Natural consequences

AS I WAITED FOR MY GARAGE DOOR TO OPEN yesterday afternoon, I was met by Eli, who was fixing to leave on his bike with his basketball. He’s been enjoying that we live close to basketball courts, but it’s been too cold to play outside. He has discovered that sometimes, his school is open after hours and if one of the two gyms is not in use, he can shoot around inside.

The problem was, he was wearing crew socks and a pair of athletic slides. And a hoodie. And it was 20 degrees outside.

I tried to explain frostbite and hypothermia, but all he heard was BLAH BLAH COLD BLAH BLAH BLAH and off he went.

When he returned 15 minutes later, his feet were really cold. (No!) As he sat with them next to the fireplace, we had another discussion about how 20 degrees is a kind of cold one should not trifle with. This is the kind of cold that would freeze the canned sodas we used to leave on the shelf in our carport. It’s the kind of cold that helps you identify every broken seal on every window and door in your house. It’s the kind of cold that makes furnaces sputter and quit.

You would think the experience of self-inflicted cold feet would have left an impression. You would think he’d have been grateful that I dug out two winter coats so he could choose one to wear on his walk to school. You would think those things, but you are probably an adult with a fully-developed frontal lobe. The boy rolled his eyes and groaned when I insisted he wear a coat. Or, he groaned because it was the first day back after winter break. Probably some of both. Either way, he was running late this morning and asked me to drive him to school. (Only the second time this school year!)

He got into the car wearing just a hoodie. Coat’s in my backpack, he said in response to my side-eye. Do you have a hat? I asked. I have a hood. Gloves? One. But I have pockets.

At least he was wearing sneakers instead of slides.

WebMD illustrates natural consequences using the coat / cold example. They go on to say, “Learning through experiencing consequences is much more powerful than through a lecture or punishment. Using consequences for misbehavior is an effective teaching method for dealing with behavior problems in children and teens.”

Oh, WebMD! That’s precious! I thought it would be effective too, but I am a female adult. And I have learned from parenting two boys through their teen years that cause and effect is not the deterrent you’d expect it to be, at least when it comes to weather-appropriate dress. Eli’s brothers insisted upon leaving coats behind, lest they be forced to actually use their school lockers. And with Eli, I’ve had to establish a threshold of 32 degrees Fahrenheit, below which he will only reluctantly wear long pants to school, much to the chagrin of school administrators.

Despite it all, I do tend to agree that a “natural consequences” approach to parenting is probably the best way in most cases. Within reasonable limits, of course. But I’ll be counting the days until he demonstrates that he can decide on his own, based on weather reports and experience, whether or not it’s a good day to wear a coat.

I take comfort in knowing that my kids’ behavior places them in the fat part of the bell curve. A quick Google search of “shorts in snow” yields many images of bare legs on a white background, including in this feature story from the Coeur D’Alene (Idaho) Press that articulates adults’ perennial concern for children’s cold legs.

I have found my people.

Area Boy wears summer attire in winter. School administrators remain exasperated.


What to wear

LET'S SAY YOU ARE a 40-something, somewhat pudgy, suburban-dwelling working mother of three. And your husband has scored tickets to a casino night event in DC, for which the requested dress code is "cocktail attire." And that your current, seasonal leaving-the-zip-code wardrobe consists of boring but comfortable, conservative dark neutral pants (always pants, never skirts), with which you most often pair with a cotton twinset and Sensible Shoes, and that your current, seasonal not-leaving-the-zip-code wardrobe consists entirely of cotton capris and T-shirts, none of which you ever bother to tuck in, and flip flops. Because they don't hurt your hammertoe. And let's say that your fashion sense tends more towards Frumpy Conservative than Fashionable Cocktail.

Let's say the event in question is scheduled for this Friday Night – as in THREE NIGHTS FROM NOW. This does not give you nearly enough time to lose the 40 25 pounds it would take in order to fit into anything you already own that could remotely be considered "cocktail attire." And it barely gives you time to do anything other than Emergency Shopping, the kind you wedge into your schedule during the 25 minutes between the when you get off the commuter train and you have to shuttle one of your kids to taekwondo. But, shop you must! 

Let us further say that – forget the current state of your body – you have longstanding issues with dressing appropriately. That you are still, amazingly, dragging around BAGGAGE from 7th or 8th grade, from that one time when you begged your dad to take you to a sports award banquet, because hey, you played junior high girls' basketball, where "played" equals "wore a uniform like all the other girls", and doesn't that make you an athlete?, and that in selecting attire for said banquet, your logic was, these are athletes, no one will be wearing dresses, only when you arrived – late – you weren't and THEY ALL WERE (the girls were, anyway) and you immediately, tearfully, asked your dad to take you home where you could bury your mortified head in your pillow and figure out how you were going to show your pathetic, underdressed, preteen face at school the next day.

Let's just say that's you. What do you do, given this set of circumstances?

Naturally, you turn to Facebook! You ask your friends if they were you, where would you shop for sassy, stylish cocktail attire that is age-appropriate and flattering, yet won't break the bank, owing to your recent cash outlay for a new refrigerator and near-future ones for some electrical work, repairs to a vehicle, and the possible replacement of two of your stove burners (since buying a new stove is financially out of the question right now)?

Your friends, bless 'em, will provide all kinds of helpful suggestions. Dress Barn. (Why is it still called a "Barn"?) Lord & Taylor. Chico's. (Chicos??) Coldwater Creek. Go the off-price route – Marshall's, TJ Maxx, Ross. Or try Ann Taylor or Talbott's.  This is helpful stuff! And you live in the suburbs of a major metropolitan area, so you have access to all of these stores! The only thing you barely have enough of – besides money – is time.

Some of your fabulous Facebook friends will make style suggestions, too. They'll say, why don't you dress up a sexy blouse with some chunky costume jewelry and wear it with your favorite black skirt or dressy pants and fabulous shoes? Which sounds like a good approach, until you remember that your bunions and hammertoe preclude fabulous shoes and mandate comfortable ones

And while you are considering The Shoe Dilemma, another quirky hang-up rears its ugly head: Whenever you wear chunky costume jewelry, you feel like Wilma Fintstone:


Or Marge Simpson.


Clothing and accessories are only part of this equation. We haven't even discussed the fact that your hairdresser is out of town for another three weeks. When she told you in March about her trip, you decided it would be a good time to let your hair grow out, but now it just seems like you'll resign yourself to arranging your shaggy in-between quasi-bangs into something resembling a Style, because there are only so many hours until this shindig and you will have time for either a manicure OR a pedicure, only one of which can be crammed into the 50-minute time slot when Seth is at therapy on Thursday afternoon. There's no time for a haircut. Besides, it's risky at this juncture. Hairdressers can smell desperation.

By now, your darling husband is gnashing his teeth and wondering why he even bothers. All he was trying to do was to provide a night on the town, a chance to dress up and get tipsy on fancy cocktails and fake-gamble and bid on silent auction items (maybe they'll have a salon package I can snag?). He is thinking, you always say you want us to go out more? Well here it is, on a silver platter, and now you're all stressed out and splattering over a thousand words (!) onto the Internet and unearthing long-buried hang-ups that he wasn't entirely aware existed.

But you will reassure him that, really, this is the stuff that normally goes on in your head. And he'll be all "Really?" And you'll say "Yes, really. Trust me." 

…at which point, he will go to his closet and pull out his nice suit – the dark one – and a crisp, new white dress shirt, select a tie, quick-shine his shoes, and BAM, he is ready to go and looks like a million bucks, and what is taking you so long??

 Men have it so easy.

You will have to further reassure yourself that while you *have* gained some weight (and yes, losing some would open up new wardrobe possibilites AND be good for your overall well-being), you really are quite content with who you are. Extra flab and all. Life's too short to sweat the last 40 25 ten pounds, right? Ninety percent of the time, you don't care. It's only when you try to buy fancy clothes, or a bathing suit, that it ever becomes an issue.

So, you will determine that Wednesday evening will be when you bravely drink to excess venture out to buy two burners for your old stove some fabulous Cocktail Attire and Flintstone-esque costume jewelry. And you will wear your new clothes on Friday night, but you will also don your winning smile and your sparkling sense of humor. And you and your handsome, suit-wearin' husband will charm the bejeezus out of the other partygoers because seriously, the two of you together? You're a lot of fun to be around.

People like you. They don't like your clothes – they like YOU. 

Party dress codes are important to observe. If you were to show up in your not-leaving-the-zip-code duds, you run the risk of well-dressed people looking askance at you as if to say, hey, the suburbs called, they want you to come back now. Or, you could be denied admittance to the event and cited for failure to comply with the stated dress code. But when it comes right down to it, that isn't the stuff that really matters. It's who you are that speaks louder than any extra 25 40 pounds or fake-bling can. 


A FEW WEEKS AGO, I was shopping in one of those big cosmetic stores. I looooove makeup and nail polish and beauty supplies. Depending on the day, I love them slightly more than, or just a tad less than, office supplies. (Don't judge.) If I had unlimited money, I would buy a lot more of this stuff. But I don't, so I often end up buying my stuff in hasty dashes to CVS.

That's why a trip to my local Ulta (or Sephora, oh how I love Sephora!) can be a dangerous thing for me. But in Ulta I was, with 20 minutes to spare, and so I was talking myself out of buying everything filling my basket with a few items I'd rationalized really, reeeeally needing. Including some new nail polish for Fall! You see, I'm either a nail-biter, or obsessed with achieving the perfect manicure. Right now, I'm the latter. And it's Autumn, so the bright, light colors of spring and summer are no longer appropriate, right?

Are you with me?

I wear a lot of brown. I tell myself this is okay not because I'm a harried working mother, but because it's oh-so… of-the-day. Brown is the new black. Or maybe gray is; I can never remember. The point is, I was in Ulta and I picked up this collection of four miniature bottles of OPI nail lacquer. It's their Touring America collection, and it features some nice autumnal shades of gray, a deep merlot, a medium pinkish tone, and… "A-taupe the Space Needle" – a deep taupe shade with a name that could only come from OPI:

(That's not me. My nails aren't that long. I got the photo from Amazon.)

I applied it to my nails, and I liked it. It was trendy. It matched all of my clothes! And I loved it right up until the moment when it occurred to me where I've seen that shade before:

It is the exact color of baby poo.

Not the very first poo – the meconium – it's a lighter shade than that. And not newborn breastfed infant poo, which is more of a puce tone than a brown. No, A-Taupe the Space Needle is more the shade of several-month-old baby poo, the kind they start having right after you start them on rice cereal.

Once I had that little epiphany, I couldn't stop thinking about it. And I couldn't wear it anymore. I came straight home and removed it from my fingernails.  And that's fine; I should be able to find another trendy taupe that doesn't remind me of baby poo, right?

Or maybe not. My fear is that now, all shades of brown are ruined for me forever, just because of this one little notion. And that's gonna be a problem, because I LIVE in neutrals. What about my eye shadow? Do my eyelids look as if I've swiped the feces of a wee human? And does it have to stop at human poo? Maybe I have slacks the shade of, say, deer poo. What about the paint on my bathroom walls? It's a medium brown shade… whose poo does THAT resemble?

Really, where does it END??

I really must figure out a way to overcome this. 

Or maybe I shouldn't think so much.