There are days when we all wake up and realize that something has changed with our children – they look like they’ve grown a little bit taller overnight, their sneakers are suddenly too snug when they fit just fine yesterday, or their hair has seemingly gone from tame to unruly and in desperate need of a cut.

Sometimes, these changes are not quite as visible to us – they come to us within the things our children say, a facial expression that shows you they understood something you’ve said that would have gone over their head yesterday, an opinion that has been expressed where the decision would usually have been left unchallenged.

These have both been happening to me with Parker in what feels like the past few days…  It’s time to get ready to go back to school – that dreaded/eagerly anticipated time of year for parents.  It means shopping for the insanely, ridiculously, incredibly elaborate and specific list of school supplies at Target or Staples or whichever location you find you are least likely to find yourself getting into a fist fight with another mother desperate for the last sixteen-pack of Crayola crayons because under no circumstances will your child be allowed to enroll in school with two eight-pack boxes as an alternative.

My little tomboy and I went shopping for new clothes, too.  She picked out Hello Kitty leggings with bows on the ankles, and frilly skirts, and shirts with sparkles on them and then I found myself checking my pulse to see if I was in danger of having a heart attack and the back of her head right at the base of her neck to see if the birthmark that she shared with me and my great-grandmother was there – if she was really my daughter.

These may seem like typical choices for an almost-five year old girl, and they are.  But not MY almost-five year old girl.

Parker is (was?) a tomboy through and through.  Sure, she plays with her dolls almost every day, but she also insists that the entire family wear Jets green every Sunday during football season.  She will announce in a no-nonsense matter-of-fact tone of voice to anyone that even attempts to recommend something even slightly feminine, that “I don’t wear skirts or dresses or leggings or tights.” She will turn up her nose at something she deems “too frilly” or “too girly” or “something that a boy wouldn’t wear”.

For a solid two-plus years she wanted to be a boy.

When she was three and a half and we asked her what she wanted for Chanukah, her response was “a penis“.

I asked her what her second choice was.

And now, here we are shopping for school clothes and she’s throwing sparkly shoes and rhinestone-studded jeans into the cart.  She’s exclaiming “look how pretty this pocketbook is!” and admiring pink dresses decorated with cats wearing bows…

It’s like I don’t even know her.

I’ve been hoping that she would come around to wear more girls’ clothes – more than anything as a matter of function.  Noskirtsordressesorleggingsortights doesn’t leave many options available for a little girl as far as clothing shopping goes – most of the pants that are long enough to fit her will be too big in the waist on her long, slim frame.  It’s nearly impossible to get her much more than the same style of yoga pant at Carter’s in all five colors they offer and just do a lot of laundry.

But this isn’t about laundry, or practicality at all – it’s about losing a part of who I always knew her to be, while watching another part of her grow and emerge all on its own.  It’s the first time I’m seeing her make a conscious change in herself – I am watching her blossom – and with that, need me a tiny bit less.

And that makes me proud.

And that frightens me to, because I’m not sure what to do with these new skirtsanddressesandleggingsandtights.

And maybe I don’t know what to do with the little girl wearing them.

I’m watching her from the sidelines as she makes these decisions about her identity.  And I know that this will change a million times throughout the course of her childhood and her life.  Hell, I only figured out what I wanted to be when I grew up when I was 35!

I’m watching my girl grow up and figure out what kind of person she’s going to be.  And I’ll need to be malleable in the process – letting her grow and evolve and branch out and test her boundaries and comfort level.

And I desperately hope that I can keep up, that I can roll with the changes as they come and not be wistful for the last phase when she’s already moved onto the next.

And I desperately hope that she will see me as supportive, and accepting, and encouraging whichever direction she decides she will go.

And I desperately hope that she is able to stay true to herself and decide who she will be based on what she wants for herself – not what others want her to be, or want for her.  I have struggled with that dichotomy myself and don’t want to see my children suffer the same fate, or at-times crippling crisis of identity.

And I desperately hope that she feels that she’s getting what she needs from me and what she wants from me as her mother.

And I will do my best to give that to her.

As long as it’s not a penis.



  1. Karen says

    I have to laugh at this post as we went through the same thing but backwards – A only wanted to wear skirts and dresses, lord help us if we tried to suggest PANTS! ICK! Then all of the sudden, she turned her nose up at pink, anything in the form of a dress and has chosen to wear only leggings and A LOT of black and skulls – and this was around the age of 6!!! Enjoy the ride, where ever it takes you!!!!

  2. says

    Oh, I love this kid!!!! That is absolutely priceless, asking for a penis. And then the changes … It’s just about staying with them through the changes, honoring how they change and stay the same. My mother once described parenting as the art of setting the right boundaries inside of which our children are able to make their own choices. I love that.

    • cms17 says

      I have a daughter who just turned 29 (which is a shock in itself!) who wouldn’t wear pants or tights at age 4, until a preschool teacher told her she HAD to have something on her legs (under her skirt) in the dead of winter. Then in second (or third?) grade she started refusing to wear skirts or dresses at all and declared that she would never, ever wear a dress again. My mother-in-law was very upset and explained that she couldn’t be in friends’ wedding if she wouldn’t wear a dress. I assured her that if a friend really wanted her in her wedding she would let her wear pants. She seldom wore dresses until the end of high school, but she has been a bridesmaid in the usual gowns several times and is getting married herself in (yikes!) 6 weeks. I can’t say the dress drama has abated, though. She bought a lovely wedding gown, only to decide months later that she hates it and she is still deciding what she is going to wear on her wedding day. I’m still assuring her that what she wears doesn’t really matter much. There are so many more important things in life!

      • says

        How wonderfully supported your daughter must feel, cms17! It is a brave and selfless act to truly be able to allow your children to bloom on their own, without the pressures we allow society to put on them (or us) to cloud their judgement or growth… She will surely have learned a lot from you as she begins her own family one day. Thank you for sharing here… J.


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