Detour on the Yellow Brick Road

You almost need to wear sunglasses when you look at them. The red glitter is, as Maggie explains, "dazzling." That's not quite the word I'm thinking as my four-year-old daughter pleads, "Please, please, please, can I have these shoes?"

I'm looking at what have to be the most garish shoes ever made. They're classic "Mary Janes," but are covered in red glitter. The salesman informs me that the manufacturer encourages keeping the shoes in separate plastic bags to make sure none of the glitter rubs off.

Besides being outrageously gaudy, the shoes cost more than I think is reasonable for seldom-worn, dress-up shoes. "They're just like the ones Dorothy wears in 'The Wizard of Oz,' " Maggie explains seriously. I point out that a witch was the original owner of those shoes, and given the rest of her costume, it's not as if they were meant to make a major fashion statement.

Maggie will have none of it.

Here we are, my daughter and I, locked in combat over clothes - and she hasn't even entered pre-adolescence yet. I admit that when my daughter was born after three sons, I was delighted at the prospect of choosing little girl clothes.

But almost immediately it became clear that I had not given birth to my very own Barbie doll, to dress as I pleased. Maggie has very definite ideas of what she wants to wear, and even more definite opinions on what she won't wear. While I have visions of smocked dresses, white socks, and patent leather shoes, Maggie prefers sweat pants and sneakers. Usually I allow her preferences to prevail, but these shoes are really hideous.

As I stand in the store, debating the fashion and the cost, I am transported back 30 years to a scene with my own mother. She was a classic dresser. Money was always tight in our household, but each year my mother would put a designer suit on lay-away, paying a little each week, sometimes taking an entire year to pay it off. "Good taste never goes out of style," she would remind me, but I found her taste boring.

I craved whatever those fashion arbiters in the latest teen magazines said would make me the most popular girl in class.

One afternoon we went shopping for a dress to wear to a formal party to be held at a fancy hotel. It was a distant cousin's affair, people I didn't know well, and I was worried about looking stylish. My mother and I shopped and shopped, disagreeing on just about everything until I found what I thought was the "perfect" dress.

My mother must have been horrified, not only at the price, which was outrageous, but even more at the style. It was a mix of velvet and chiffon, with rhinestone buttons the size of silver dollars. Besides not being anything close to stylish, it fit me with not an inch to spare.

I was convinced, however, that I looked like a princess. I pleaded with sincerity and, to my surprise, my mother agreed to purchase it. I wore that dress only once. I outgrew it before another occasion could arise, but I still remember how wonderful I felt, how chic, how satisfied, and secure.

I look at the black patent leather shoes in my hand, and regretfully hand them back to the salesman. "OK, Maggie, you can have the ruby slippers, but don't forget to come back from Oz."

Parents: To submit a first-person essay on your own parenting solutions, send an e-mail to home@csps.com, or write to Parenting, The Christian Science Monitor, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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