"I've decided I want to be WARM this winter."
It seems an obvious enough declaration, but any parent of a teenage girl will recognize the significance of the utterance. Because, like so many things feminine, comfort and fashion have very few points of intersection. If the girl is going to be WARM this winter, she is, almost certainly, going to be UNFASHIONABLE.
I think I just felt the earth tip on its axis, just a little.
"Sophie and Emma and I have decided that we're all going to buy ugly boots to wear to and from school, and we'll keep nice boots in our lockers to wear at school."
"Ugly boots" being warm, you see, with actual traction on the soles; "nice boots" being pretty and stylish, but useless as functioning winter footwear.
It seems like a good plan to me. And, given that the girl's feet seem to have FINALLY STOPPED GROWING (I hear bells, I swear I do), I tell her that I will invest in a top-quality pair that, since fashion is not an issue, can last for the rest of high school. The expectation is made crystal-clear: since any other boots she will require will be cosmetic only, she will purchase them. This pair will be the last I buy her till graduation. This is fine.
Off we go to the upscale sports outfitters for a pair of quality, insulated hiking boots, like those worn by her brother and me. She wants a pair like mine. Easy. We can be in and out in ten minutes. Her mood is calmly cheerful. Except... they don't have her size in that boot. Her mood makes a downward shift.
We peruse the display, boot after boot covering a largish wall before us. The array is vast. I suggest this boot or that. The salesman makes an informative comment or two. Rebekah gives me, him, and the boots a blank stare.
"It doesn't matter, mom. They're all ugly." She says it quietly, so as not to insult the nice salesman, but her voice is rich with sincerity.
I tell the salesman which two pair 'we' will be trying on. He trots off.
She puts on the first pair. Slowly. She stands up. Slowly. She walks around. Slowly. She looks in the mirror, and blanches. Visibly. You know that expression about how someone "shrank into herself"? I now know what that looks like.
"Are they comfortable?" This is me.
"Yes. They're fine." Her voice is very, very quiet, thready and washed-out, so intense is her misery. I have to tip my head to her ear to catch it, but she is speaking. This, at 15, is called "making an effort".
"They're warm to thirty below, and they're day hikers, so they have a softer, more flexible sole," pipes the helpful salesman. She gives him a weak smile. He wanders off.
She paces some more and gazes on her reflection. A wince flickers across her somber face.
"I'm trying to decide if I can bear to wear these with my skinny jeans." Her voice is flat with despair.
I let fly with a shout of laughter.
"MOM. It is NOT FUNNY."
No, of course not. Not in any way. I indulge in no further displays of unseemly and insensitive hilarity. Shame on me, anyway.
Suppressed laughter makes your ears pop, did you know that?
I try for sensitivity. I am the very model of patience.
"How about you try on the other pair?" Because, you know, maybe they'll be better. Maybe familiarity will breed contentment.
She gives me a look. I just Don't Get It, and no amount of patience and attempted sensitivity is disguising this pathetic fact from my child.
"It doesn't matter, mom. They're all ugly."
Okay. Sensitivity takes a back seat to practicality. Let's talk turkey here. "Okay, sweetie. I am willing to spend a LOT of money on these boots, but only if you will wear them. Are you going to wear them?"
"They're my only pair. I'll have no choice."
Not good enough. That's not going to prevent her buying a pair of flimsy, frivolous, toe-freezing boots at her earliest opportunity. I give her The Look.
"I'll wear them, mom. I want to be warm."
All right, then.
"They're pretty comfortable, mom, and they're really warm," she announced yesterday, having returned from walking the dog. She's not whispering, and she is smiling.
She's coming around.
She was walking the dog in the dark. Alone. But still, she was OUT IN PUBLIC. Someone COULD HAVE SEEN HER. She's coming around. She's not there yet, I know. Fashionistas don't bow to practicality without powerful internal struggle. But she's waging the battle with courage! determination! strength! She's coming around.