Rainbows In Her Head: My Daughter the Self-Dresser

From toddlerhood on, Hannah dressed herself in eclectic ensembles pulled out of drawers the moment she was able to reach into them. Every outfit is a fashion statement by a girl who has not yet been burdened with the filter of fitting in.
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I was 42 when my husband and I welcomed our first and only child into this world. She was my third child, his first. Two big, burly sons from my first marriage would now be joined and duly pestered by this exquisite bit of sugar and spice that burst through the door of life and into all of ours.

Joy, joy, a little girl to brush and dress, a little girl to groom and style, a mini-me to fulfill all my maternal dreams of girlie fluff, pomp and circumstance. Hannah is my Little House in the Big Woods Laura; Hannah is my Secret Garden Mary. Why, Hannah is even a feminine version of a Max in a household that, honor-bound to Sendak, quotes him in moments of discipline with a resounding, reverential "Be Still!" Joy also exists in the opportunity I have been given as an older parent, where some measure of wisdom from life's lessons learned and gratitude for my reproductive good fortune lend vast amounts of good humor and patience into the mix, for which I wouldn't trade a single, backwards year of time travel.

Now I, or so I thought, had a girl of my very own to make pretty-pretty. Hannah, at age 2 days, did indeed sport a cotton sleeper adorned with baby mermaids, and I did manage to put her tiny feet into baby shoes adorned with leather cupcakes. I was even able to pull over her bald, blonde noggin a long-sleeved T-shirt that boasted a giant, gem-studded peace sign, my teeny-weeny homage to Lennon. But then she learned to walk and talk, and one of the first sentences my daughter spouted was, "I can do this!"

By the time my daughter was in kindergarten, she had figured out how to draw correct prismatic progressions of color. They showed up on almost every drawing and watercolor she produced. "Mommy," Hannah once told me, "I see rainbows in my head."

As it turns out, I was the mother of a Self-Dresser. If you've seen a Pippi-esque ragamuffin at the playground or at the mall, or a slightly disheveled fairy princess at a restaurant, you have not necessarily seen an ill-kept child; you may have spotted a self-dresser. Other moms have looked at me, puzzled, and said: "Why, I just lay their outfits out on the bed and my girls put them on." Sounds nice, sounds easy, I would think as I folded and refolded all the castoffs that didn't make it to the carefully-constructed, "mitch-matched" (as Hannah called it) heap designated as tomorrow's outfit. Yes, my daughter also plans ahead.

Mitch-matched and Hannah vetted means a different sock on each foot. Mitch-matched and Hannah vetted means purple-flowered arm-warmers that in a previous life served as knee socks. It means skirts of every color worn over pants of every color; it means stripes and polka dots with plaids, pajama tops over hoodies, bobbing antennae layered over stretchy hairbands. It means abstract fabric equations coordinated with the fabulous fashion logic of a bright and shining young intellect who is, as yet, the center of as balanced a little universe her loving family can provide. It's a fashion statement by a girl who has not yet been burdened with the filter of fitting in.

I learned over many years how to heed my personal fashion muse; a simple blend of courage and creativity has helped me present a self I would honestly like to see reflected back. And the less I cater to superficial fashion standards, the better I look, act and feel. Nothing against learning the old-fashioned way, through time and trial, but if my daughter can identify that song in two notes, I say: Go for it. From toddlerhood on, Hannah dressed herself in eclectic ensembles pulled out of drawers the moment she was able to reach into them. She was the little girl the neighborhood came to know as the corner-property fairy, the one who would fly up and down the sidewalk on her Dora scooter, replete in satin skirts and her frayed, sparkle-edged wings. Pre-daughter, I remember seeing mothers whose broods would include one child dressed in a way that might indicate some lack of parental boundaries. Years later, I found myself writing my daughter's first-grade teacher an email to explain that, though Hannah would at times come to school in outfits that might suggest zero parental supervision, I would always make sure she would at least be dressed in items that were weather- and temperature-appropriate. Some things are worth fighting over; some are not. I will work to keep Hannah safe, healthy and civil. As for the way she dresses, I will let that be.

So, move over all you It Girls. There lives on the distant outer banks of your prêt-à-porter anchor cities one Little Miss Hannah who, having mastered refractive bands of light, actually wears them.


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