For a decade I’ve been outfitting Cooper with relative ease.
He’s not picky. His most pressing need in a wardrobe is comfort. Beyond that, I’ve had free rein in choosing his clothes.
So, I tend to shop online or in stores without him. His closet is stocked mostly with items purchased without his permission, and he’s never complained about a single piece.
Until last week.
I’d had my eye on a long-sleeved T-shirt that seemed to suit him perfectly. Soft blue cotton with the phrase “MAD SCIENTIST” printed in green on the front. (One of his career aspirations is, in fact, to be a mad scientist.)
The shirt was on sale, so I bought it. I couldn’t wait to get home and show him my find.
“Look at what I got you, Cooper!”
“Hmm.” He studied it and chose his words carefully. “That’s a good shirt for the house but not for fifth grade.”
“Oh. Huh. I thought you’d really like it. I mean, feel this fabric. And did you read the words?”
Apparently, the words are the deal killer.
Cooper tells me that things will be different in fifth grade. He doesn’t want to wear a shirt that would draw attention.
Solids and stripes are OK. T-shirts from running races and some past vacations are OK.
Random phrases are not.
Also, he’d prefer not to wear shirts with collars.
“No one else wears those dress shirts,” he says, emphasizing “no one” in a way that dares me to question the truth.
“No one, Cooper? You’re the only one who wears those polo shirts with collars?”
“Well, almost no one.”
Veteran parents inform me that this shirt incident is but a harbinger of changes to come in fifth grade. They’re fuzzy with details, though.
The details are becoming clearer every day.
He’s usually a chipper morning person, waking on his own and eager to start the day. The past few weeks, I often wake him just in time for whatever we’ve got planned for the day. And then the whole house endures some groggy grumpiness until his morning cloud clears.
This week at vacation Bible school, Cooper has been hanging back, making side comments more than he participates. He’s reluctant to sing and dance with the crowd. When it’s time to sway your arms high in the air, he kind of sort of moves his hands, hip level, to the beat of the music.
As my son is changing, I’m learning how much to change with him.
When I noticed his less-than-enthusiastic attitude at VBS on Monday, I decided to let it go. I can’t force him to be happy about singing and dancing and playing with younger children.
But when he balked at a group project and pouted when the outcome wasn’t in his favor, I pulled him aside for a quick talk.
He doesn’t have to love the VBS experience, but he does have to be respectful of others.
Same with grouchy mornings. I’ve acknowledged that it’s normal to sometimes wake up in a bad mood. But it’s not acceptable to spread the feeling with mumbles and flimsy squabbles. Even when you’d rather be snuggled up in bed, you have to be respectful of others.
And that T-shirt is headed back to the store. Twenty-five dollars is too much to spend on loungewear for a growing boy. And I’m not going to force him to wear a novelty T-shirt outside the house.
I do have to be respectful of others — including my soon-to-be fifth-grader.
Collared shirts are still on the table.
Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.