Fergus and said that she liked “her bed-head”. The kids reactions were typical - Ferg ignored her and Effie gave me a big knowing grin. Today, they don’t care. In the future, they not only will not care, they will be even more sure of who they are. This is not to say that they won’t take care of themselves - there is a massive gulf between not caring what others think and not giving a shit* about yourself.

Hey, our family gets a tonne of sneery-faced looks out there in the real world. I grew up trying my damnest not to get noticed so this is something I can’t seem to shake from my mind. Not that it bothers me as much as I’m just aware of it and since I sneer with the best of them I often reciprocate anyway. I don’t feel too guilty about this but I do feel guilty for giving sideways glances at, for example, those families dolled up and dressed to the nines and thereby pre-judging strangers the same way people pre-judge us. I shall work on that. The greater public can continue being ignorant, but I shall work on that. Ha!

Last Thursday, at the office, I wore the wonderful combination of dress pants, black socks and white sneakers. Not a look I would normally covet, but the best I could come up with in a pinch given that I spent the first four hours of the day in one black dress shoe and one brown dress shoe. It’s not even dark out in the morning these days when I leave the house so I don’t know what was going on there - like the day a few weeks back when I wore a golf shirt inside out.

I’m no fashion plate - obviously - but over the past few years I have always had this thought in the back of my mind that, when out in public with the kiddos, I had to somehow compensate for their often “natural” look. At the hand of what I guess are my own insecurities and lack of confidence, I thought that if my hair was sort of neat and my clothes matched then perhaps people would not automatically assume we were hobos or a band of gypsies (nothing against hobos or gypsies since I’m positive that they’re good people). I still want to shout out loud “These kids are not neglected. They are the opposite of neglected!!!” But the perhaps-not-so-odd thing is, is that my kids, through their own built-up confidence in who they are, and therefore what they wear and how they look, are slowly influencing how I feel about myself. To the extent that by the end of day Thursday I was quite comfortable in my little white-shoed getup. Perhaps one day I'll be comfortable in mismatched shoes. Can’t wait for the looks when I wear my pj’s to the office.

*Gillian cussed during her conference talk so I’m giving it a go here!


Frank said...

Fuck* yeah!

*I'm gonna try cursing, too. It's not something I'm used to. Like lying.

Rachel said...

I love this post, and I can concur with everything, except I think I would have gone with the brown/black dress shoe combo instead of the sneakers. I think that sounds totally cool! And you could have made people smile to think of you getting dressed in your half-asleep state.

I used to be so much more conscious of how the kids looked, and I remember that when Max first got into wearing costumes everywhere, I was so aware of it and a couple of times felt slightly embarrassed. It felt so much better to fully embrace his need to dress up and to feel absolutely good about it, to see the fun part of it, to realize that actually we were making people smile almost everywhere we went (and if we didn't make them smile, it didn't really matter).

We spent last Thursday night in Columbus Indiana, and when I went out for dinner with Max and Otto, we got a lot of strange looks. I felt a bit confused about it, as I didn't think there was anything all that unusual about us. Otto was, as usual, in his PJs, but other than that, we looked downright "unremarkable." I realized that I haven't been aware of getting those looks lately (and I don't know if it's because Chicago is more accepting of or oblivious to of our wackiness or if we have been running around in mostly the same circles and everyone is used to us or what), but I saw some sneers and some confused looks, and several people asked if Otto was wearing his PJs because we were traveling (at the hotel when we checked in and at the museum where we went to play), and I thought it was so interesting that people were so surprised by it (especially because it now seems so completely normal to me that he wears PJs all the time).

I assume it was more than the clothes, I think our children have an air about them that just feels different, and I do think people pick up on it. Whether it's that they feel "free" to be or just that I am giving them more freedom than the other people might expect (or approve of?), I am not sure, but I do think it's beyond their appearance.

I think that's part of what we're doing in terms of our parenting, we are opening up people's minds to a different way of thinking, and sometimes it will make them smile and sometimes it will make them scowl, but no matter what the reaction, at least it is possibly opening up someone's mind to a different idea than they previously had. And I like to think that we are opening our own minds up as well.

kelli said...

Great post and very timely for me as Kyra is getting a mohawk today :) She's so ding dang excited, just giddy!

Ronnie said...

Life clothes!

And white shoes are perfectly acceptable until Labo(u)r Day, don'tcha know...

Zenmomma said...

Shit, dude! You can wear whatever the fuck you want. We love you because of it, not in spite of it.

Carolyn said...

Sabine and Vivian and I traveled to Kentucky to visit my family a few days ago (Bret's meeting up with us next week in St. Louis to see my brothers/sisters-in-law) and I had this "fantasy" of the girls looking cute in one of their matching dress "sets" (they got matching dresses at the ferry stop last year in BC, and my parents sent them dresses from Turkey), and had mentioned the idea to the girls a few weeks back.

Sabine was interested, but Vivian apparently was not so impressed, as she cut both of the dresses apart at the sleeves (the one of hers from Canada, the one of Sabine's from Turkey...)

I'm so glad to have been filled with the love and acceptance of the Conference right before finding the dresses...I took a deep breath and realized I could sew them...and the girls could wear whatever the *fuck* they wanted. :) Vivian went barefoot, in the dress she was wearing the day before (and had slept in). Sabine went in a layered look -- purple leopard PJ bottoms, turquoise skort, purple long sleeved top, and her favorite (and dirty) brown and white t-shirt. I noted to her that the brown shirt was dirty, and asked if she wanted me to clean it off or find her a new shirt, to which she responded:

"Mom, comfortable is more important than clean, isn't it?"

Well said, my wise 7 year old.

And the trip was just matter what anyone was wearing. :)

Now we're getting used to the looks described by Rachel -- here in Kentucky where the women go to the grocery store in FULL makeup and "dress" -- phew. Too much work for this mama.

Thanks for the great post!