December 16, 2009

Picture Perfect

A few weeks ago, we scheduled an afternoon session with a photographer. I picked coordinating outfits and planned our day carefully so there would be enough time for the baby to nap and for me to get everyone ready. Everything seemed to be going pretty well until…

While I was fixing my hair (and then hers), my princess obsessed three year old kept saying, “Mom, I have a new rule. No jeans.” Just the day before, she’d worn the jeans I’d chosen for the pictures so I sort of blew off her comment, thinking she’d get over it when she remembered how cute the outfit was. How overly optimistic of me!

When we walked into her room to put on the jeans, my daughter, still determined and fairly cheerful, reiterated her “new rule”. Fairly cheerful myself but wanting to be on time, I tried to encourage her gently to get dressed in the outfit I'd picked. She demurred. I tried a little harder. She refused – a little louder. My perfect schedule started to fall apart. Finally, I’m ashamed to admit it, I resorted to wrestling her into her jeans as she had a complete meltdown and resisted with an impressive singleness of purpose.

As we had our encounter, I had a total flashback to childhood. Every time we took pictures as a family, I wanted to fix my own hair (and believe me, I was NO good at it). My mother, paying good money for these pics, re-fixed it every time and I hated how it looked. I can see the telltale signs of a sobbing session in my little face when I see those family pictures. Most of all, I still remember how I felt not to be able to make that small decision about my appearance. My heart crept into my throat as I realized that, though well intended, my actions made my daughter feel the same way.

I swallowed my pride and apologized, holding her for a few minutes while she recovered her calm. Then I asked her why she didn’t want to wear jeans.

“Mom, I can’t wear jeans for the pictures because I don’t feel good in them!” (It’s true, she’s a dress girl and NEVER wears pants. What was I thinking?)

“Ok, how about this idea? You wear your black shirt, black tights and your pink tutu. Would that be ok?”

The response was a sob of relief and a brilliant smile. “That will be perfect, mommy!”

It took me a while to recover from hurting her feelings this way but it was an important lesson for me. I was trying to create something that doesn’t fit our lifestyle. We’re not a color-coordinated, matching outfits, portrait posing kind of family.

More importantly, we are raising our daughters to listen to their inner voice and learn to think critically to make their own decisions. For a three year old, this would apply to clothing choices. No wonder my daughter was surprised I didn't listen to her when she tried to communicate her wishes cheerfully and creatively the first 20 times. In the future, I'll remember that helping our girls to have that sense of choice means sometimes I have to find a way to accommodate both our opinions or ideas.

 By the way, the pictures actually were perfect!

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