Christmas in October

My favorite solutions to problems are those that come about naturally.

Take, for instance, washing dishes. The problem I have with washing dishes is the washing part. Yes, I have a dishwasher, but I prefer to not use it because the stupid thing smells bad by the time my two-person household generates a full load. So I find myself filling the sink with soapy water and letting the dishes sit in it for an hour or two. Then I just rinse them off. Problem solved.

You can also take, for instance, stray neighborhood cats. They’ll eventually all be run over by cars or kill one another or starve to death. Problem solved.

I ALWAYS SECRETLY waited for the day I could just sit back as a parent and let my child figure things out on her own. Then I could go to work or Thursday night Bingo and brag to all of my associates what a good parent I was because I let her “learn that lesson herself.” The problem, I’d indicate, would work itself out.

Friends, that day has arrived.

On Monday morning, like usual, Kalista emerged from her bedroom wearing the clothes she’d laid out the night before. Between my always-shopping mother and myself, my 9-year-old’s wardrobe could rival a small department store that’s been going out of business for several years. Think Kmart.

“Oh, I just remembered,” she said as I sipped my diesel-fuel coffee. “We have to wear red today.”

Then she turned toward her room and disappeared like Mitt Romney.

She resurfaced in the kitchen four minutes later. Except this time she was wearing a satin red Christmas dress. This time she was wearing white stockings. This time she was wearing red tennis shoes.

This time she looked awful.

I took a deep breath and wished I had cancer.

“Oh, that looks … nice,” I said, looking into my coffee cup.

THE THING IS, Kalista has a rich history of wearing outfits to school that are either clearly the first things she came across or manufactured specifically for a somber event. Rarely does she find that happy medium, which should be the goal.

I understand and support ideology of some of my artsy, free-spirited comrades who’ve suggested I “let her be free” and express herself so I don’t stifle her creativity. I don’t necessarily agree with it because on days like Monday, I know she was choosing the first red clothes she found and her creativity had nothing to do with the matter – which is why in the past, on days like Monday, I normally would have told her to march her little ass back into the bedroom and put on something less … ridiculous.

To which she would have undoubtedly replied in a high-pitched, sing-songy voice, “But Daddy … ”

Not on this day. Despite that look on her face practically begging me to alter her decision, I said not one thing about it. Off to school she went looking like Santa’s little athlete.

SHORTLY AFTER SHE got home from school, she changed into jeans and a t-shirt. I hadn’t asked how the day went because I knew by the look on her face.

“Oh, you decided to change,” I said. “What for?”

“Well, that dress was a little hot.”

“I see. Did anyone say anything to you about it at school?”

“Miss Shonda said she liked my dress. And so did one of the lunch ladies.”

Miss Shonda is a family friend who has a daughter Kalista’s age. She takes the two to school each morning. She also happens to be one of the nicest mothers I know, so it didn’t surprise me she said the exact opposite of what she probably thought.

And no offense to school cafeteria employees, but they typically aren’t the best judges of style.

“Did anyone make fun of your dress?” I asked.

A look of pathetic dismay covered her little face.

“Yes. Taylor laughed at me every time I walked by her.”

Taylor is a bully. We’ve dealt with it for years. My initial reaction was to track down Taylor’s last name on Facebook, Google it, find her address and parents’ criminal record, go to her home, grab her off the couch and fling her in the front yard like the useless carcass she is, sanitize my hands and get on with my day.

But Taylor did exactly what I expected someone would do to my daughter at school that day.

“Kalista, I knew that was going to happen when you put on that dress this morning,” I said. “But I didn’t say anything because you’re old enough to learn these lessons yourself.

“I figured you’d give me a hard time about changing and I didn’t have time for it.”

Occasionally during a teaching moment, Kalista will give me this sad, “you were right” look that lets me know I reached her. Sometimes it takes a few variations and repeats of what I’m trying to say (I think of them as laps). But this time, I got the look right away.

I DO NOT THINK I’ll be having anymore discussions about Christmas dresses in October. At least not soon. While I’m happy I got my point across without much effort in the morning, a part of me hurt for throwing her to the wolves that day.

But life is full of wolves. Taylor won’t be the first Kalista will face.

She’s got a long way to go before she’s ready to face them completely alone, but someday she’s going to have to … and as difficult as it was, I know I’m doing the right thing every time I allow her to figure things out naturally.

Just as long as they’re small things.

Things that don’t really matter.

Things that can’t really hurt her.

She’s still my baby girl.

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