Welcome to another installment in a series where I share my vast knowledge with fathers everywhere.
Perhaps at some point in your pre-parenthood life, you have observed a certain type of man in the mall or the grocery store with his children. This man is generally unshaven, dressed in a sweatshirt he’s owned since college, and might actually be wearing slippers. Say he has two kids, a girl and a boy. The boy is probably wearing a Batman mask, his bathing suit, rubber boots and a T-shirt with ketchup stains. The girl is dressed in eight different colours that not only don’t match, they are actively at war with each other.
You see this man and you think, “Wow. I would never go out in public with my kids looking like that.”
To which I say: Ha. Ha. Hahahahaha. Just you wait.
Once you have children, you realize that dressing them, and keeping them dressed, is more of a challenge than you expected. You learn this the first time you change your kid’s diaper at 3 a.m. and try to do up those accursed little dome buttons with half-asleep sausage fingers while your child is shivering and twitching and screaming his lungs out. I don’t know who decided that infant pajamas should come with 27 tiny metal buttons, but if I ever meet him, we will have words.
Get used to doing up those buttons, because babies go through a lot of clothes. Gideon, our one-year-old, went through three shirts yesterday. The first one lasted exactly four minutes. I got him dressed, brought him upstairs, and he promptly reached up on the kitchen table and spilled a lukewarm cup of coffee all over himself.
(I won’t even tell you what happened to shirt #2.)
And changing him is not easy. He is wiry and feisty and loves to be chased, but does NOT like to be contained. Dressing him is like trying to put a shirt on a cornered, angry wombat.
It’s a step forward when your children are old enough to dress themselves, but clothing doesn’t cease to become a struggle. Our usual bedtime routine with the older two goes like this:
(6:15 p.m.) Me: “OK boys, time to get your pajamas on.”
(6:27 p.m. Both boys in their room, playing Lego. Oscar fully clothed, Xander not wearing pants.)
Me: “Guys, what did I ask you to do? You’d better have your pajamas on when I come back.”
(6:34 p.m. Dirty clothes hanging from the bookshelf, pajamas nowhere to be seen. Boys engaged in Ancient Greek-style naked wrestling.)
Me: “WHY IS NOBODY WEARING PAJAMAS? WHY WILL NOBODY LISTEN TO ME?”
At this stage, clothing become a give-and-take relationship that requires delicate negotiation skills. Once kids can dress themselves and start to become more independent, they’ll make some odd choices. For example, Oscar asserts his will by purposely wearing things backwards. Yesterday he wore his Luigi Halloween costume, and he managed to go the whole day without putting on underwear.
Meanwhile, Xander wore the same shirt, and Superman cape, for the third day in a row.
We let this stuff go, because—and this is one of the wisest pieces of parental advice I have, so pay close attention: Most clothing battles are just not worth fighting.
Let’s face it, most of the arguments over clothing choices have nothing to do with whether our kids are warm and comfortable; it has to do with appearance. And more specifically, what we think other people will think of us when they see our kids. The battle for clothes goes a lot smoother when you accept that being a parent means surrendering a portion of your dignity.
So here are a few guiding principles to help you decide if your kids are appropriately dressed for public appearance:
Stains: If a T-shirt has blood on it, it should probably come off. You never know when a social worker might be lurking about. But a little bit of yogourt or ice cream? Eh, who cares.
Coats: Many kids hate wearing coats. Our oldest is one of them. My general rule of thumb: as long I can’t see my breath or a layer of frost, he’s OK. No kid ever died from flash-freezing on the walk from the house to the car.
Shoes/socks: If there’s two of them, that’s a good sign. A matching pair is just icing on the cake.
Underwear: It’s a good idea if they’re wearing shorts. Otherwise, who’s gonna know?
Backups: Until your kid is about five, you might want to stick a spare pair of pants in your vehicle for emergencies. Trust me, this is for your benefit as much as theirs. That kid who accidentally pees himself will eventually want to be carried.
Finally, let me offer some personal wardrobe advice: if your job requires you to look halfway presentable, don’t get dressed until the last possible moment before you leave the house. At the very least, wait until after your kids have breakfast. I usually follow this rule religiously, but last Friday I took my chances and dressed right after I got out of the shower—and before I fed Gideon.
Naturally, as I was heading out the front door that I realized there was a giant patch of dried oatmeal on my crotch.
(And if you’re wondering if I went back and changed my pants… like I said, when you’re a parent you just roll with it.)