Jaime has been one of my closest friends since before either of us had a drivers' license. We've shared many, many thoughts with each other through the years; conversations about cute boys and college applications later gave way to wedding plans and career paths.
Our oldest daughters were born within five days of each other, and as you can imagine, this has provided heaping helpings of conversation between the two of us. Lately, we've been talking a lot about intentional parenting, and when she shared this beautiful story with me, I knew I wanted to pass it along to you:
Lately my heart and mind have been swirling with thoughts about what it means to be a responsible mama to a Precious Spirited Girl. Discussions both on- and off-line about the merits and detriments of Disney movies, public schools, Valentine’s Day, and whether a Hannah Montana flashing purse will ruin my daughter for life just don’t seem to end with a simple answer, do they? And, in the midst of all this heavy emotional lifting, EB turned five on Tuesday. My oldest daughter – my baby girl – has crossed a threshold of sorts.
And so my swirly head becomes even swirlier with all that mothering a Big Girl entails. Which decisions really matter in the end? Which are the important lessons? If I make all the same choices my parents made, am I safe? Or does the difference in society’s moral fabric today, and the support that our community may or may not offer to my children navigating a value system, make a difference in the choices I must balance at home?
I have to say that it is hard work turning someone five.
In the midst of all this overthinking, however, I had another important responsibility. EB and her Daddy had a date to our community’s 10th Annual Daddy Daughter Dance, and it was my responsibility to prepare her for this night. They attended the dance last year for the first time, and she has been talking about it and dreaming of this year’s party ever since. Indeed, we have counted down days to the Dance with almost as much glee as counting down the days to Christmas and her birthday. This year, she’s ready. It’s a big deal.
For the occasion, EB needed a new dress. It’s a dressy event. Dads in suits or, sometimes, even in tuxedos. Daughters in velvet, satin, sequins and tulle. So I picked her up early from school last Thursday afternoon for a special shopping trip.
We had a ball. And there were tons of teachable moments. Like, I got to explain how we would evaluate the options at each store before making a purchase. And we also discussed (and ultimately experienced) the phenomenon that the dress that looks beautiful on the rack may not be so perfect once you put it on. She was digging the whole experience. I even used my phone to take photos of the dresses she liked, so we could compare them to what we found at other stores. Most important to the whole experience, however, was the guiding principle that I laid out as we entered the mall:
We will not purchase a dress until you find exactly what you want.
She saw several lovelies along the way, though none we found worthy of a trip to the dressing room. Finally, at the last store, we came upon the section of fancy dresses in her size. And at that moment I could have been looking in the eyes of my high school girl shopping for a prom dress, my bride to be shopping for a wedding dress, or my new momma daughter shopping for First Baby’s First Outfit. Her demeanor changed. Her eyes lit up. And we got down to business.
I previously had explained to her how to determine the sizing of a garment, and told her which size she would likely need. Suddenly she was intently, but carefully, culling through the racks on her own, analyzing each design, and tagging those that met her taste. We discussed what she liked about each one, and she even identified one she thought was perfect for the occasion. Ultimately, we agreed that we would take to the dressing room the one she liked the best, and a few others. She even allowed me to pull the dress I thought was the cutest.
We headed to the dressing room with my arms full (carefully avoiding the gaze of the attendant who, I am quite certain, was not pleased with the number of garments accompanying us down that short hallway). Fashion show ensued.
First, she tried on the dress that she originally had pegged as Grand Champion. She loved it. She smiled a genuine happy smile, and twirled around. I took a picture.
Then we moved on to each dress, in turn. After patiently allowing me to button, zip and tie, she would stand in front of the mirrored wall and admire herself. From the second dress on, her sentiment was the same. “I like this one, but it is not my Favorite.” I explained to her that this is the process to finding the Perfect Dress.
With two dresses left to try, I figured that, in fact, the dress that caught her eye on the rack was surely the one she would ultimately wear to The Dance. Mentally I had moved on to shoes, tights, curlers and bows. But EB was intent on completing the process. She commented that of the two remaining dresses, one had been my initial pick, and she wanted to make sure that we had a chance to see that one on.
My front-runner was a lovely sage green number with pink, yellow and white rosettes at the empire waist, all with streaming ribbons. It had a fluffy skirt and a satin sash that tied in a lovely bow in the back. But once EB put it on, we both had the same reaction. It just wasn’t as lovely as we had hoped. She tried to salvage the experience with a half-hearted twirl, but I finally broke the ice, commenting that this was an example of one that did NOT look as great on as it had on the rack. She agreed, but added, sympathetically, that it WAS a pretty dress. Just not her favorite.
Last dress. Cute on the rack. White, sleeveless with large satin polka dots in pink, green and yellow, and a pink satin bow in back. I had been a bit concerned over the “white-ness” (pre-Easter, wouldn’t this require white shoes?). But as she slipped into the final dress, both of our focuses shifted. No sooner had I finished the last button and tied the sash, than she made the ultimate declaration. “I’ve changed my mind, Mommy. THIS is my favorite dress. I like this one even better than the first one. This is exactly what I want.”
And as I looked at that smile, those sparkling blue eyes, and heard her go on and on about how much she was sure that her Daddy would like this dress, I suddenly was overwhelmed by the import of what happened that day in the dressing room.
My daughter experienced what it means to know what you’re looking for, to search intently and deliberately, and to find it.
For weeks leading up to her birthday, it seems that I have been incredibly burdened by this mental list of Life Lessons I Must Teach My Five Year Old. I have wrestled with some of the most difficult – what it means to be a leader in her pre-K classroom; why she has a classmate who is unable to speak without placing his finger over the hole in his throat. I have deliberated late at night whether we have spent an appropriate amount of time considering our school choices. And I have wondered, speaking to no one but myself, if her fascination with princesses and royalty and fairies and being beautiful is healthy or exploitative.
And here’s what I decided: Modesty and internal fortitude are critical character ingredients. But I also think that teaching a girl how to shop with confidence, and how to find That Dress that makes her feel extra beautiful, contributes in a healthy way to development of that part of her character. That is a huge part of my job, too. Because today she’s shopping for a party dress. But tomorrow she’ll be deciding on a hobby. An outfit for sorority rush. A college major. An interview suit. A career. A wedding dress. A husband. A faith community. A circle of friends. Learning to choose wisely, live deliberately, and to surround herself with things that inspire personal confidence, love for self, and make her the best Her she can be is, by far, one of the most valuable tools I can give my little princess.
As I have continued thinking about it, I cannot identify a more important two hours in my entire week.
And then we found shoes to match.
Pink with a satin bow.
So much gratitude to Jaime for sharing this story with me, and ultimately with you all. I think it's such a powerful illustration that you really can invite connection with our children in an endless number of ways and spaces. Yes, even in the dressing room of a clothing store in the mall.
Has your journey towards more intentional parenting lit up with a moment of inspiration like this? If you have a moment, I would love to hear about it!