Reading Lisa's post this morning made me think of all the family and cultural pressures that can cause me to feel like a good parent or bad parent. I've found it hard work to sort out which of those pressures are negative, and should be ignored, and which might spur me to be a better parent. Too often, I think it's easy to respond to societal pressure with a vague guilt that can be more destructive than helpful. Some types of guilt I am able to ignore, but others are more difficult.
I used to think I was good at avoiding the pressures of a consumeristic culture: I would buy my children only the clothes they really needed, making good use of hand-me-downs from cousins and garage sale items. My kids don't have need to dress up very often, but usually I made sure that each of them owned a pair of black pants and one white dress shirt, the standard uniform for school band and choir concerts. Well, actually, Boy in Black's dress shirt was black instead of white, but the band director seemed to be okay with that. The school concert outfit could also be worn for an unexpected funeral or for end-of-the year award ceremonies.
Then in tenth grade, Boy in Black made his Confirmation, a big church ceremony that kids dress up for. It was March, but I knew that hanging in his closet were the black pants and black shirt he had worn to his concert in December. My husband is pretty good about keeping up with the laundry, so I knew they would be clean and not crumpled at the bottom of the hamper. I was confident that we were prepared for the occasion, and I didn't need to go buy him anything.
About half an hour before the Confirmation ceremony, Boy in Black went upstairs to change and then came back down with the awful news: "Hey, Mom. These don't fit me anymore."
I looked at him in horror. Even though Boy in Black is a skinny kid, the black pants were ridiculously tight. And I could see several inches of his white socks. Boy in Black pulled the pants up higher and began strutting around the room; his siblings thought it was funny.
Had he grown that much in just three months? Well, I guess he had. I knew he had grown nine inches between eighth and ninth grade – why I hadn't I realized how fast he was growing?
We had to be at the church in fifteen minutes. What were we supposed to do? These were the only dress pants that the kid owned. I thought of Neighbor Family – I've often borrowed clothes from their kids and vice versa – but unfortunately Boy in Black is older than their two boys and taller. I thought of my sister, but she just has three skinny girls. We looked through my husband's clothes, but at that point in time, he was still way taller than Boy in Black – and not as skinny as a tenth grader either. There was not time to go out and buy him a pair of pants.
My solution was for Boy in Black to wear his casual pants, the baggy zip-off pants he wears every day, but he ignored my idea and opted to go the dressed-up route. I gave him a pair of black socks so that the glaring white socks would not advertise so much how short the pants were. So he wore the ridiculously small pants, with me cringing.
I kept saying things like, "Oh, I should have thought to have you try these on," and he kept saying, "It's okay. I don't care how they look."
Throughout the ceremony, I winced every time the Confirmation candidates had to stand up at the altar. Twelve kids in nice outfits that fit them, and Boy in Black in his ridiculously small pants. I kept telling myself that it shouldn't bother me – it's just clothes, after all, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I was a terrible parent because my son did not have pants that fit him. I think my husband was feeling much the same way, despite the reassuring things he kept saying about how the pants really didn't look that bad. I gave whispered explanations to my parents and mother-in-law, who to their credit, just kept saying positive things about how Boy in Black was growing so fast.
So I spent the whole ceremony beating myself up for being a terrible mother who hadn't bothered to check to see if her son had pants to wear to some important rite-of-passage ceremony. My husband pointed out that it was silly to for me to feel so responsible. He hadn't checked the pants either, and for that matter, Boy in Black was plenty old enough to be responsible for his own clothing. Naturally I ignored the logic of this.
Finally, the ceremony was over, and we all came back to our house for food and cake. I felt relieved when Boy in Black changed out of the black pants and appeared in his normal casual clothes. He handed me the pants. As I looked at them, something on the label caught my attention.
That label looked familiar. These were my pants, the black pants I wear when I have to present at a conference. No wonder they didn't fit him. A sudden thought crossed my mind. I ran up to Boy in Black's closet, which is stuffed with games and toys and very few clothes. There, on a hanger, looking almost brand new, were his black pants. Which would have fit him perfectly.