We took our girls shopping for fancy clothes to wear for spring school pictures a couple nights ago.
I, their personal shopper for an hour, ferried clothes to them. You would think we never take those little ladies shopping. Regularly as I draped a new wardrobe change over the dressing room door, my daughter Analisa gushed to her little sister Ella, "Oooh, Booey, look at this!"
They were so noisy in their exuberance that Matthew had to retreat to a safe, manly distance after attempting several times to quiet their loud, happy exclamations over bright-colored dresses and shirts. And, of course, Booey wanted Ana to try on matching outfits.
Ana tried on an absolutely splendid dress in her perfect shade: an indigo top with a flowery-patterned skirt. Our tall, slender girl loved it, and her Papa and I loved it, but the length would not do, at least an inch too short on her long legs. When she tried a larger size, however, it gaped badly under the arms and about the chest.
Yet Ana did find one outfit she adored which fit wonderfully: a tie-dye jumpsuit. When she tried it on, I'm pretty certain her papa staggered back a few steps to adjust his eyes because of the explosion of color against her tan skin, but I loved it almost as much as she did. I remember what it was like to be a little girl in love with color. My parents regularly bought me multi-hued canvas sneakers in elementary, and I wore a pair of bright green pants in junior high and a chartreuse turtleneck in high school despite some unkind feedback from others.
Booey's dress, the one that she flipped head over heels for right when we entered the store, was a riot of flowers and fuchsia, orange, indigo and green. Because Ana could not have the dress she wanted, I brought her one to match Ella's which made them both happy as they paraded out together.
They both knew exactly what they were going to wear for picture day, were ecstatic, so it should have gone smoothly.
Well, blame me for obsessing over details; I excel at it!
After I helped Booey with her signature pigtails that morning, getting the part at back just so-so, Ana asked me if she could wear her hair down today.
"Yes, I guess so...."
Then it struck me that in all her sports pictures, her long hair hangs straight and unadorned behind her back. No, I thought, let's do something special, put a flower in her hair, make it a tropical day. But she said no to braided pigtails, so I suggested a side ponytail over which we could pin a big white flower in her shiny locks.
She was skeptical, but I swooped it around, the silky strands trying to escape my fingers as I labored to smooth out all the bumps. When it was finally done, she tilted her head this way and that in the mirror, but didn't grin and flirt with her reflection as Booey does when her pigtails have just the right bounce and curl. When I asked if Ana liked it a little later, she replied, "Yeah...I like it."
I love and admire my sweet and sensitive daughter, but if she doesn't like something, you're probably not going to hear it from her lips - at least not in the words; you have to read the face and the tone and try not to get irritated if you feel she's not being straight with you to spare your feelings.
I removed the ponytail and told her to try a soft headband with the flower. Then just the flower. Neither looked right, so I asked her what she liked best.
"The side ponytail," she answered.
So I sighed and attempted to brush that hair back into shape, but my son couldn't find the holder when I asked him to fetch it, so I barked, "Alright, Ana, come on. Let's go!" And I held onto that ponytail as we marched down the hall.
That's when my son got mad. His face was stern as he spoke up, "I don't think that felt good. I bet it hurt."
"What? Me pulling Ana down the hall while hanging onto her ponytail?"
He nodded, arms folded. I made some silly joke, and Ana asserted that she was pulling me, but Berto still stared at me with accusatory eyes.
That righteous flame only intensified when I couldn't get the ponytail back into submission and gave up in full-fledged irritation, saw that we would now be tardy for school, and realized I had still to pack the fruit for my kids' lunches. I then vocalized my feelings, because I don't know how to keep anything bottled up - ever.
Yes, I vocalized loudly all the way to school - not yelling, mind you - just obnoxiously expressing my feelings and stating the obvious about being late and Ana's hair hanging straight as usual, same as every other picture.
"You should have let me fix her hair," said Berto. "I would have spiked it all up like mine into..."
"You mean you would have cut it off?" I interrupted. "That would have been something different at least!"
I glanced in the rearview. "I'm joking, Ana! I'm just joking."
No response, face turned toward the window.
"Ana, I'm just joking. Are you okay?"
I sighed and turned and saw Berto's grim, blazing eyes of truth and judgment on me.
"Mama's just stressed," I began my defense speech. "I should have just let you wear you hair down, Ana. Your hair is beautiful as it is, unadorned, but I got stuck on the flower. And I thought it looked like a Hawaii girl."
"Hawaiian girls wear their hair down. All the Hula dancers have their hair down," interjected Berto.
"I meant the flower to go with the outfit," I replied. "Look, I should have just let it go. We didn't have time to mess around anyway, and it's not just about what I want. It should be about looking natural....what you want, too. And now we're running late."
At school I tried to wish my kids goodbye with false cheer waxed over my guilt for ruining a perfectly good picture day when my kids - for once - actually get a chance to wear their own special clothes instead of school uniforms.
"What, Berto?" I asked, hoping to wipe that look from his eyes as he left his seat.
"You're going to make her cry," he said and stepped out.
Booey bounced out in her dress, eager to go, and then Ana came from the backseat and, sure enough, her eyes were moist.
"I'm sorry, Ana," I said. "Just enjoy your day. Mama was wrong. Your hair looks beautiful as it is."
"I know," she answered gently as she backed away. "I just don't like stressing you out. And then I get stressed out."
"No, it's mama...I love you!" I called desperately.
I had to pull forward with my guilt to make room for the other stressed-out parents in cars behind. On the way home, I noticed I had forgotten to give Booey her money for the photographers, and I felt relieved. I went home and finally combed my own hair, turned around, and entered the school office. The front office lady called Ana from her class for me, thereby preventing me from barging into her classroom with showy emotion.
I hugged my eldest girl and stroked her long hair and asked if anyone had complimented her on her outfit. Then I told her to enjoy her day in her colorful, unique clothes and let it go and think of being in Hawaii; she would be beautiful as always. I hugged her long and sent her on her way.
At lunch I told my husband about how Berto - the boy I had just lectured the previous afternoon for discouraging Ana, so often hurting her feelings, and not giving her enough credit and support - had stood up to his tyrannical mama for his sweet Ana's sake in order to protect her sensitive soul from their mother's selfish, compulsiveness, controlling nature.
"I was proud. It was a tender moment," I said. "And it would have felt good if I hadn't felt so guilty about it."
In the evening Ana came to me and thanked me for coming to see her at school.
"Did it help?" I asked
"Yes," she said brightly and smiled.
I hugged her tight. That's all I wanted, the chance to make it better.