Zeca has been picking out her clothes and dressing herself since she was about 15 months old. She is very rarely ambivalent about what she wears – she is intentional about her choices of patterns and fabrics. More often than not, I do not understand the thinking behind most of her ensembles and cannot figure out why she likes certain articles of clothing and combinations more than others. This morning, she struggled to find the right outfit for the day. First, she showed up in a long-sleeve dress with a pink sweater jacket over it. I told her that she couldn’t wear that outfit because 1)it was too hot and 2)the dress was too short because she’d grown out of it. Secondly, she appeared in my room in bright yellow overalls with no shirt. I didn’t remember ever having seen those overalls before but she found them in the back of her closet. I vetoed the overalls because 1) they too would be too hot and 2) they were too big. She sighed heavily and I suggested that I help her. She gave me a slight eye roll and said that she would figure it out by herself. She did. She came out in a rainbow patterned skirt and a pink tank top. I was shocked because it actually matched. Then, she said, "Could you please get me a tie from the hook in my closet? The brown one, please." So, then she put the brown plaid tie (a wool tie, no less) around her neck, tightened it and went about her business.
Later, I asked her why she likes to wear ties and she said, "Well, I wear ties because I like to be brave." Brave – such an interesting word for her to use, such a loaded word. Even at 5, she is acutely aware of the rules and expectations around gender expression. We’ve watched her conform to those at times and rebel at other times. As we walked to the car, our conversation continued and, at some point, she referred to me as a "boyish girl". This is language she picked up from our friends Raquel and Susan but she had never referred to me as such. Luisa? Yes. Me? No. And, honestly, I’d never thought much about it but, in that moment, I realized that I don’t feel like a "boyish girl". Really, I just feel like a girl. Well, really I feel like a natural woman, woman! But, let’s use her language. I said as much to her (without the Aretha Franklin reference and accompanying song) and she pointed out that I have short hair and I don’t wear dresses and I wear a lot of clothes that make me look "kinda like a boy". Yep, I agree with all of that and I don’t feel at all "boyish". I then said, "I guess this is a good reminder that no matter how others see you – what matters most is how you see yourself." She agreed and then said, "How did we even get started on this conversation?" I said, "Ties." She said, "Oh yeah, ties." She looked out the car window and began to sing to herself and I knew that the conversation was over. Conversations like these remind me that there is more going on in my kids’ heads than candy and the next trip to Dairy Queen. Kids are fascinating little people.