I haven’t put much stock in my kids looking picture-perfect. Sure, I can be as much of a sucker as the next person for a really cute outfit from time to time, but I struggle personally to not fall into the pressure of conventional beauty traps — especially gender ones — and had planned to raise kids who felt comfortable valuing beauty on the inside more than their clothes or their hair.
Some days, my daughter goes to school looking like a hot mess and I have to admit I’m proud of it. A striped pastel short-sleeved shirt, hot pink fleece pants, a painter’s cap and a bunch of ponytail elastics as bracelets. She is a site to behold, and I like that she’s figuring out her own style and learning what she likes. “How do I look?” she’ll ask with the total confidence of someone who expects only admiration and praise. Sometimes I reply with a phrase I borrow from a friend when it comes to these complicated outfits: “That’s a lot of look.” But most often, I tell her she looks great.
When it comes to my son, who has a developmental disability, I’ve paid even less attention, if that’s possible, to how he looks. His genetic syndrome, in addition to behavioral and medical challenges, also brings physical characteristics which are, shall we say, congenital anomolies. Some people would call them birth defects. Others would call them dysmorphic features. I wouldn’t. I think he’s beautiful just the way he is, of course. Because he personally doesn’t seem to care much about what he wears, it’s very easy in the hustle and bustle of everyday life — and let’s be honest, I’m chronically exhausted — to not pay attention to the details of the fit of his clothes, how overdue he is for a haircut or how fashionable his sneakers are.
But I’m re-thinking my position how much attention we should spend on appearance.
A month ago I found myself at a Tommy Hilfiger outlet buying the perfect skinny jeans (for those of us with failure-to-thrive kids, skinny jeans are a real gift!) and a beautiful plaid shirt that fit him well and looked super cool. Aviator glasses (which he proceeded to break in one day, but they were only $3) completed the look. Maybe it’s not your idea of style, but he looked significantly better than when he wears his washed out t-shirts and sweat pants.
Then a couple of weeks ago I was telling a colleague that I had signed up both kids for soccer. She asked if I had gotten my son a “proper” soccer uniform. “These kids don’t care,” I said. “They can just wear street clothes.” But with her urging and on reflection, I realized that there were a few kids who were wearing soccer clothes, and that my son had maybe even more a reason to have them than anyone. So to the sporting goods store we went.
Now I’m on a quest to find the perfect hairdresser — someone who isn’t just patient and kind toward him, but someone who loves cutting hair really well and will take on the challenge of finding a flattering style that works with his hair and his head shape, which is a little special, just like him.
It feels a little weird, all this concern with looks and being cool. As with so many things, being a parent of a child with special needs is making me do things, say things and think things that I never expected. Maybe inner beauty is more important that outer beauty. (Although I’m beginning to wonder if I just don’t appreciate outer beauty because it’s not a quality I possess.) But then again, why shouldn’t he get the chance to be beautiful both inside and out, too?