It was Erev Sukkot when I realized I had spent too much time menu planning, food shopping, decorating the sukkah and baking, and had neglected to buy my kids new clothing for the holidays. Since Rosh Hashanah was still in the summer, the kids happily wore their sandals and summer clothing, but somewhere during that one-day-of-school they had, it became fall, and I simply couldn’t fit in a trip to the mall while splitting my time between each supermarket.
My oldest daughter could layer, and probably even had a few fancier school outfits that could pass for holiday gear. My son in first grade never wears any Shabbat clothing anyway, only polo or button down shirts and pants, which is essentially his school uniform, so he was set. The baby could just wear pajamas, and maybe that would be an omen for some good napping. And that just left me with my 4-year-old daughter. “I only like tie-dye,” she routinely tells me. A mini-hippie.
She has a closet full of clothing, of which she wears one or two things exclusively. There used to be more items in this repertoire, but it has dwindled because I told her she does not need to wear tights in the summer, and also that she must wear a skirt over said tights, and not just a shirt. She has since given up hosiery entirely. And also socks.
I tried to make some sense of her closet, and began to dig for a treasure, a gem of an outfit that maybe if I presented properly she would potentially love as much as the synthetic floral dress that she equally wears to school, sleep and shul (not consecutively).
“Wow!” I said, pulling out a black dress I had purchased in the beginning of the summer, and stowed in the back of her closet for when it would fit her. I yanked off the tags. “Brand new! And it has a pretty ruffle at the bottom. This is so princess-y!”
She fingered the fabric, almost taken by my faux enthusiasm, but then must have not liked the fact that it was cotton or something, because she threw it on the floor as if she were burnt.
“It has buttons,” she grumbled. “I hate buttons.”
Lest you sympathize, and envision a stiff dress with fifty buttons going up the back, culminating in a choking-turtle-neck, let me just explain that there was one decorative button on each sleeve. Not at all an issue of practicality. I picked out another outfit: a pretty pink tiered shirt and a skirt with gathers and pleats.
“I don’t like shirts and skirts. Only dresses.”
That eliminated several other selections. I didn’t even bother to remove them from the closet. They would not go over well.
We were down to the same synthetic wear-all dress. And it was a three-day Yom Tov. So I did what most mothers might do. I went into the attic and found the box of hand-me-downs marked “4T” and took it out. Together, we sat in her room and went through one or two items from the enormous and over-stuffed container. “Make a pile of things you like, and things you don’t,” I instructed her, before leaving the room for a few minutes to pick up the crying baby.
“I’m done,” she said, appearing by my side a short time later, while I was changing a dirty diaper. “I found some things I like!” And she held up a pair of neon-orange sandals. Not exactly what I had in mind.
We returned to her room and the floor was covered by an enormous clothing-rug, her discards messily strewn around. By the foot of her bed was a small pile of shoes. “I like all these Shabbos shoes!” she said, sitting down to put on a pair. I suddenly regretted saving them.
“What about the dresses?” I asked, picking up the clothing, piece by piece from the reject-pile, and holding them up for her to see. She shook her head.
“But what is wrong with this? Tell me what you don’t like!” I pleaded, hoping to figure out a formula, so at least I could understand her preferences and know what to buy and what to avoid.
“That’s a sweater. That’s a turtleneck. That’s brown. I don’t like brown. I don’t like silver. I hate skirts. This is itchy. That has a collar. That’s for boys. No zippers. I don’t wear long-sleeves...” the list went on, until all we were left with were two leotards and a tutu—and she doesn’t even take ballet.
There is no answer. There is no logic. Only luck. Because it is likely that I will go to the store and buy her every tie-dyed, buttonless, leotard-mimicking outfit possible, if one actually exists, and then she will decide she no longer wears colors. Or that she prefers organic fabrics. Or Herve Leger.
In the meantime, she happily wore the same nightgown-dress for Sukkot, and alternated with a too small ruffled dress that now looked like it had a high-waist and three-quarter sleeves (and also had a hole in it), but at least she had a variety of hand-me-down footwear to change it up a little. And I was relieved that she didn’t go to shul in the leotard.
Sarah Abenaim is a freelance writer living with her husband and four children in Teaneck. She is working on her first book. More of her essays can be found at www.writersblackout.wordpress.com.
By Sarah Abenaim