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Small Talk: Achieving detente in kids’ clothes

AUTHOR’S NOTE: To kick off summertime, enjoy one from the archives!

While you may not see it on CNN, the Clothes Wars continue to rage around our house.

When we last heard from our hero, his mother had forced him to wear a coat and tie to sixth-grade graduation. She won that battle but lost an enormous amount of ground when he was only one of two boys at that ceremony in such formal wear.

So with the approach of middle-school graduation, we find our opposing teams back at the negotiating table. Previously, the Mom had agreed on no more coat and tie until his first formal dance. He had outgrown his cotillion wardrobe anyway, while the Mom was still trying to pay off that five-year-old department store bill.

The Mom’s last offer was for a shirt with a collar, dress pants and shoes that aren’t sneakers.  In the face of constant challenges, the Mom had held this position for church and holidays. Then came eighth-grade graduation and suddenly she realized there were new trenches dug all around her.

Warning shots came across the bow. The Boy didn’t want to wear dress pants, and couldn’t he just wear a clean T-shirt? No? OK, then, a new T-shirt. It was clearly time to reconvene high-level talks in Geneva. Progress was temporarily stalled when Mom suggested she had heard that all the guys were wearing Hawaiian shirts and leis and that she found the idea quite acceptable.

Mom nearly had to call 911 to resuscitate the child from his reaction to the suggestion of a shirt with any kind of bright or attention-attracting print. Mom had clearly received some bad intelligence. After a short recess, the Mom put forward a new proposal. It could be new pants, still of non-denim material, and a new pair of casual dress shoes, plus a shirt of the son’s choice.

“OK,” the Son shouted defiantly. “The shirt of my choice is a T-shirt!”

Negotiations took a serious downturn, and the Mom negotiating team marched out of the room in a huff. When meetings resumed, both sides were in the car on the way to the mall, with Mom playing her parental authority chip, strengthened by the threat of grandparents in the audience.

The current agreement is for a shirt with a collar and buttons, but the design will be of the Son’s choice. Pants must be khaki. Shoes have already been bought during a separate mediation, with the Son team (the son and a friend) making the final selection.

A temporary setback occurs when they try to buy a plain white T-shirt to be worn under the shirt with collar and buttons. The Son disdainfully educates the Mom on the difference between really, truly plain as opposed to plain with a V-neck seam, plain with a pocket or plain with the wrong sleeve length. The Mom concedes this issue.

The final snag is over pants pockets. Son wants cargo-style pants. Mom hopes for pants adorned with no more than the traditional front and rear pockets. Through an unforeseen stroke of Camp David-level cooperation, a pair is found with extra pockets that are really hard to see.

Mom lost some credibility just before the final signing by doing a happy dance right in the middle of the men’s department dressing room. She quickly whipped out her credit card and retreated to the cash register before the opponent could reconsider.

Peace reigns.

This column was originally published by The Coast News in 2002. 

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who has accepted that life is an ongoing negotiation. Contact her at [email protected]

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