Tim is performing in two holiday concerts this week. Last night was the fifth grade band and chorus – he is part of both groups – and tomorrow is the more competitive symphonic band that he tried out for at his trumpet teacher’s urging.
Seeing all the fifth graders take the stage in their concert finery was a magnificent sight. The girls’ outfits ranged from satin and taffeta dresses to stylishly draped pants and blouses. The boys looked like little men in their button-down Oxfords. Some even wore ties. A few, including an adorable pair of identical twins, wore ties and jackets.
Which is why during intermission, Rick murmured to me, “Just in case you haven’t noticed, Tim really is the worst-dressed kid on stage.”
It’s something we’ve never been able to steer Tim past: his aversion to formal or even slightly formal clothing. Well, even calling it slightly formal is an exaggeration. He despises anything – top or bottom – with buttons. Even casual items like rugby shirts. Even khaki pants. He likes jerseys, t-shirts, sweatshirts and sweatpants, no zippers, no buttons, preferably not even so much as a tag.
I’ve heard this referred to as a sensory aversion issue, and I know for some kids the manifestation is a lot more severe: they’re sensitive to labels in jackets, even seams inside of clothing. So while I appreciate that Tim isn’t even more rigid, I was still frustrated last night to see him on stage amidst all his crisply starched classmates.
I’d been anticipating this struggle for months. In fact, when I first asked Tim if he wanted to continue into a second year of taking trumpet lessons last fall, I reminded him that as of fifth grade, the kids are expected to dress up for the concerts. I hoped that his burgeoning enthusiasm for playing the trumpet would trump his dislike of non-sloppy clothing. But as expected, a battle had ensued the evening before the concert. The compromise was a plain cotton jersey – new and clean, with no lettering or images on it – and a clean, well-fitting pair of black sweatpants that looked from a distance almost like regular pants.
Parents sitting around us overheard Rick’s comment about Tim being the worst-dressed kid on stage and laughed. They know us and know our particular challenges. “Our fight with Austin was about tucking in his shirt,” my friend Nicole confided. “He was fine with the Oxford; he just wanted to wear it trailing out, which is so sloppy he might as well not be wearing it.” Another mom leaned over to tell me that she struggled to persuade her daughter not to wear an older sister’s clothing that was three sizes too big.
All the other kids up on stage looked terrific to me. And honestly, so did Tim. He looked clean and tidy and was beaming with enthusiasm over the first concert of the year. Yes, I’d be even prouder if he was willing to dress the part. But the other parents’ kind comments reminded me that almost everyone goes through some kind of minor conflict with their kids on a regular basis. Tim has classmates who despise haircuts, whereas Tim appreciates a neatly groomed look. He also likes showers and shampoos, and he doesn’t prefer pants that sag below his waist the way some of the boys do.
Furthermore, I reminded myself as the kids filed back onto the stage for the second half of the concert, each family faces bigger struggles with their children as well, and will continue to do so. Homework battles. Table manners. Polite language. Disciplinary issues. One of the kids at Tim’s school penned a threatening note last month that resulted in a campus-wide evacuation; surely those parents would be happy to be arguing with their son about concert attire.
I don’t mean to say that clothes don’t matter. I still want Tim to overcome his resistance to dressing up, because there are certain occasions – concerts, church, weddings, funerals – when it’s simply the right thing to do. But sometimes the best way to gain perspective is to gaze upon a stage of eighty sweet and smiling faces and remember that there probably isn’t a parent in the audience who couldn’t name some kind of daily battle they go through. We’re not alone. And somehow that helps.