Sunday, May 27, 2007

A Matter of Style

I admit it -- I never had a "Baby On Board" sign in the window of my car. I don't have a bumper sticker proclaiming that my child is an honor student at her grade school. I don't have customized window stickers with little stick figures of the mommy, the daddy, the sister, the brother, and the cat on the back window of my minivan. I do not lovingly press and save every weed my kids bring me from the front yard. I will even confess to having thrown out school projects involving Q-tips, dead leaves, and amorphous blobs of tissue paper.

The sheer volume of the art requires a certain amount of selectiveness. The plaster mold of Peter's 3-year-old hand went straight onto the kitchen wall, where it will most likely still hang when he is a grown man with children of his own. The luridly colored "treasure box" filled with flower petals Mary picked for me when I was out of town for a few days has a permanent place on my dresser. But I've pitched countless pieces of construction paper carelessly decorated with random swipes of chalk, and not regretted a single one of them.

I will also freely own up to my collection of never-worn jewelry in a dish on my bathroom counter. Mary discovered the joy of plastic beads a couple of years ago, and quickly learned that ten minutes with a pile of bright red beads and a piece of string was a fail-safe way to be fawned over and told how wonderful and creative she was. As a result, I have several extremely ugly and scratchy bracelets that don't match a single item of my clothing, and when it comes time to accessorize, I inevitably reach for a simple silver chain or an elegant bangle to finish my ensemble. Mary occasionally asks, "Mom, aren't you going to wear that bracelet?" and I put her off with a vague reply about maybe wearing it some day when I have a shirt that matches it.

However, I received a necklace for Mother's Day that made me rethink this policy. It's not attractive -- it consists of three flourescent green foam beads spelling "MOM" on a stiff piece of plastic cord, tied in the back with an awkward knot. I was presented with this unusual piece of jewelry at the Mother's Day Tea at Peter's preschool while I sat on the play mat with several other mothers after our snack of crackers and red punch. As each child's name was called, they eagerly delivered their handmade gifts to their mothers. Peter presented me with my necklace, and I obligingly admired it. Brendan's mother, sitting next to me with her gift, leaned over and said in mock exasperation, "Hey! Mine only says 'MO!'" We realized, though, that we were the lucky ones -- Alec's mom was bemusedly inspecting a necklace that read "WYCILQPVHLX."

After the event was over, Peter and I went to the grocery store. I wore my new necklace with my stylish black shirt and lavender skirt. I won't say I wasn't a little self-conscious, but I decided that this once, I'd rather make my son happy than be fashionable. It's not like I have so much fashion sense to begin with, so a plastic necklace isn't going to make that much difference anyway. He was so pleased that I wore it, and it was worth any odd looks I might have gotten.

For that hour of that Wednesday, that homely plastic necklace made my son happy, and I suffered a healthy pang of guilt. Maybe, on second thought, counter space and an organized refrigerator door aren't all that important in the grand scheme of things. It might be worth a lumpy photo album if it makes my kids smile someday. Maybe my home decor would be improved by a little more construction paper and orange paint. Maybe classy silver pendants are overrated.

You know, there's a red bracelet in my jewelry dish that would look absolutely stunning with my new green necklace ...