"Why do clothes have to match?"

You all may recall my daughter Siobhan's Stations of the Cross, written when she was twelve. I hope you will enjoy this story about a much younger Siobhan, originally published in Liguorian Magazine. As you will see, she's been inspiring me to "dig deep" from a young age! 

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There are moments in every parent’s life when the balance of power is suddenly upended and the child deftly gains the upper hand. These moments are disorienting, unnerving and inevitable.

I experienced such a moment when, as a young mother, my daughter asked me a simple question, then calmly watched me fumble around for an answer. 

I remember where we were. I was standing in front of the closet of my daughter, Siobhan, in our old house on Stable Court. Siobhan was probably around six years old at the time, and I was trying to help her choose an outfit for the day. The process was not going smoothly. She rejected my adorable choices, and I vetoed her strange ones. We could agree on tops but not bottoms. Bottoms but not tops. Arms were crossed. Teeth were clenched. Lines were drawn.

And that’s when she asked me: “Mommy, why do clothes have to match?” 

It still makes me feel weak, just thinking about it. The question has no answer.

But I desperately wanted to find one. I looked at Siobhan in that moment, and I saw stretching out before me years of unmatched clothes, rebellious outfits, strange fashion, and plaids with polka-dots. Instead I wanted her to look like a walking Gap ad. 

Siobhan waited patiently as the seconds ticked by with me saying feeble things like “um” and “well.” She knew exactly what was happening. I was realizing that all the answers I could think of were worse than any mismatched outfit: 

“So you will look like everyone else.” 

“Because that’s how other people expect you to look.” 

“Because that’s what I like.” 

My answers were weak and lame, so lame I couldn’t speak them. I sighed in defeat. “I don’t know, Siobhan. There isn’t a good reason.” My head rested momentarily in my hands as the weight of this reality sunk in. Siobhan was gracious in victory, and a new era of creative fashion began. 

Letting go of my young daughter’s wardrobe choices was a simple but far-reaching parental lesson. We have no real control over our children. Control is an unfulfilling and ultimately frustrating mirage that we create. After all, our children are human. They are free.

This is how God made us, and he certainly does not try to control us. There is both beauty and danger in our freedom. We can wear polka dots with plaids or try other wild things. God does not create a mirage of control for himself. He has always wanted us to be fully human and totally free. Every morning we stand in a wardrobe full of choices. What we choose – kindness, forgiveness, humility, love, anger, unkindness, self-righteousness, hate – is completely up to us. 

God wants us to choose for ourselves, and in doing so, to find and put on the most beautiful things.

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Republished with permission from Liguorian Magazine, where this piece originally ran under the title “Plaids with Polka-Dots,” July-August 2017.

Siobhan: Imaginative, independent, adorable and free. March 2010.

Siobhan: Imaginative, independent, adorable and free. March 2010.