I've seen the future, and her mother is wearing thigh-high go-go boots and short shorts, too.
Standing on the street corner with a boy I can identify by name as well as age are two girls I don’t know. Both are wearing form-fitting striped sweaters, hip-hugging belts, short shorts and high-heeled boots.
Had I not just come from the local library and been on my way to the farmers' market, I might have thought I was visiting Hunts Point in the Bronx. I've never been, mind you, but I've seen the HBO special on its prostitutes.
My husband, trying to balance borrowed books while choosing vegetables, pretended not to notice. He was, no doubt, unable to determine which was worse: the looking or the seeing.
"That's the style in Manhattan, you know," he says off-handedly when I mention the girls' attire later as we select apples from a vendor. "I bet their mothers are wearing the same thing at home."
Oh, the horror.
One way or another, like it or not, this perennial battle of parenthood will be ours one day.
The day will come when we will have to decide whether or not Ittybit leaves the house wearing ... well ... something I'd rather not describe. But until seeing the local street-corner gals, we had thought we'd be in the good-cop side of the fashion patrol.
As two people raised by parents who respected our decisions (to a certain degree) and whose collective teenage fashion faux pas amount to the Miami Vice look (him) and pink-streaked hair and combat boots (me) I can safely speak for him when I say we are feeling ill-prepared to deal with a potential Lolita.
I may be jumping the gun a little since Ittybit has only recently started preschool, but our clothing wars have long-since begun. And horror of all horrors: The seeds of destruction may have already been planted by yours truly.
It turns out her favorite dress -- a backless halter number acquired for $3 over the summer in a Target sale -- has already raised the eyebrow of at least one grandparent.
During a family party I watched in ignominy as the grandma tried her best to cover up Ittybit's naked shoulders. And I had to wonder. Was I one of those moms who thought sexy on a baby was cute? Of course I have trouble putting sexy and baby together in a sentence, but I understand there are people out there who will and do.
My thinking in buying the dress -- aside from its color and rock-bottom price -- was along the lines of: she spends half the summer wearing only a diaper and sunscreen, any piece of cloth would be an improvement. That she clutched the t-shirt soft material to her chest and didn't want to part with it long enough for the cashier to scan the price tag made it all the more attractive. When every outfit is a battlefield, it's nice to have one that’s a coup.
But with one sideways glance -- and the mention of indistinguishable posterior views of mothers and daughters at the shopping mall these days -- part of my world turns sideways.
I'm not sure which team I'm supposed to root for. The navel showing above low-rise pants, the distinctive sound of flip-flops clapping their way through Juniors' departments everywhere might very well belong to someone's mother. The part of you that hates getting old cheers her on, while the part of you that wants your daughter to respect herself jeers in her general direction. Where is the line?
Let's start by some admissions, shall we?
I am hardly ever an appropriately attired grownup. I have worn the same uniform -- Levis jeans, long-sleeve jersey top, bulky sweaters and some form of low-heel boot -- since I was in high school. Now, my clothes are not fashionable but all of my parts (save an ankle here and there) are covered.
I cringe a little every time my husband returns from the grocery store commenting on the latest middle aged woman he thought was a teenager. "PA-thetic," is his assessment.
"Am I any different?" I want to ask. I know I don't look like any of those moms in the commercials: the ones in khaki trousers and pastel blouses with their tasteful three-quarter sleeves. Those women are all happily cleaning the floors with the latest Swiffer product, so I know I'll never look like them. But I don't think I look like the ones vying for the position of prom queen, either.
I suppose we'll just have to wait and see, and hope that parkas will be back in fashion when our day of reckoning comes.
"You won't believe what I just heard," said the husband, munching on a cider doughnut. "A woman at the farm stand was talking about buying her daughter a $300 pair of jeans. She saw my jaw drop at the price, and she said 'yeah, but you should have seen her in them'."
"Thanks, I think I'll pass."