See that cute little guy waving at you over there? That’s my son, Oliver. He’s been around for about eight months now, so there’s a lot I know about him, but there’s even more that I don’t know.
I know that he likes Cheerios and hates diaper changes, but I can’t tell you what subjects he’ll excel in or whether he’ll play sports in high school. I don’t know what religion (if any) he’ll follow, what political party (if any) he’ll join, or what career path (hopefully something) he’ll choose.
That’s why I have started to hate shopping for kids’ clothing.
Perhaps I should back up a bit?
When Oliver was a newborn, I went to a store that carries nothing but kid’s clothes. When my older son was a baby, it was the perfect place to get simple essentials: solid and striped shirts, little khakis, pajamas with dogs on them. Because we didn’t learn Oliver’s gender until birth, I didn’t have a lot of clothes and looked forward to buying some cute boy things. I walked out with almost nothing.
Instead of stripes and solids, everything said something. “Mommy’s little prince.” “Grandma loves me.” “My dad’s a rock star.”
The whole store felt like a desperate scream for a parent’s validation. Do we really need to broadcast messages from our babies’ shirts to make ourselves feel better?
Then there are the clothes that let parents live out their own fantasies or hopes for their kids. (“Future quarterback.” “Tough guy.” “Rock hero.”) And the ones that highlight kids’ age-appropriate but supposedly negative behaviors. (“All my mom wants for Christmas is a silent night,” “Here comes trouble.”)
Don’t even get me started on anything that includes the word “sexy,” insults a gender (“Girls rule, boys drool”), or celebrates apathy (“Too cool for homework”).
Needless to say, I don’t buy children’s clothes that are designed make me feel better or that pigeon-hole my kids into certain roles.
And here’s where I become a hypocrite. If you’ll notice, in that photo up above, Oliver is wearing a onesie that says “Captain of the Debate Team.” As my 8-month-old clearly is not really the captain of a debate team, that means I have broken my rule about pigeon-holing my kids and living out my dreams through their clothing.
It all started one day in Old Navy. I was in the baby section and had just turned up my nose at some kind of football-related shirt when I spotted it. “Captain of the Debate Team.” I think I squealed out loud. A shirt that celebrated brains over brawn? Oh my gosh! And, I’ll admit it, I was captain of my high school debate team. (Technically I was co-captain of the Speech & Debate Team, and I represented the Speech portion, but still. The only thing that would have caused me to squeal more enthusiastically would have been one that said “Newspaper Editor.” I was, uh, a bit of a nerd. But I digress.)
So, for a split second, I thought, “No. You don’t like things like this.” Then I bought it.
I took it home and posted a photo on Facebook. Many friends liked it.
I threw it in the wash. Then, the next day, I went to fold it…and turned it over for the first time. There was another phrase on the back I hadn’t noticed before. “Talks 247.”
Suddenly, I felt defeated. Sad. Angry. Stupid.
The shirt wasn’t celebrating intelligence at all–it was poking fun at kids who won’t keep their mouths shut and argue about everything. (Sort of ridiculous for that to be on a shirt for the pre-verbal, of course. It would be much better suited for my 7-year-old. But I digress again.)
After I calmed down, it occurred to me that maybe I was overreacting, so I called my mom for her opinion. She didn’t see it as a bad thing, but she also sees loquaciousness as a sign of intelligence. Without giving the background, I polled friends on Facebook about how they feel about a “Talks 247” shirt. Some felt it was positive or neutral. Others felt it was negative. A few people commented that they don’t like kids’ shirts that say stuff about their personalities.
So what have I done with the shirt? Well, Oliver still wears it. I don’t like the wording on the back (partly because I interpret it as a ridicule and partly because he’s EIGHT MONTHS OLD AND DOESN’T TALK!!!), but I’m still heartened by the front, even if I do realize the shirt is for my benefit and no one else’s.
I also realize I’m probably overthinking the whole thing, but I suppose that’s important for a debater to do.