We are at a standoff, my youngest daughter and I. It is a battle of wills, but also of pragmatism, each of us locked into our idea of the way it has to be, and neither inclined to change our minds. We are each of us quite exhausted by now, quite wrung out, but not worn out – and therein lies the crux of the problem.
She doesn’t want to wear the coat.
Bright snowy white with starbursts of colour and a hood that extends to a bent peak and a small pom, which, when worn jauntily atop a small head, gives the acute appearance of pixie-ness.
My older daughter wore this coat for two years, bursting from the doors of the school in all her gnomish glory, into the snowy, wet grounds, cozy and warm. She smiled sweetly at the exclamations her coat invited and enjoyed thoroughly the originality of her ensemble; a rainbow above the dismal backdrop of the long, long winter.
My younger daughter, soon to turn seven, does not want to be a rainbow among the clouds. She wants nothing to do with gnomes or pixies or peaked caps. She does not want to walk through the schoolyard a burst of confetti in the gray morning light when surely there is nothing yet to celebrate at such an ungodly hour.
She doesn’t want to wear the coat that her older sister loved and wore for two years. She hates the coat, won’t wear it. The coat, unlike my patience, is not yet worn out.
I am not unsympathetic to her point of view. As the second born herself, my child’s mother remembers the injustice of a wardrobe comprised 70% of hand-me-downs; recalls the sting of knowing that whatever suited her sister will one day land in her drawer, whether it suits the future wearer or not. She remembers that it is not always fair to be relegated a carbon copy of an older sister a year or two later; version two receiving goods now faded but not enough for the bin; worn but not enough to be freed from the small humiliation of being clothed and shod nearly entirely in seconds.
But to explain to my small child that this is not punitive; that the measure is one of practicality and good housekeeping and fiscal responsibility, is no balm to her chaffed countenance. She does not understand – or, more accurately, does not care – that the coat is still good, and that good coats cost money; too much money to cast away because of something as fleeting and immaterial as personal style.
Unless … it is not the style that my daughter objects to, but the shackling of her personality to that of her elder sibling’s. Perhaps my daughter, not yet seven, is already so cognitively aware of her position in the family and the dynamics adherent to birth order that she simply will not allow us to cast her into a predetermined role, that of baby, yes, but also of shadow. Perhaps she is asserting her strength of character and refusal to be second to anyone or any thing, from the womb to the closet to her position later in life, assuring us that she will lead, that she will not accept the seconds that life may offer – that she will fight against the oppression of the hand-me-down, allowing her parents to move into their golden years secure in the knowledge that their children – both of them – will always be strong, be independent, fight for the top, regardless of the predestined arrangement from which they came. Perhaps her parents are raising the next generation of Emma Goldmans and Simone de Beauvoirs and Tina Feys. Perhaps her mother must begin to see this act of refusal as the revolution it is, lead by a diminutive trailblazer with tousled hair and a steely resolve. Her mother’s heart swells.
But, no. She hates the coat and refuses to put it on.
Is it because you feel like your needs as an individual are not being met, her mother asks?
No. The coat is ugly.
Is it because you would rather march through the untested wilds of the dark, unknown forest than trot happily along a path that others have used and proven unchallenging, her mother asks?
No. The coat is yucky and she won’t wear it.
And so we stand, my daughter and me, unable to budge from this battle being waged on all psychological fronts. She, believing her mother to be mean and unwielding, and me, understanding finally that I am dealing with a child more fashionista despot than disadvantaged revolutionary.
But my bright-eyed, tow-headed, clever, stubborn child can not yet anticipate that I have, in my quiver, the only arrow I need as it is guaranteed to sail blithely onto its mark, and soon.
Winter is coming, and there is no other coat. Even she of the icy will cannot melt the ice that appears soon on the window sash.
Because my dear, it’s good to learn that in Canada, in November, whether you are the first, the second, the fourth or the tenth; whether the coat is ugly or beautiful, new or old, one you love or one you hate, eventually, it’s going to be put on, zipped up, worn out.
Mother (nature) always wins.