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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Dressing Them Alike

A funny thing happened as we are preparing for the non-group family reunion with matching t-shirts and stick-on nametags. Someone pointed out that our kids were already wearing similar shirts in a photo. Apparently, this happens not so infrequently, and I was not entirely cognizant of it. Which could occur repeatedly when you’re sleep deprived.

My cyber-friend joked that perhaps I was trying to imitate the Duggar clan when they travel? Impossible, since they’re “18 and counting” and we’re only “six and not counting”.  Come to think of it, 18 refers to their CHILDREN and we’re only FOUR…. But I started to look at this dressing alike deal more closely, feeling that it warranted a sociological investigation of sorts.

Keep in mind that these are not toddlers having no say in their appearance. The boys will become teens in a few weeks, the girls are slightly younger tweens. Do they mind dressing in the same color polo shirts?

Not at all. Or so they say. You never know whether to believe teens or pre-teens. They could be buttering me up for some big-ticket item, angling for some article that was advertised on TV twenty times in twenty minutes. Might be that they’ve all gone out and gotten matching tatoos and covering them up with similar shirts is the least of their problems. But I’m taking it at face value: they want to belong.

Perhaps that’s why I’ve always liked the idea of school uniforms: neat, no-nonsense, focus on the business at hand, education. As a matter of fact, Petya’s first two ties hailed from a purveyor of school uniforms. It was a men’s haberdashery in Carnoustie, Scotland. I was there speaking in a conference, had just bought some lemon curd for Benedetto, happened into this store where a frantic mother ran in on her lunch hour, since her son had lost his school tie. There, from under the counter, the clerk pulled out a box of striped and tartan offerings.

“Oooh,” I leaned in, knowing that we would be bringing him home from Russia the next week. And suddenly, we had father-son ties!

I believe the matching mania started right then when Petya came home over five years ago. He did not particularly look like Benedetto or myself. Plus, a number of onlookers felt that he was my husband’s grandson–i.e., older child shows up to “stay” with us, Benedetto and I have been married for more than a couple of decades, “grandpa” has white hair. Well, we turned that around, presto-chango, a little “Just for Men” haircolor, matching shirts for the guys and everywhere they went people began to comment, “Well, if he isn’t a chip off the old block!” or “There’s no doubt whose son he is!” The similar dressing became a bonding experience. Psych majors, take note.

As for me, well, I was chopped liver. My usual uniform was some form of black outfit, high heels, and sunglasses. I couldn’t see dressing my son similarly, although he often ended up like that in Europe, minus the heels, of course. I liked to keep a low profile in a rather public lifestyle, blend in, not be bothered with unwanted comments or crazies following me.

Last week was a case in point. I actually wore a red outfit for some unknown reason. Walking on the street, I passed an older security guard chatting with a woman of retiree-age who was asking him a question. As I walked by, he said to me in an admiring manner, “Well! Look at that red outfit! You go, girl, work it!”

I chuckled and actually got a slight spring in my step. I didn’t think I looked noteworthy in the slightest, but different colors can have an impact on the viewing public. When making a television or public appearance, I often turn to bright, power colors that pop.

So when our second son Pasha arrived, and then our two daughters Mashenka and Sashenka, there were days when we wanted to take photos of the group. We made our way to Important Sites and it seemed odd for one to wear a yellow shirt, another a blue striped oxford, a pink blouse, and an orange polo. Blue pants, black pants, white skirt, blue skirt. Rather strange. Mismatched. Troubling. Husband often in khaki pants and dark blazer for leisure, me in black, black, black, blond over blue.

However, put the kids in similar color families and they “went” together:   blues and lavenders, reds and pinks, oranges and yellows. Absolute strangers talking to them would automatically refer to “your brother” or “your sister”. Bump it up a notch with really similar clothes and it was a slam-dunk: we were family. I even noticed at Interstate rest stops where suspicious characters often lurk, and they would give us a wide berth. You don’t mess with matched families!

I admit, it could be due in part to my small mind: matchy-matchy! While I avoided the need to place identical lamps or vases on either side of the fireplace mantle or sofa, it was a definite itch. I felt drawn to order and control, probably because so much of our life was spent on the run in the fast lane.

Cynical, fashion-forward, and out-of-the-box thinker, I inwardly wondered at those taking family photos of their whole clan in white shirts and khaki pants on an empty beach, or a grassy lawn. Now that I was entering the double-whammy of middle age and perilous parenthood, the idea looked rather dreamy and sentimental to me. And of course, I already had photos of my girls in their patent leather jackets, fresh-faced and fair, posed against the avant-garde, dark, graffiti-tattered murals of Moscow, broken bottles and trash heaped nearby. I liked the comparison and contrast, but it was not exactly what you might put on a holiday card.

During a summer super sale, I made sure to buy the girls matching, slightly poufy, special occasion velvet dresses. I could imagine them posed by the hearth in headbands, with the boys next to them in their tuxedos. But then, even our dogs had special holiday collars, so at least I’m across-the-board consistent, if not obsessive.

It took me back to my own childhood long before Ralph Lifshitz from the Bronx became Ralph Lauren, when we “dressed” for dinner and when casual family photos portrayed everyone in suits and dresses. And I have the black & white cave etchings from my ancient history to prove it, too.

Here we had become traditional, nurturing, “good parents”… because our children looked appropriate for any occasion, lol. If  the clothes make the man, then “the clothes define the child” more than we’d care to admit. There were snap decisions and impressions that could not be avoided. A five-star general commented to us, “Fine young men!” after simply glancing at our boys’ slicked hair, tucked-in shirts, steady, pleasant gaze, and fairly straight posture. That’s all it took. Flight attendants saw our kids behaving themselves, not kicking the seats in front of them, well-groomed and doing their homework.

“It’s simply not found very much any more,” they confided to us. “Thank you for making the effort.”

Dressing neatly and nicely didn’t need any huge investment, just a few basic pieces for play, for upgraded casual, and for dress situations. I pitied the kids entering elegant restaurants in flip-flops and shorts, long, sloppy t-shirts hanging out with questionable slogans imprinted, hair flopping down, sloppy and unkempt. Nowadays there were halter tops in houses of worship, and bellies hanging out at bistros. Some wonders of the world we really didn’t need to see up close and personal.

Most of all, my hopes and dreams for the children extended beyond their outfits to cultivating a quiet, refined, reserved, and respectful attitude. They would be known, not only for their first-impression appearances, but for their heart, for their kindness, for their empathy for others. Not an easy task since coming from the orphanage, they were used to grabbing anything first, pushing to be first, talking over the top of anyone else first, and asking questions or making apologies last. They would scream like banshees, and puzzle over the idea that an “inside voice” existed. It was also a foreign concept to help the less fortunate–THEY had been the ones that were starving, and who had no warm clothes to protect them from the elements, and who had to hide things in their pockets or under their pillows if they ever wanted to see them again–yet, slowly, slowly, they were more relaxed and reassured, and we were able pry their clenched fingers open to willingly and freely share and give to others.

Whether nurture or nature, little by little, each of our children calmed down and adapted to their special, new, rags-to-riches life. They were attaching and bonding, fitting into the family… and strange but true, a small part of it may have been due to their well-coordinated clothes!

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