I never devised an appropriate way to get back at my mother for the shame of it all. I dreamed of it for years, though.
We were shopping in the Post Exchange department store (called the PX by military folk). I stood still as she whipped a pair of jeans from the rack and held them against my waist. The hem of the pants lay across the carpet, so she shoved the hanger back onto the metal arm. The second pair she chose grazed the tops of my LA Gears. Those, she tossed into the shopping cart where my two-year-old brother sat.
I grimaced. We were in the wrong section.
Mommy had rolled the cart right past the land of sequins and butterflies into the staid neutrals of the boys’ section. She was not shopping for my brother. No, the olive pants and navy jeans piling up were meant for me, and they were Boys’ Clothes.
“No reason why you can’t wear these bottoms and hand them down to your brother,” she quipped. Five years stretched between my age and his; he would be waiting to wear those pants for an eternity.
Nothing made Boys’ Clothes look cute. The rough-and-tumble fabric stood stiffly against my limbs. I had the washboard build of a boy but did not play like one. I peered around to make sure no one recognized me. If my friends ever found out, they would add this tidbit of knowledge to their arsenal, aim, and shoot jokes like spiked Nerf balls.
As it happened, I would grow up, grow out of the boys’ clothes my mother bought, and voluntarily drape my developing body in XXL tee shirts and baggy jeans. I eventually found the girls’ section. The Boys’ Clothes I used to wear became an anecdote, even though I swore I would never do that to my kids.
Yesterday, checking out at the grocery store, my 18-month-old daughter glowered at me from the cart because I wouldn’t break her off one of the pickles in the basket.
“He sure is mean-mugging,” the cashier commented.
I almost corrected her with “She,” but then looked hard at my baby. I laughed and nodded. My daughter wore a red tee-shirt and too-big khaki pants, both purchased from the boys’ section. In a hurry that morning, I had neglected to mark her as female with hair bows.
It was not an affront for the cashier to call my girl a boy. My baby did look rather androgynous without Pepto Bismol colors on.
I guess my mother got away with one this time. I hated every minute I wore Boys’ Clothes, but indirectly, it taught me that the clothes never make the girl, anyway.