tutus and cowboy boots.

I remember the cloth diapers all in a neat folded stack. I would take them out and show friends when they stopped by. The matching outfits hung perfectly lined up in the closet, and the crib sheets matched the new window valances, little pastel giraffes and lions all swinging in a row.

Everything was washed and smelled of Dreft and sunshine and happiness. The nursery felt like a promise.

And then the baby came home.

Suddenly, the cute clothes became loads of laundry, the fuzzy little diapers were filled with yellow liquid newborn poo, and the onesies had stains up the back and down the front. The brand new gliding chair was covered in spit-up breast milk. The baby hardly ever wore his matching outfits because at least one half was always dirty.

My T’s weren’t crossed and my I’s weren’t dotted and my nursery no longer looked like a page from a baby magazine. It looked like a place where a baby lived, and smelled like where a baby peed.

And instead of figuring it all out, instead of working our way back into that magazine, we just added to the chaos, once, twice more. And the perfect image of family life skittered further from my grasp. And it was okay.

My kids wrecked my perfection and exposed me as the control freak that I am. And I bent and I broke and I learned to let them in, because they were coming in whether I opened the door or not.

They do this, yes?

Children burst into our ironed and planned lives and mix us all up. They unfold our clothes and unmatch our outfits. They hate booties when we’ve knitted twenty pairs and they love pacifiers when we swore we’d never use them.

My how my children have changed me. They’ve carved out their own paths in my planned little life and I love them for it, even while often resenting the crap out of it.

My daughter wore a tutu and cowboy boots to school one day. I remember when this used to cause me consternation, but I’ve given up. This tiny beauty lives in perpetual opposite day, commonly known as the strong-willed child. Everything is a battle, and over the years, my job as her mother has been to decide which battles are worth fighting. Clothing isn’t one of them.

And so, one day she wore a tutu and cowboy boots. With a superman cape.

So much of parenting is laying down my own strong will and making way for this other tiny person to exert hers. It’s deciding to major on the big stuff, the right-from-wrong stuff, and leave the personality stuff for her to figure out for herself.

And so on the first day of school, she wore glittery hair extensions down to her waist and four months ago she wore pink chalk in her hair like punk rock preschool and one day she wore a tutu and cowboy boots.

And gone are the days of clean-smelling cloth diapers lined up in neat stacks. My son smells like a sweaty boy and my daughter paints her shirts with dinner and my other daughter likes to catch lizards in the yard and love them to death. To actual death. 

We are a mess. We are unmatched and unfolded and usually unwashed. And we are softer and we are humbler. Here’s to the laying down of our strong wills, to the making way for our tiny people.

Here’s to letting life in, in all its smelly, sticky glory. Here's to tutus and cowboy boots.

Written by Melanie Dale. Photo by Sarah Thornhill