Page's Turn

Mom Genes

April 14, 2010

“Mommy, you really need to wear nicer clothes during the day,” my 13-year-old daughter announces from the back seat as we race down Reservoir Road, heading to school.

“Yeah, I mean, you shouldn’t always wear your baseball cap and jeans,” adds her 9-year-old sister.

As usual, in our mad morning dash, I’ve thrown on a long-sleeved gray T-shirt, Seven jeans (not Mom jeans!), black rubber clogs and a baseball cap to hide my overgrown roots. I actually think I look like a hip, urban Mom. And I tell them that.

“No, Mommy, you just look messy and tired,” the youngest says.

“That’s because I am tired,” I shoot back, suddenly realizing this might be my karmic payback for all the years I tortured my mother over her wardrobe.

Almost 30 years ago, this could have been the exact conversation with my mother--although I complained about her head scarf rather than baseball cap. I was forever mortified by her bohemian clothes, particularly when I compared her to my friends’ preppy mothers in their cable knit sweaters and Pappagallos.

Mom had Pappagallos. But, as an artist, she preferred bell bottom jeans with brown chunky boots, macrame necklaces and scarves tied like a pirate. Now, the look would be cool. I guess it was chic then. Unless you were, like me, obsessed with all things pink and green. Wide whale corduroys, Fair-aisle sweaters, turtlenecks with red hearts, add-a-bead necklaces, L.L. Bean moccasins. That was my look, not hers. But I wanted it to be. I even went so far as to lay out the clothes I wanted her to wear for parent-teacher conferences. Mercifully, she would comply. It’s only now, as a mother to two daughters, that I can truly appreciate what I put her through.

Fast forward to the present and it feels like back-to-the future. My 13-year-old is wearing the stuff I wore--except most of it is paired with Uggs. She has sherbet-colored cords, cable-knit sweaters, a striped rugby dress. Everything old is new again. Or is it vintage? Maybe I’m vintage?

“Really, Mommy, you have to make more of an effort,” the eldest lectures.

Is she talking about my wardrobe or my life in general?

Not wanting to hurt my feelings, she adds, “It’s not that you don’t look good when you go out at night. It’s just your daywear needs improvement.”

Daywear? Where did that come from?

The youngest adds, “And maybe you could wear a little make-up. But not too much. You don’t want to look trampy.”

Trampy? Where were my girls getting this stuff? Apparently, they’d gotten it from me. While I’ve shied away from telling them what to wear, over the years they’ve absorbed some my comments about fashion in general.

When my oldest was six, we attended a birthday party. One of the mothers wore a shirt that was a tad on the short side, revealing a slight midriff. My child spotted this, tapped my side and announced in a booming voice: “Mommy, Mommy! Her tummy is showing. You told me that was tacky. Do you see that, Mommy? That’s tacky, right?”

“No, no, Sweetie,” I said, looking up to see the maligned mother glancing in our direction. “I said KHAKI. She’s wearing khakis.” And with that, I pulled her toward a bucket of juice boxes and told her we’d talk about it when we got home.

“You said tacky. That’s what you said.”

Later, I tried to explain, “Mommy does think midriffs are a little tacky, but it’s not nice to say negative things about someone’s clothes--particularly when they can hear you, because that could hurt their feelings. And you wouldn’t want to do that, right?”

“Uh-huh,” she replied, looking vaguely puzzled, as I rambled on about not judging people by their clothes--the old book/cover conversation.

In the years since that midriff malfunction, the girls have formed their own ideas about what looks good. And, for the most part, they’ve learned not to judge the fashion foibles of others. They save that for their mother.

Sitting at Starbucks, enjoying an after-school snack on a recent sunny day, my 9-year-old gives me a dressing down. I’d been in New York the day before in an outfit approved by both girls, but was now in my uniform of black yoga pants, a grimy white T-shirt, and dirt encrusted clogs.

“I’d think after being in New York, you’d come home wearing better clothes than that? Sheesh!”

“I was at the dog park before this,” I say defensively.

“That outfit doesn’t even look good for the dog park,” she barks.

I start to laugh, before realizing my budding fashionista could use a dressing down herself. “Listen, little missy, you need to watch your attitude.” Then I launch into how hard it is to look nice ALLTHETIME when you work from home with kids and dogs.

As if on cue, a friend of mine, a mother of three who has perfected the effortlessly chic look, walks into Starbucks. She’s wearing a floral wrap dress, paired with a light-weight, short-sleeved black cardigan, and metallic sandals with cork wedge heels. If I’m in the DON’TS column in the back of Glamour, she’s a definite DO. And since she works from home, has one more child than I have, AND a dog, she’s completely ruined my wardrobe rap.

“Now that’s how you should dress, Mommy.”

The conversation is hauntingly familiar. There’s no escaping our genes.


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