Fashioning A Family
by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Kristen McGinty
AS A YOUNG MOM, I remember trying like hell to get my son and twin daughters up, fed, dressed and ready for preschool. The expression “herding cats” hardly does those mornings justice; it was more like herding velociraptors. They went to a hoity-toity preschool in central Austin. The pretty mothers in the drop-off line were showered and well-dressed with fixed hair and makeup, frothy Starbucks lattes in the cupholders of their clean SUVs. I showed up in running clothes or pajamas, with rumpled hair, no makeup and a cup of home-brewed coffee doused with almost expired creamer sloshing between my legs. The mug, made by small hands at Ceramics Bayou, wouldn’t even fit in the cup holder of my dirty car.
Other children hopped out of cars with pressed khakis and collared shirts, or monogrammed jumper dresses with well-combed bobs adorned with matching giant bows, folded white lace socks and shiny black patent leather Mary Janes. And then we rolled up, always toward the end of the line. My son insisted on wearing long, baggy Nike shorts and collarless T-shirts. I gave up on preppy-ing him, and turned my attention to my darling little girls. I bought them cute dresses and laid them out, hopefully, on their closet floor. They were having none of that. The only things they would wear — for the better part of a year — were green rubber frog rain boots, and flammable pastel tulle Target princess dresses. They adamantly refused all else. Just as they refused to have neatly combed or parted hair, pigtails, braids, barrettes or bows. “No, Mama, NO!”
ONE TEACHER REPRIMANDED ME FOR SENDING [MY DAUGHTERS] TO SCHOOL IN POTENTIALLY FLAMMABLE, PERILOUS, INAPPROPRIATE MATERIAL.
You may raise a smug eyebrow here, wondering how small children can successfully rebel against parental authority. Remember the old cartoon “Wonder Twins”? Where the superhero twins would yell, “Wonder Twin powers activate! Form of … an iceberg!” (or whatever would handily thwart the enemy at hand). Well, my wonder twins would activate their powers and transform themselves into the Great Wall of China, a tsunami, a tornado or a forest fire. So they ate sticky waffles off paper plates in the car wearing princess dresses as we careened through Tarrytown, and wiped their pudgy, Aunt Jemima-syruped hands in their curly, unruly, bedhead hair.
I received sighs and “Seriously?” looks from the teachers on car seat-unbuckling duty in the pickup lines. One teacher reprimanded me for sending them to school in potentially flammable, perilous, inappropriate material. Mid-divorce, I wasn’t in the mood for that, and so, on my last sparking, fraying nerve, I invited her for coffee at our house to see if she could do better. For some reason, she never showed. I felt legitimately proud of myself for getting my kids to school, relatively on time, at all, ever. Every step forward was a major victory back then. I’d peel out of the circle drive, knowing I had three precious hours before I was back in line again, usually still unshowered.
My girls have had their own unchangeable style ever since.
Teenage girl style is intriguing. It seems my twins currently favor a long, one-length, thick curtain of hair that hangs more than midway down the back of their Seaside T-shirts. The T-shirt is size large and formless, and no one knows for sure if there are shorts on underneath because there is nothing but a long expanse of legs between the T-shirt and their Converse sneakers. The shorts are so short they would give my father a heart attack, if he ever saw them, which he doesn’t, due to said long T-shirts. I don’t know how teenage boys breathe, study, play sports or focus on anything at all with perfectly curved young bottoms barely hanging out of fraying, faded jean shorts. I once saw a beautiful young girl walking into high school when I dropped off my son, and I swear her tan buns closed on the outside of her shorts hem like a clam. I nearly drove into the curb, and I am middle-aged woman whose recent blood work suggests I am rather low on testosterone.
And don’t even get me started on “ACL fashion.” My girls comb the internet for months, looking for the perfect festival attire, which usually means jean shorts with a cropped tank top, or an off-the-shoulder Free People number that is going to cost me a number. I want to stomp my foot or roll my eyes, but I remember being young and beautiful and unaware and free. They are so lovely. I miss the frog boots and syrupy hair. They are so excited to grow up that they cannot fathom why I’m nostalgic. I try to explain how that is my style, how I’ve always been the observer, the chronicler, the historian and the seeker of meaning and metaphor. I try to stall time by rooting in the present and reflecting on the past. My baby girls are about to start high school. They are more than ready. I am not.
Whether it’s princess dresses or short-shorts, holding on or cutting loose, the most important thing about your style, no matter what your age, is that you own it.
Read more from the Style Issue | September 2016