WardRObed, Day 2: Stars and striped socks forever


My 5-year old daughter is dressing me for one week. Today was Day 2. (Here’s Day 1.)

When you’re 5, there’s not a whole lot you have control over. Someone else tells you when to go to bed, what you can watch on TV, when you can watch TV, whether you can have dessert. You have to clean up after yourself (or sometimes, when life is particularly unfair, after your little brother), make noise at the appropriate volume, eat your vegetables, and go wherever the vehicle you’re strapped into takes you. You wear a coat when someone else feels cold. You have to get in the bathtub right this minute, no excuses. You have to do your homework.

We have to do a lot of these kinds of things as adults, too, but we also have the freedom not to do them. Jail time for breaking laws and money constraints aside, we pretty much have the power to please our small everyday whims. No one’s going to send us to timeout for skipping our morning shower (thank god). And we might just decide to have dessert twice. Instead of dinner.


I’ve made the comment many times that Rosie never liked being a baby, and I think it was completely and totally because of lack of control. As she’s gotten older and become responsible for more of her daily goings on, she seems to like life a lot better.

Already, by day two of this experiment, I can see how satisfying it is for Rosie to be calling the shots. After she chooses all the pieces of my outfit, I try the whole ensemble on, and she steps back with a finger to pursed lips, assessing her work. With an air of authority, she either declares it just right, or she switches out an element for something Just Righter. (In today’s outfit, it was the shoes.) I always do what she says, willingly. How often, as a 5-year old middle child, do you have A.) the full attention and B.) the complete cooperation of your mom? In this house, not very often.


Today, she originally chose bright green ballet flats to complete this look, but it only took her one once-over to decide that they weren’t right. (Which, frankly, was a relief. Together with the pink and cream striped socks she picked out, I was looking a little bizarre.) So she dipped into my closet and emerged with black ankle boots. The entire outfit consisted of grey polka dot pants, blue shirt with black stars, a bulky wool cardigan in shades of light brown and cream, the boots, and pink, brown, and cream striped socks (not shown). I call it Rosie’s “Star Surprise.”


Rosie says:

“I always try to do my best, so I just pick what’s perfect. I love blue and black, they go just right together. And high heels. High heels are the best.”

I was asked (by my sister) today if the shirt I was wearing was purchased with the intent to be a sleep shirt, and while I didn’t explicitly buy it as pajamas, it is from a store that markets almost exclusively to teenagers. (I bought it in a consignment shop, though. I have my dignity! Mostly.)

Again, this is not an outfit I would have put together myself, not even remotely. But I didn’t feel weird or dumb wearing it. I felt like I looked pretty alright. And I cannot overstate the confidence boost it is to have your 5-year old beam with pride when you present yourself for the day. It’s like the reaction you get when your kid witnesses you wearing their lovingly-crafted macaroni necklace to a fancy restaurant. Times 100.

I think she’s absorbing something good, sitting at the helm of this small decision-making ship. I’m not sure I can articulate exactly what that something is, but I hope it’s something along the lines of: Your opinion matters.

Because it does. And so does she.


October 23, 2014   3 Comments

WardRObed, Day 1: There Will Be Patterns


My 5-year old daughter is dressing me for one week. Today was Day 1.

Rosie will be 6 in seven days, but sometimes I swear she’s 16. Or 26. Or some indeterminable grownup age where she just knows herself and what she’s about in a way that it’s taken me 36 years and counting to figure out. She goes through most days with a healthy dose of Kindergarten (or younger) behavior, so it’s not like I forget she’s 5, but there are moments when an older edge shows and she settles into herself all comfortable and confident-like.

Consistently, this comfortable place of Rosie confidence shows up when clothes are involved.

It’s not that she hasn’t had problems with clothing, because we’ve waged many a Mighty Battle over the ill-fit of a sleeve or the scratchiness of a seam, but for the most part, when it’s time to get dressed, she takes .5 seconds to decide what she wants—often because she’s thought about it already, or because she just knows what will work. She makes an outfit pop in a way I haven’t seen in many other kids. I think it’s (one of) her things: expression through outfitting.

And true to form, on this first day of dressing me, she does not hesitate when we throw open my closet and drawers. It honestly only took her about 2 minutes from shirt to shoes to pick out this:

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According to Rosie:

“I really like shapes. I wanted you to have lots of shapes, and you do! You have dots and stripes and cheetah. That makes it good.”

(This is what she wore to school today, by the way):


All that outfit choosing for today took place after school yesterday, because getting three kids and two adults out the door every morning leaves negative 15 minutes for shenanigans like letting your 5-year old pick your clothes out, so doing it the day before makes way more sense. This is a great system for two other reasons, too. One, it totally saves me 5 to 10 (or 20, depending on how much an outfit-choosing crisis I’m in) minutes in the morning, because my clothes are decided and ready for me. (Yes, I know I could have already been doing this for myself every night, but you hush now.) And two, because this morning, Rosie, who must have forgotten all about our new project, lit up like a Christmas tree when I walked into the room wearing “her” outfit. That’ll sure start a day off in the plus column, right there.

As for people’s reactions to what I was wearing, not one person commented on my outfit. I think it was “normal” enough (though not something I ever would have assembled myself) that it just looked like a more colorful/patterned version of outfits I already wear. I felt put together—differently put together, but put together. I commented to L just the other day that my drawers seemed to be full of black, grey, and navy, but Rosie showed me that there’s plenty of color, too, if I look hard enough. So … maybe my 5-year old has a great fashion sense, or maybe I have the fashion sense of a 5-year old. It’s too early in the week to tell.

But so far, with one day down, I’m totally digging this project. And Rosie and I are really having fun talking about my clothes and what she thinks looks good, and why. Seeing into the mind of any 5-year old is pretty spectacular, but getting a glimpse of the magic that makes Rosie Mae tick? Well, maybe I have found a point to this just-for-fun-no-point project, after all.

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(Read the intro post to this whole shebang here.)

October 22, 2014   8 Comments

The Great WardRObe Experiment


It all started one regular school morning when we were rushing around to get out of the house, slinging backpacks and tying shoelaces and fumbling with hairbrushes, etc. Because of the nature of my new-this-year (incredible, life-changing) work schedule, I can decide most days whether I want to get up early and do school drop off looking like an actual person, or “sleep in” an extra 20 minutes and do the leggings/glasses/greasy hair walk of shame. I’d say I average around 50 percent person days and 50 percent greasy walk of shame days. This is me winning at life.

On this particular morning, I had actually put in effort to get dressed. Meaning: I showered and put on clean clothes. Thoughtfully selected clothes, though, mind you. Now, I’m no style icon, but I do enjoy a nice outfit. I don’t always have money or time to focus on curating a uniquely-me wardrobe, but I like expressing myself, in what little way I can, with my clothing. I have one rule for my personal fashion, and it’s this: If I like it, I wear it. That means that sometimes I’m wearing a shirt that 9 out of 10 people think is ugly and/or tacky, and sometimes I’m wearing boots that 9 out of 10 people also own. But I decided a while back that worrying about whether something was “in” or “too trendy” or “so last year” took way too much effort (and dollahz), so I decided to just wear what I want. Which isn’t revolutionary (or shouldn’t be), but I did actually consciously decide to do this, it wasn’t just innate. There is probably a whole book to be written about such things, but that’s not what this post is about.

What this post is about is an idea that was planted after Rosie made a comment to me just as we were about to walk out the door. If you’ve followed along here for any amount of time, or know me in real life, you know that Rosie is a girl who knows herself. She loves what she loves and does not love what she does not love. This is especially true when it comes to clothing herself.


(Rosie at age 2)

Sometimes the gaze of her eye for style rests on me, and that’s what happened on that harried morning: As I stood there, pleading with beckoning Max to come out the door, Rosie stood looking at me critically, and after a moment, said sadly, “I’m really sorry you had to wear that old shirt today, Mama.” And she was truly chagrined. I could see it. It was as if she knew I had so much to offer, but was just not living up to my potential. I think my 5-year old was … disappointed in my style.

Honestly, it didn’t bother me that much (it’s not my first critical-Rosie-comment rodeo, after all), but when I mentioned it in a Facebook forum, one of my (wise and witty) friends made a comment:  “Imagine if you let her pick your outfit. There would be … patterns. And accessories. Though, it would somehow work.”

And I thought: Yes. Yes, this is a thing we are going to do.

So that afternoon when I picked her up from school, I asked her if she wanted to help me with a special project where she picked out my clothes every day for a week. Initially she was apprehensive, until I explained that I would wear whatever she chose. She had free reign. After I told her that, she lit up like a Christmas tree, and it was ON. I think if you were to measure, at this point, who was more excited about the idea, it would be a draw.

AND SO, henceforth I declare, after a super-longer-than-I-intended intro, The Great WardRObe Experiment to be underway.


• Rosie (age 5 years, 11.75 months) will select my outfit for one whole week, beginning today (10/22) and ending on her 6th birthday (10/29).

• She will choose my whole (visible) ensemble, down to my shoes and socks. I will do my own hair.

• I will make no suggestive comments. The only comments I will make will be along the lines of “Am I wearing everything the way you want?” and “Is the outfit complete?”

• I have the right to request more or less clothing pieces due to temperature concerns. (But will do my best not to alter original suggestions.)

• I will tell no one who comments on my appearance that my 5-year old dressed me.

• I will take a photo and record my observations every day.


There is no point*. It’s just fun. There may be some Deeper Life Lesson learned, or I may just end up looking like a goober for seven days straight. Who knows. But I’m definitely more than a little intrigued to see what this girl will drum up as my stylist. If I had to make a guess, I’d say life is about to get a little more colorful. Let’s do it.


*Well, unless you count getting me to write for kicks again. Which I’ve been missing something fierce. So that’s a definite bonus.

(Here’s Day One.)

October 22, 2014   4 Comments

Max in the middle

On Max’s second birthday, we gave him the family tricycle, which was first put under the Christmas tree by my grandparents for an almost-2 Noah, and then resurrected for Rosie when she hit the two-year mark. This is one of the advantages of having kids 3.5 years apart—toys can be regifted with the recipient being none the wiser. “Look at your new tricycle! Hang on, let me get that spider nest off it real quick.”

Max is more physically … something than the other two kids at this age. Aware? Astute? It may be just because he has two siblings to observe and mimic, or it may be a trait associated with the genes for blond curly hair and blue eyes, but I’ve seen him sink a toy basketball into a wall hoop mounted six and a half feet off the floor three times in a row, swish, swish, swish. And when we presented him with the trike, he climbed right on and attempted to pedal. He would have been successful, too, if it weren’t for a missing inch of leg. Instead, he sat on the top step behind the seat and scooted himself around the house at his pleasure, cornering his ride like a pro within the afternoon.

Today as I sat semi-working, semi-cooking (waiting for water to boil), Max rolled past me on his chariotrike. Every time he crosses my path when he’s riding some toy through the house, he stops and says, “Hey, Mama.” And every time, the familiarity and contentment that radiate through those two words fill me from head to toe with tingly pleasure, like I’ve been lowered into a nice warm bath. “Hey, baby,” I always reply. (Once, I said, “Goodnight, Max,” as my answer, and that displeased him greatly. “No! Hey BABY!” he reminded me. And so forevermore it shall be.)

After our usual exchange, he held out his hand, palm up, and he lowered his voice to a whisper, “Wook,” he said, hushedly. “Wooka DAT.” I peered at his outstretched hand, but couldn’t see anything, awe-inspiring or otherwise. He’s been known to pick up microscopic pieces of detritus off the floor and carefully transport them to me so I can “fro it inna trash can,” which I dutifully do, but this time I didn’t see so much as a speck. “Oh!” I said. “Look at that!” He looked down intently at his fingers with a reverent gaze.

He is settling more and more into himself these days, like 2 is exactly the age he wants to be right now. Rosie always (has) had  an air of impatience with the limitations of her years, and Noah, the scout of the Ellis children, maintains a hint of timidity as he charts new responsibilities and experiences on which his siblings have yet to embark. Max, though, Max is all about the here and now. He arrived into a mix, and the mix is what he loves. If the gang’s riding scooters, he’s gliding right alongside. If chase is the game of choice, he’s always in third, only a slight pause behind runners one and two. When you ask him how old he is, he says, “I be TWO! I be OLD.”

Except he’s not old to me—he’s Just Right. My baby, but not a baby. Funny and stubborn and round-bellied and captivating. And captivated with the two kids whose shoes made the first scuff marks on the well-loved tricycle he uses to follow them from room to room with hearts in his eyes. Max in the mix.

So when he presents me with his invisible offering atop dirt-lined, still-chubbed fingers, I accept it solemnly. “I got it,” I whisper. He nods, satisfied that I recognize the importance of what we’ve both held there between us.


May 28, 2014   5 Comments

Is, was, shall be

Last week out of the blue, Noah decided he was going to start walking to school solo. We live within spitting distance of the building, but up until that point, despite our encouragement on the matter, he had been steadfast about maintaining a Noah-parent cohort for his block and a half jaunt each morning. I had been insistent he try it without us a few times, thinking his autonomy was “better” for him and for us, until finally Luke pointed out that it was likely Noah was clinging to the one small shred of one-on-one time he could still claim during that walk.

Which, of course he was. And when I looked at the calendar and realized how few days he had left at a school we could see from our front lawn if we strained our necks, I started clinging to it, too.


It’s not that he doesn’t want us to walk him in the mornings any more. He’d probably be happy to accept company. But he’s always (always) ready before we are, and I would bet money he’s one of the first kids through the front doors of the school. He loves arriving early, beating his classmates to the punch/seat. Some days I feel like I’ve barely been out of bed before he appears before me, bookbag slung over one shoulder (“Someone told me only nerds carry their bookbags on one shoulder. I don’t think he’s right, but … I just want to, anyway.”), ready for the hug he gives me every morning without fail.

And so it looks like we’ve arrived again to the in-between place.


When he wakes in the morning, sleep-lined cheeks reminiscent of a 2-year old face guide his 12-year-old sized feet to the kitchen where 9-year old savvy helps him pour milk into a bowl containing enough cereal to feed a 15-year old breakfast.

He needs no assistance to ready himself for the day, often reminding me of permission slips and lunch money and school events that start at 8:30, Mom—so you may want to walk over at 8:25 to get a good seat. He’s careful to comb his hair, slicking down the cowlicks. He helps his brother put on pants. He rolls his eyes at his sister. He flops down on the couch and picks up his book, starting it where he left off, on page 432.

He helps in the kitchen. Scrambles eggs. Sets the table without asking. Brings the recycling bin in from the street. Sweeps.

But at night, before sleep, he still wants us to tuck him in.


Tell me stories from when I was little.

You used to call rakes “brakes.” You hated it when cars parked on grass. You were scared of the hair dryer. You slept with a Matchbox car in each hand every night. You made the funniest face ever when we fed you peas. Once you fell and chipped your front tooth and I cried. The first time I ever saw you, you reached your arms straight for me, like you knew I was the one who wanted to hold you most.

Once you asked us to walk you to school, even though it was only a block away.

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May 21, 2014   4 Comments