Tomorrow is World Book Day (at my children’s school, at least) and we have finally settled on costumes after I convinced them that anything Hobbit- or Lord of the Rings-related just wasn’t going to happen (unless they were prepared to be Gollum, and go naked but for a dirty teatowel).
No1, who has discovered The Famous Five, is, happily, to be Julian (ie, himself, but with binoculars and an empty can of ginger beer if I remember to buy and drink one). No2, in a triumph of persistence over parental scruples, is a composite modern-day fairy (ie, wearing as much pink as she can apply to her person), with a mere passing nod to the Fun Day Fairies series.
Standing in line at the haberdashers this morning to buy ribbon and plastic flowers in a last-minute attempt to Make An Effort, I was surrounded by other women with the slightly panicked facial expressions reminiscent of holidaymakers who have wandered away from the tour guide and lost their way in the souk. We rolled our eyes and “pshaw”ed at each other in sympathy and mutual recognition of our plight.
Among us, though, were the professionals; those who needed no phrase book to navigate the racks of ribbon, bales (rolls?) of fabric, and the mysteries of the pattern drawers. I distinctly heard one lady discussing with her friend the fact that she had rejected several potential costume choices on the basis that they didn’t offer enough opportunity for creativity. Lucky, lucky child, who will be the most authentic Snow White this side of the Atlantic Ocean. If I had recognised the mother as one from our schoolgates, I would have been keeping No2 at home tomorrow for fear that she would expire with envy.
After the years that I failed to remember Halloween costumes for nursery, the time that my frankly amateur attempt to make a Dennis the Menace jumper for a then-4-year-old No1 was rejected on the morning of its debut in favour of a skanky pirate costume from the bottom of the dressing up box, and the disaster of a family wedding when my baby daughter looked as though she had been dressed by Dobby the house elf, I have long resigned myself to the fact that my parenting skills fall short in the “Apparel” department. Within the boundaries of affordability and decency (No2 would, given free rein, dress herself in the manner of a small Bet Lynch), what my children are going to wear doesn’t really matter tremendously to me.
If this sounds like a back-handed boast, it isn’t meant to. I am genuinely befuddled by those who spend a fortune on children’s clothes (partly because I am blessed with children who grow like Baby Bio’d knotweed, and sprint through sizes at an indecent rate) but it doesn’t keep me awake at night. Hand-me-downs and bargains appeal for all sorts of reasons, although sooner or later, principles notwithstanding, I know that I will stop calling the tune – while continuing to pay the piper, naturally.
I was musing about this earlier, in connection with the fact that we don’t, as a family, take many photographs, and I think that both things come, in part, because I don’t “see” my world in images. I wish I did, actually. It doesn’t come naturally to me to frame a memory in a picture, and while I do try to take snapshots when it occurs to me, I almost always remember with a jolt at the end of a special day that we didn’t get a single decent photo as a souvenir. I bet the lady I overheard this morning has albums documenting occasions throughout the lives of her children – birthdays, holidays, Halloween, Christmas – and I bet that an element of her prepares for the occasions with a view to the photos she would never forget to take.
I think in the past I may have felt, horribly snobbishly, that dressing with an eye to the camera was a shallow way of going about things. Now, though, I feel differently: perhaps the costumes and the outfits are just props which prompt memories to be recorded which would otherwise be forgotten. It’s not so much about remembering what the child wore when she was 5; more remembering who she was at the time. I know that I will never be able to sew for toffee, and I know that my daughter (who already has an interest in clothes which goes way beyond mine) will need to find her fashion inspiration elsewhere, but the lack of photo taking is definitely something I intend to rectify. As soon as I remember where the camera is.