There he is, my 9-year-old, headed out on a bright, warm morning to greet the day: one red sock, one white; his shoes untied; and wearing his T-shirt inside out, with the oversized tags flapping at the back of his head. What must the neighbors think?
With the exception of getting him to tie his shoes for safety's sake, I wield almost no influence over Anton's dressing habits, although I've tried. I lay out his clothes in the morning and summon him from bed. But when he finally comes downstairs, he has made his own choices. That's fine with me - but it's the way he wears those choices that sometimes gives me pause.
Such as when he misbuttoned his shirt one day. When he came down to breakfast, I instinctively reached out to correct the situation. But when he saw what I was up to, he gasped, shrank back, and yelled out, "I want it that way!"
Or the time, when he was 5, that he put his underwear on the outside of his clothing. I managed to reverse course on that one, but he sulked until the cows came home, the message being that I had insulted his taste.
And then there was the winter parka on a blistering July day. "You'll roast," I told him as I held up a nice light mesh tank top, at which he wrinkled his nose. He managed to keep that winter coat on through half the day - and seemed to be enjoying it.
Thinking back to my own childhood, I can't recall any incidents of zany dressing. I attribute this to my not having had many options. My wardrobe consisted basically of "play" clothes and "school" clothes. I alternated between the two like clockwork, and woe to me if I mistreated either.
In short, there was something like a mandate to respect one's clothing, no doubt a reflection of my family's modest means.
Today, by contrast, clothing is cheap for those who know where to shop for it (almost everything my son has ever worn has come from the local thrift shop, where even jeans can be had for 35 cents).
The result, in our home, is a glut of garments that makes closing a dresser drawer an exercise in raw stamina and perseverance.
Watching a 9-year-old dress is a thing to behold. Just this morning I decided to hover out of sight while he pulled himself together.
I had laid out on the edge of his bed a pair of brown shorts, a red T-shirt, and two white socks. As I looked on, he picked up the shorts, considered them, and then unceremoniously dropped them on the floor, electing instead to pull from the hamper a pair of soiled, wrinkled plaid shorts that had been bound for the washer.
As for the red T-shirt, he didn't give it a moment's thought, but rather shoved it under his pillow and took a blue and white-striped button-down shirt from a hanger. I watched as he carefully misbuttoned it, turned up the collar, and tucked one shirttail in, leaving the other hanging out. The socks made it onto his feet without editing.
By the time Anton came out of his room and entered the kitchen, I had had time to prepare my response. He came over to me, and I gave him the once-over. Going through my head was, "Hmm. Stripes and plaid. And that shirttail. My gosh..."
But what my better nature prompted me to actually say was, "Good morning, son. You look, er, great today."
As we walked hand in hand through town to his summer day camp, neighbors greeted us amiably, wondering, perhaps, who had dressed that unfortunate child.
But I have, over time, come to peace with Anton's determination to do things his own way in matters of attire. If I thought that he didn't know better, I would continue my attempts to primp and match and button things as usually ordained.
But he does know better. Yet he continues to take the sartorial road not traveled. Although I sometimes wince, I realize that these are, at root, the workings of an independent mind, and who knows to what interesting ends his free-willism will lead him?
For now, I walk with him, my head held high, Yet there's something very small within me, a wee inkling of a thought that there would be no harm in hanging a sign on him that reads, "Yes, his father knows."
But I would no sooner do that than wear plaids and stripes.