The other day, the boy dressed himself up to go out. To a mall. On a weekend. To watch a movie. He emerged in a red and grey striped football shirt that had seen the inside of the washing machine once too often and was now so lopsided that an innocent onlooker would presume that the occupant of said t-shirt to be a Hulk in the making, given the space for expansion; the only difference being that The Brat might prefer to be a blue Hulk, given that blue is his favourite colour. He added to this look, in order to brighten it up a bit I suppose, a pair of knee length cargos that had, in its infancy, been a particularly charming shade of olive, but had now faded to indeterminate shade of blotched and decrepit.
I could have put my head to my hands and wept.
I tried another tack. "Son, why don't you wear that nice, new blue t-shirt, with your blue jeans and the red belt we bought the other day?"
"No. I'm okay."
But I am not, I wanted to shriek in decibel levels that would pierce the skies and have the heavens shake in fear at my fury and anguish. This could not be happening. That my son, me of the co-ordinated nails, shoes and handbag, would decree it completely acceptable to be seen in public in clothes that I place in his shelf for home-wearing purposes and in all the mismatched myriad colours of the rainbow, and then, add as a finishing touch, yellow Crocs. Yellow Crocs. This was the point at which I gave up trying to make him suitable enough to be let loose for the viewing pleasure of the public without causing an outbreak of pink eye, resigning myself to the fact that the public would have to lump it, and put my head to the wall in repetitive motion.
Once upon a time, in the distant past, the child had been one who would refuse to be seen down in the park "Widoud a jakkid". Over a period of time, the jacket, which had been made compulsory wear during the few months that we call winter in Mumbai, became part of regular apparel and it had to be paired with, what he termed "sukdu" jeans. Yup. Skinny jeans, because apparently the wide-legged ones I had bought for him, with such love and foresight of allowing him freedom of movement, etc., especially when it came to sprinting within the playpen at the malls where he then used to insist I incarcerate him for a couple of hours, and not be free to do my window shopping, but needed to be within calling-out distance, which meant I won the title of the Unofficial Champion Hang-On to Railing Outside Playpen mom hands down. And yes, this was also the phase when he would ensure that the decals and print on the jacket and the jeans were in the same colour family and that his shoes echoed the basic colour scheme. We also had a wardrobe that I was in charge of, he being too tiny back then to organise stacks. I remember how, back then, I could barely contain my pride, as I looked on him, co-ordinated from the cap on his head to the shoes on his feet. "My genes," I thought proudly. "My son. He'll make me proud."
The change came about, all of a sudden, when he hit his ninth year. Suddenly, he was going down to the park in the same track pants and t-shirt he had been lolling around at home all day in. Going out, meant, at the max, switching the track pants for trousers, but accompanied by infernal levels of whining if asked to change the t-shirt into something more suitable for public consumption and not likely to be something a scarecrow would reject with disdain. I would beg, plead, fall on my knees, wave before him newer, unfaded t-shirts and jeans that weren't held together on a whim and a prayer, but to no avail. He would not be swayed, influenced or bribed. Going out clothes were now the same as staying-in clothes, and now that the twain had met, they were not likely to part for a long, long while.
Excuse me while I do some head banging on the wall while I come to terms with the fact that in a sea of dapper 10-year-olds in F1 rip-off jackets and tuxedos at birthday parties, mine will be the one making the most noise and getting into the worst scraps and dressed in something that makes me want to not acknowledge in public that I am responsible for him being dressed like the sidekick of a comic book villian. I place the blame for this squarely at the size 11 feet of the Y chromosome donor. The one who considers pulling on a pair of socks that match the outer limit of what he's prepared to do in order to look coordinated; the one who considers a shower and a shave on a non-working day the zenith of grooming. And nonetheless, manages to look scrumptious enough on a good day for me to do the head on rotate Medusa eye-business to keep predatory women from sinking their talons into him. Okay, I'm biased.
Nonetheless, there is a small part of me that is proud of the boy. No. Make that fiercely proud of this boy who is so confident in his own skin that he doesn't care about what he is wearing and how he appears, and is just focused on being comfortable. Perhaps there is a lesson I need to learn from him here, especially at moments when I've stepped out of a pair of killer stilettos at a party and spent the rest of the evening, holding them in my hand, refusing to feel embarrassed for not being cool enough to teeter around no matter that the pinched look on one's face could be mistaken for not having enough roughage in the diet. Or when I'm holding my breath hours at a stretch because of a killer underwire that stabs its way between sixth and seventh rib straight to the heart if I relax. Maybe I need to start being unapologetic about opting for comfort over style. Perhaps I can take courage from The Brat, and know that when you're so at ease in your own skin, it makes you that kind of stylish that no brand or label could ever improve on.