Start Naming Strength While She's Young with Aleah Marsden
The outfit I have chosen is discarded in the clothes-swamp floor of her room. Jeans and a sensible t-shirt strewn among sparkly dresses, floral skirts, and chunky sequined sweaters. I know this walking down the hallway before I even enter. “We are going to be late,” my voice rises in warning as my footsteps fall heavy on the hardwood floors.
“Done!” She shouts, breathless, as she flings open her door. A whirl of bright mismatched colors, patterns, and textures rush past in a blur. She grabs her red faux leather Minnie Mouse backpack with the giant red bow, then reaches for her hot pink lunch box on the kitchen counter before stuffing it inside her bag. Sighing, I follow her out to the car where her siblings are impatiently waiting for this five year old fashionista. Today I can smirk at the sleeveless sky blue tulle dress she is wearing over denim capris and under a bejeweled pink and yellow long sleeve emblazoned with a unicorn.
Mornings are orchestrated chaos in our home with four kids. The first time she came out wearing a gaudy getup, the second week of kindergarten, I had her march back into her room to change. Without giving much thought to it, this became an almost daily ritual: she ignores what I set out for her, I send her back to her room to change. We will have no divas in this household. While I enjoy an occasional shopping splurge, fashion per se has never been my thing. It seems shallow, vapid. I was the girl with her nose in a book not her closet. What would her teacher think if I sent her out the door in these ostentatious arrays of color and pattern? She would think she didn’t have a mom who cared enough to make her change, that’s what she would think.
My daughter was not going to be seen in public looking like that. Images of parents at the mall with kids in mismatched clothes or outfits that incorporated costume pieces flashed through my mind. No way was I going to be one of those parents who obviously have no control over their children. This was my third child and I had this all sort of figured out now. Better to nip this kind of behavior in the bud early before it’s piercings and crop tops and too much makeup.
This would likely have been the end of it, except one morning I actually saw her when I told her to go change. I mean, I was aware enough to sense the force that slumped her face and shoulders. She was deflating like the neighbor’s blow up Christmas decorations that look like cartoon corpses out the window on the drive to school. That morning she had paired a festive crimson sweater with a floral applique over a long chocolate shirt with a pink, magenta, periwinkle, and mint floral skirt over dark leggings.
“Kiddo, why do you think this works?!” I’m prodded into questioning by guilt I feel in my gut, while with a sweeping movement of my hand draw attention to her getup.
Her eyes well with tears as she exclaims, “Because dirt! And flowers!” She points to her brown shirt, then the flowers on her skirt and the applique on her sweater. She is frustrated, exasperated, and only five years old.
My heart shatters as it hits bottom in the invisible gulf I hadn’t realized was stretching between us.
I wrap my arms around her and carry her to the couch. I hold her against my chest as she sits on my lap. And I apologize. I tell her that God has made her to love color and pattern and texture and that is a good thing. It is a beautiful thing. It is a gift. She has been made to know God and make Him known, and maybe one way she gets to do that is through these intricately crafted outfits. I told her that I didn’t get it, but obviously she does and I love the way God made her. I tell her I’m always on her team and I can’t wait to see what she creates next.
Everything about her demeanor changes, becomes radiant with joy. The smile that reaches her tear stained eyes like looking into the sun.
Fear of being judged for my daughter’s fashion decisions almost cost me a much earlier than anticipated opportunity to affirm the God-given creative passion of a kindergartener. We did agree on two ground rules: outfits must be both age and weather appropriate. Three years later and I can’t remember the last time I even attempted to choose clothes for her. I’m forever grateful to the Spirit for giving me eyes to see her in that moment of despair, before a much different memory was made or she internalized the message that her mom thought her passions were silly, unfit to be shared. There’s no girl too little to hear how important her offering is to God’s kingdom or for her innate passions to be affirmed.
Aleah Marsden is a writer, speaker, and storyteller who is passionate about seeing women walk into all the plans God has for them. She finds deep joy in studying scripture and sharing its stories. She strongly believes in encouraging women to choose celebration over comparison; glorifying God and serving others with all their varied gifts.
Aleah's writing can be found in publications like Christianity Today and Books & Culture, an essay in Everbloom (Paraclete Press, 2016) as well as a handful of devotionals in the new NIV Bible for Women: Fresh Insights for Thriving in Today’s World (Zondervan, 2015). She has spoken at numerous women’s events, moms’ groups, and retreats. Connect with her on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter (which is her favorite).