(This was first published in Le News 16 October 2014)
The seven-year-old surprised me the other day by hopping into the back seat of the car, with full make-up on: eyeliner, mascara, gold eyeshadow (mostly all over her forehead, but still), blusher and lipstick. And engulfed in a cloud of perfume.
We looked at one another in the rearview mirror for a few moments. I know that it’s at times like this that parents should take a deep breath (despite all the perfume) and choose their words carefully.
‘You’re not going out like that!’ I said. Which were evidently not the best words to have chosen because they led to a stand-off.
‘Yes, I am,’ said my gilded lily, and put her seatbelt on.
‘No, you’re not.’
‘Yes. I. Am.’
Well, I won that one, but only because I control telecommunications in our house and I threatened to cut her off from Disney Junior forever. She didn’t flounce away having learned anything except that her mother is the worst, and she’s never allowed to do anything. Which she already knew.
‘It’s like I’m a prisoner!’ she wailed for the rest of the weekend. ‘It’s like I’m … Nelson Mandela!’
I tried to explain the difference between being held in jail for 27 years by an immoral regime, and being told to wash your face by your mother, but she just couldn’t see it.
Apparently, she suffers alone in all this. Every other seven-year old she knows is allowed to wear make-up, and high-heeled shoes. They’re also allowed to watch grown-up movies, go for very long walks all by themselves and wear dangly earrings in their pierced ears. I don’t know where these independent-minded, cross-dressing little sophisticates hang out, but I’ve never seen them. They’re probably in a coffee shop, reading My First Kafka (which is an actual book that actually does exist. Because every pre-school library shelf could use a little existential despair).
I didn’t think I would ever be the sort of mother who resorted to the Because I Said So defence. I was the wayward daughter of conservative parents, and I truly intended to stay that way. I wanted to be an open-minded, non-judgemental hippie Earth Mother, to silence my own authoritarian drone so my children could hear their wise inner voices.
But I now realise two things: firstly, the wise inner voice of a child says things like, ‘Vegetables will kill you! Sliding down the stairs on a tea tray is an excellent idea! Mommy likes it when you put snails in the Tupperware drawer!’
And, secondly, I am no hippie Earth Mother. In fact, I seem to have developed a conservative streak a mile wide. And that’s just fine.
So yesterday, when the child asked me for the thirtieth time why she couldn’t wear lipstick to school, I looked her in the eye and said, ‘Why not? Because you’re a little child, and sometimes it feels like I’m the only thing standing between you and a world that wants you to look and think and behave like an adult. Because I think you should be out all day playing in the mud and climbing trees, but we live in a time where there are fashion models just a few years older than you, and Kafka for children is even a thing. Because your perfect little face doesn’t need to be drawn on to look beautiful.
And because I’m your mother. And I said so. That’s why not.’