One of the more maddening aspects of my life is how I only get smarter about things which no longer affect me. Daughter, being my
daughter, has always been something of a maniac on the subject of reading so I have a deep and thorough knowledge of children’s literature, both classic and off-the-beaten-path, and for every age from newborn to eight years. Of course, we just had the one offspring and the youngest child among my immediate group of friends is four years old so all those wonderful titles I found for my daughter when she was three and younger are just clattering around in my head, squeezing out more immediate concerns like “Where are the keys?”
and “I remember something about eggs. Is it that we need eggs or that I have to stop buying eggs?”
and “Where did I put the cordless phone this time? Is it near the keys?”
So, to the person I accosted in the baby-book section of Barnes & Noble and made a flurry of unsolicited book recommendations: I can understand your confusion. No, I don’t work there, I just needed to feel competent about something. I would hang around children’s clothing stores if I didn’t worry about someone calling security because, you see, I am very well informed on the subject of girl clothing, three months to 6X. I know exactly what labels make the kind of smocked dresses I like for dressy-wear for Daughter. I know which cuts suit her. I’ve even made my peace with the reality that not all of us are flattered by navy blue
. Without bragging, I’d say no one dresses my Daughter in partywear from size three-months to 6X better than I do.
Of course, she’s now wearing an eight.
This means that, once again, the Etch-a-Sketch which is my brain has been cleared and I have been left to relearn how to dress my child in a hostile and expensive marketplace. Why did no one warn me about the vast wasteland which is girl tweenage-wear? [And oh, how I hate
that word. The only reason I used it here is that you cannot say “Tween” without whining and the racks of party clothes for her age group make me want to lie down on the floor and simper until a person more mature than I am picks me up by the arm and says crisply, “I see someone needs a nap.”]
We have a family event this month. For a while I pretended that Daughter could get away with a kilt and a cream turtleneck; then I started hearing rumblings from other family members that it was to be a bit more fancy than that. “Fine,” I thought resolutely, “I’ll just get her a party dress. Something classic and pretty. It should take no more than a day.” I thought this because I drink before noon.
For those of you who don’t have children -- or your children haven’t reached this age yet -- let me tell you about party dresses for the eight-to-eleven demographic: If you like your pre-adolescent daughters dressed up like bar girls in wartime, you’re in luck. I found endless racks of spaghetti-strapped or one-shouldered slip dresses in fabrics which had aspirations to work very hard and grow up to be rayon. Daughter could have attended the family event and then gone off for an evening convincing men to buy her two-hundred-dollar bottles of Champagne. I was willing to admit that maybe she was too old for the smocked dress, but I was still unnerved by dresses with built-in bras. She's EIGHT!
Okay, if I didn’t want my daughter to be a bar-girl, she could be a bridesmaid because the other default style seems to be a spaghetti-strap dress with a full bell skirt and matching jacket. At least the bridesmaid look didn’t cry out to be accessorized with plastic heels and a prescription for Valtrex, but I learned quickly that “Matching Jacket
” meant “Over a Hundred Dollars
.” Also, Daughter is very lean and the full skirt gave her a sort of “Where’s Waldo?” effect -- I knew there was a girl somewhere in that one-hundred-and-eighty-dollar explosion of fabric, but damned if I could find her. I was stumped and I was irritated. I was also finishing the rewrites on the book, which meant a) I really had no time to be thinking about this
and b) I hated rewriting so much that I was prepared to make this party dress my life’s work
[I’m haunted by how many of my decisions are based on “Sure, this task is dreadful, but it’s much less dreadful than this other thing I’m avoiding.”
Then again, copper-bottomed pots don’t polish themselves. ]
Flummoxed, I called Veronica because she buys her equally-lanky daughter a new holiday dress every year, and we both have similar, passionate feelings about spaghetti straps.
“Go to Nordstrom,” she advised.
“I did,” I said peevishly. “That’s where I found the backless dress for the nine-year old model in the single-malt Scotch ad .”
“No. The Nordstrom in Topanga,” she said patiently, “I don’t know why, but they have the few remaining non-trashy pre-teen dresses in Los Angeles.”
I sighed. Topanga?
I sighed again. Topanga is notable for being inconvenient to nearly everyone on the planet. If you are reading this in Kansas City or Nepal, know that Topanga is only slightly more problematic for you than it is for most people who live in Los Angeles. And, just to keep things lively, Topanga is up near the wildfires which were currently defoliating my city. We live nowhere near the fires and the air near our house had the consistency of granola. For two days, I'd been coughing up what appeared to be exercise balls -- I couldn’t even imagine what it was like right up there in the belly of the beast. And wouldn't it be sort of fiddling-while-Rome-burns
to be comparison shopping just a few miles away from people were losing everything they owned? Shouldn’t I be donating blood or offering them my house to live in or something meaningful? I ruminated aloud, endlessly.
“Or...” Veronica drawled, neatly cutting me off. “You can go back to your writing.”
Veronica was right. Nordstrom in Topanga does, in fact, have dresses which are classic and pretty and within the proper price range. I found one which will not make Daughter look as if she should be sitting on the lap of a local warlord. With only a modest effort, a quick call to a friend and an endless drive through apocalyptic smoke, I was now that much smarter. Driving home, I reveled in my new information. I toyed with calling mothers with smaller children and working the conversation around to the topic of party dresses, just so I could know something new and relevant. I looked forward to years of droning on to polite victims about how you simply can’t trust any
Nordstrom but the Topanga Nordstrom.
And then the ember of reality hit the tinder-dry tree which is my self-esteem. Daughter needed shoes and nearly everything I saw in her size had heels. I sighed tiredly. Well, there were two upsides to this: 1)
I could get boring on a whole new topic and 2)
driving all over creation looking for flat shoes is still
better than rewriting.